Bug scientists scare, teach through cult classic films

Entomology to mix old and new movies in 22nd annual festival


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The 22nd Annual Insect Cinema Cult Classic Film Festival will show “The Deadly Mantis” first.

CODY COTTIER, Evergreen reporter

Since 1976, WSU entomology professor Steve Sheppard has spent one day each year watching movies about — you guessed it — bugs.

The genre of insect horror is diverse, with monsters as laughably sensational as others are terrifying. Sheppard has seen many — some campy Sci-Fi exaggerations, and others chilling interpretations of true buggy behavior.

“Many, many of them are terrible,” Sheppard joked. “But some are pretty interesting.”

This year, for WSU’s 22nd Annual Insect Cinema Cult Classic Film Festival, the entomology department has picked from both ends of the spectrum.

For one extreme, they will show “The Deadly Mantis,” a family-friendly 1957 flick starring a 200-foot prehistoric praying mantis. The creature emerges from melting polar ice caps after millions of years and flies around terrorizing the world. Sheppard called it a classic.

They make these movie showings into educational opportunities. Many people hold a negative opinion of insects, and Sheppard believes seeing them in a more comical light can help alter their perceptions. He even explains the biological factors that limit arthropods from growing to colossal Hollywood size.

“Through showing these more or less ridiculous films about giant insect monsters,” he said, “there is some exchange of information.”

The second movie is a modern take on a similar concept. “The Thaw” also features a recently unfrozen abomination, but on a smaller scale. After Arctic researchers discover parasitic bugs in the carcass of a wooly mammoth, they must quarantine themselves or risk global infection. Sheppard said the movie, released in 2009 and rated R, uses plenty of grisly effects.

For those still willing to go near the creepy crawlies, Sheppard said they will hold a live insect demonstration, during which people can hold tarantulas, hissing cockroaches and walking stick bugs.

The film festival will take place at 5:30 p.m. Friday in Todd Hall, Room 276. The first movie will begin at 6 p.m., and the last will end around 10 p.m.

Sheppard said he hopes people learn something from the event, but above all he wants them to enjoy themselves.

“It’s mainly just fun,” he said. “Well, I mean, I think it’s fun ’cause I’m an entomologist.”