OCTOBER 11, 2015
There have been approximately 11 million arguments about practical FX vs CGI over the past 20 years or so, and I've probably engaged in half of them (on the side of the former, of course). But it wasn't until I watched Mosquito that I finally realized one of the primary advantages to a physical object that the actors are interacting with - they can be GROSS. Sure, some of the FX shots in this 1995 flick are dodgy as hell, but even when it's at its most corny, there's something particularly icky about watching these giant mosquitoes with their thick hairy parts, slimy legs and stickers (I don't know any bug terms and I'm not going to know them) that really put you in the moment more than even the best CGI can. It's the tactile element that makes this film in particular a good example for how the non-computerized versions of these things will always be the superior option.
To be fair, I should admit I have a particular hatred of "skeeters", due to a childhood allergy that would cause bites to swell up into these clammy welts (and we were in the woods in Maine a lot, so I got bit on the regular). Also I have sensitive hearing, and that high pitched whine they make when they buzz near my ear is actually more disturbing to me than nails on a chalkboard (I assume it's the "danger" element that elevates it above that classic classroom mishap). And director Gary Jones went for the jugular here, offering not 30 foot insects like Them!, but ones that are about half the size of a full grown man - the right size to freak me out. I've explained before that giant monsters don't particularly scare me, because the logic part of my brain says "I can see/hear/FEEL it coming and just get the hell away", but these things can fly into an RV, through a window, etc. - and again, they're practical, so their size allows the actors to wrestle with them on the regular, upping the icky factor. I wouldn't say I was terrified by the movie, but I was certainly more engaged and unnerved by it because of this.
The aforementioned weak FX shots were mostly limited to ones where Jones and co. were trying to make the numbers of mosquitoes more impressive, using mattes and plates and other 1950's style tricks to make a couple of bugs look like a dozen. But even those are fine in the long run, because they make good on the idea that there are a lot of these things flying around - and by that I mean a lot of them are killed. In fact, the very first one we see gets killed almost instantly, splattered across a windshield like billions of bugs before it, except causing actual damage to the car in the process (and mistaken for an animal by the driver). And Jones offs a ton of human characters early on (mostly off-screen) as the things annihilate a picnic area, but evens the score throughout the movie, as our motley band of heroes kills another one every few minutes as they first get together and eventually make their way to presumed safety. For anyone who ever got a nasty bite, or had trouble killing a pesky insect in their own house, this movie will prove to be quite cathartic.
And it's good that there's plenty of action, because some of the acting is... well, let's just be nice and say that everyone earns an A for effort. I will say this though - I appreciate that none of the actors seemed to be mugging for the camera or doing it ironically. The performances are just genuinely stiff in a few spots, which is infinitely preferable to a bunch of jerks assuming that they have the license to act bad on purpose because it's a dumb monster movie. No, they take it serious, and while the movie isn't exactly a comedic version of these things (it's inspired by 50s monster movies, sure, but it's not like Killer Klowns or Slither), this makes the occasional lousy performance a lot easier to deal with. That said, I WAS a bit disappointed that Gunnar Hansen was tasked with making a horrible joke when his character inevitably grabs a chainsaw to fight off the bugs ("I haven't used one of these in 20 years," he says as my eyes roll out of my head), because to me it would have been funnier if they didn't even make a big deal of it. I've noted before that Hansen was always pretty selective with his movie roles (this was only his 5th one post-Chain Saw - an average of one every four years), and I always assumed part of that was him not wanting to be coasting on Leatherface forever, so I wish he vetoed this dumb ass line.
Watching the bonus features, it became pretty clear why the movie turned out better than I was expecting, as everyone got along well and had faith in both Jones and the movie in general. They 'got' it, in other words, and everyone worked hard to do it justice. Across the 75 minute retrospective, 40 minute behind the scenes video (with optional Jones commentary), and feature commentary you'll hear almost no "dirt" whatsoever - and nearly everyone is accounted for. Some of these retrospectives are sadly lacking in the major players (I still remember getting a Fletch "special edition" that didn't have Chevy, Michael Ritchie, Joe Don Baker, Tim Matheson, Geena Davis...), but the only two major actors that aren't here are actually dead which would make their participation tricky. There are some typical "perils of low-budget filmmaking" type stories, but unlike say, Deadly Spawn (where the director and producer won't even sit in the same room and spend their commentaries taking shots at the other), these folks seemed to get along just as well then as they do now, and it's genuinely endearing (and sadly rare). The only low point seems to be their unfortunate distribution, which saw the film sold for a profit but never given much of a release as they went bankrupt due to other movie failures. Jones repeats some of his stories across the three, but if you enjoyed the movie they're just as endearing. Some deleted scenes are also included but none of them are worth the time to navigate over to them (the extended ending is literally just the same ending, extended, as the survivors just walk further).
It's well known that the first half of the 90s produced several classics and a lot of forgettable crap, but relatively few mid-level movies like this. It's not a masterpiece, but it's got this infectious charm to it. Initially I assumed it'd be something I'd eventually glance at while folding laundry or building another Lego kit, but I found myself getting more and more into it as it went on, and by the time they went full blown Night of the Living Dead, holing up in a farmhouse and boarding up windows (except with mosquitoes instead of zombies), I was totally on board. It's a shame it didn't get a chance to be a bigger hit back in the day, but I suspect it would have tanked anyway - I honestly think the awful, CG driven monster movies that have plagued us since have made this look even better now than it probably did back then. Synapse is releasing it alongside fucking Manos, but don't let that feel you - this is not a "so bad it's good" type of thing, it's just a solid B-movie, the likes of which we could always use more of nowadays.
What say you?