“Now, if our giant ants are scaled-up versions of their normal relatives, the length, diameter, and thickness of the exoskeleton in their legs will all be scaled up by the same linear factor, but their body weight, again, will be scaled up by that linear factor cubed. These giant insects are clearly pushing the buckling strength of their legs.
Writing about Monster A Go Go and Robot Monster yesterday (and subsequently devoting the rest of the day to watching Mystery Science Theater 3000) reminded me that B movies have a special place in our cultural heritage. The post-Gernsback science fiction of the fifties and sixties was redolent with B-movie science fiction and some, like Plan 9 From Outer Space, deserve recognition for being terrible and somehow great at the same time. Whenever I watch a B movie I always skip through the boring expositional stuff (setting the scene, revealing the characters, yadda yadda) for two reasons – one, the expositional stuff in B movies is largely irrelevant (in most cases it goes like this: an ordinary town/ordinary people living their lives/something unexpected happens) and two, I love B movie monsters. Love them to death. Robot Monster, which I’ve already talked about, is a prime example of a B movie villain that makes no sense – a gorilla in a space helmet who shoots lightning bolts through his fingers. That sort of character development doesn’t happen by magic. Good B movie writing took as long as, ooh, twenty or thirty minutes sometimes. So here are a few that deserve special recognition, either for being mental, or being brilliant, or being stupid. ROLL THOSE MONSTERS
The Blob, The Blob (1958)
If, like me, you suffer from a pathological fear of jam, then watching The Blob is no picnic. The first time I saw The Blob I was drunk (I was also three years old, but what the hell, liquor store staff didn’t ask questions in those days) and it scared the willies out of me. For years and years I shunned all preserves of any kind; jams, jell-o, jelly, and chutney. Even mayonnaise was liable to bring me out in a cold sweat.
Okay, I’m joking, but seriously: here’s a creature that is capable of propelling itself very slowly across even surfaces. The blob is a spectacularly unfrightening movie monster – a non-sentient, protoplasmic goo that only increases in size when it eats something bigger than itself. It’s a monster whose main tactic is to fall out of cupboards into the faces of unsuspecting people or sneak up on them while they’re sleeping, and its main weakness is cold, meaning that it’s the only monster on this list that can be defeated by scooping it into a jar and putting it in the fridge.
Now, if you don’t mind, I have to throw out all of my jam and burn my clothes.
Triffids, Day Of The Triffids
Broccoli is back and this time it’s pissed. It will walk towards you like a man on crutches and, assuming you haven’t moved away at a fairly rapid pace in search of a) a lawnmower b) a hedge-trimmer c) a chainsaw d) any tool for making fire e) a machete f) any implement that might feasibly be used to cut foliage, the triffid will kill you. KILL YOU TO DEATH. With a stinger. Of which it has only one. Do you feel your blood chilling to an icy slush within your veins?
Of course not. Vegetables are not a viable bad guy in any context whatsoever. I’m broadly in favor of natural selection and I honestly think that anybody dumb enough to watch a seven-foot-high garden plant very slowly approach before killing them deserves what they get. Sorry, chummy, but if walking plants doesn’t tip you off to something being amiss, then this is Mother Nature telling you to get off the ride.
In the original book the Triffids come to power only as a result of nearly everybody on earth being blinded by a solar flare, which is ridiculous because a) solar flares aren’t bright b) everybody would have to be staring at the sun at the exact same time, even on the other side of the world where it’s night time and c) the resultant blind people would also have to be deaf in order to not be able to walk quickly away from the sound of salad dragging itself across the fucking floor.
Mothra, Mothra (1961)
Think of the most ineffectual animal on god’s green earth. Then make it five hundred feet long and pissed off. Yes, it’s Mothra, the giant, er, Moth!
Gasp! As Mothra goes through the entire lepidopteran metamorphosis cycle. Thrill! As Mothra fulfills her maternal instincts and lays eggs. Tremble! As a giant fucking moth fights a giant fucking lizard while the world looks on. Wonder! At who we’re supposed to be rooting for – the cool giant lizard or the stupid giant moth.
I feel duty-bound to point out that Mothra is one of the good guys. I love Kaiju cinema. And I can kind of see where the creators of Mothra were coming from here. Godzilla? giant lizard. Rodan? Giant flying lizard. Mechagodzilla? Giant robot lizard. Ghidorah? Three-headed armless flying lizard. Megalon? Giant lizard.
It’s pretty obvious that the creators were looking around for a new Godzilla enemy, but…a moth? Really? Either moths are a bigger deal in Japan than they are here, or the creators were desperate, but literally anything on earth is more impressive than a moth. A butterfly. A terrapin. A cricket. Hell, Tokyo has actual killer hornet that kill people and they didn’t think that would make a better character?
Giant Ants, Them! (1954)
Ha ha ha I am going to burrow into your kitchen and eat alllll of your sugar ha ha ha
Ants kick ass and there’s no denying it. As a hive-minded species, controlled by smells and capable of building truly impressive structures, Ants are pretty neat. I could get behind welcoming our insect overlords, if only because they’d revolutionize public works projects.
The only real problem I can see here is that ants are unbelievably simple. Unless constantly guided with pheromones, an ant is likely to just get bored and wander off to die. Ants more or less have only one neural structure – the structure of the hive – and a couple of gears helping them make basic decisions. Along the small scale, pheromones are a great way to get your point across, because across small distances smells are liable to hang around like a fart in a taxi.Across a desert? No way. Each of these ants is going to die of boredom before it does any real damage.
There’s another thing – insects have a built-in design limit, which is why the largest is only about thirty centimeters in length. Here’s why – insects have no lungs. They absorb oxygen from the air through tiny holes called spiracles . For small bodies that makes sense because the surface-area-to-body-mass ratio is large. Scale it up and those ants either have to look like swiss cheese, with huge spiracles, or they’d suffocate. Any ant that doesn’t suffocate will have no idea what it’s meant to be doing. Here’s another problem from chicago.edu:
Notice that local buckling is always an inwards kink in the tube, so any focused insult from the outside is going to tend to trigger local buckling. Here’s the trick to defeating the giant ants. You don’t want a rifle, you want a pile of bricks and a good pitching arm. One well-hurled brick hitting a leg and–plink!–the leg goes into local buckling and collapses, increasing the load on the remaining legs. Two more bricks and you’ve taken out all the legs on one side; all the bug can do is scrabble in circles. Three more bricks and the giant insect is completely immobilized.”
The Fifty-Foot Woman, Attack Of The Fifty Foot Woman (1958)
The only terrifying monster on this list. She’s giant, she’s pissed off about something and she won’t tell you what it is and every time you ask what’s up with her she says “nothing” and then has the temerity to accuse you of not being a good listener. AND SHE CAN SHOT-PUTT A SCHOOLBUS.
Kinda hot though. Wait, is that weird?
“Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman”? More like “Attack of the Tiny Inconsiderate Insensitive Assholes”, amiright ladies?