Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bug Buster (USA, 1998)

The concept of purposefully making a cult movie is a relatively new one. Say, before the original Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975/trailer), most cult movies were simply exceptional or twisted visions that somehow achieved that cult-worthy otherness that elevated them to their special statues. That is why, once upon a time, when talking of cult movies, The Wizard of Oz (1939) could be mentioned in the same breath as Behind the Green Door (1972), Reefer Madness (1936), Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959/trailer), El Topo (1970), Detour (1945), Eraserhead (1977) or Pink Flamingos (1972). Regardless of their individual roots or genre, they were not consciously made to be cult, but were made due to the vision of those involved and only achieved their cult status later.
Over the years, however, in part due to the success and eventual mainstream acceptance of “cult movie” as a genre in itself, the concept of making a movie specifically as a cult movie has achieved increasing popularity, especially among the filmmakers of the lower budget realm. But if nothing else, the multitudes of consciously culty films have served little more than to show how hard it is to actually make a cult film on purpose: for every Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) or Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), there are far more films like Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town (1991) or, even worse, films like Bug Buster (1998).
Filmed at Big Bear Lake in California, Bug Buster is tofu sold as sirloin, oregano as maryjane, water as vodka, 1 inch as 10 inches. In other words, Lorenzo Doumani's “movie” is a majorly disappointing example of false advertising: Instead of the wild and wacky cult killer bug flick, it's a disjointed, unfunny, badly written and badly acted piece of crap. Hell, it even manages to make Lorenzo Doumani's other consciously culty film The Misery Brothers (1995/trailer) seem like a laugh-filled masterpiece in comparison (but then, any film that has Lou Ferrigno queening it up in a skintight black bodysuit is OK in my book). Bug Buster opens much like that other big budgeted and better cockroach film Mimic (1997/trailer) in that the state government makes an unwise decision to end a plague of cockroaches and, as a result, sometime later mutant cockroaches are running wild (in Mimic, they used mutated cockroaches to put an end to plague-carrying roaches, in Bug Buster, an untested chemical to save crops and jobs). Thirteen years later, along the basic plotline of Jaws (1975), Shannon Griffen (Katherine Heigl – not half as good as she was in Bride of Chucky (trailer) that same year) and her parents Gil (Love Boat’s Bernie Kopell) and Cammie (Anne Lockhart) move to the quiet lakeside town of Mountview to run a hotel just in time for a plague of killer cockroaches and centipedes to break out. (The cockroaches look oddly similar to those in that other killer cockroach film They Nest (2000/trailer), which is both scarier and funnier than Bug Buster – guess both film had the same supplier.) Shannon starts getting touchy-feely with Steve (David Lipper), a local, and shortly after her parents get eaten by the bugs – something she gets over amazingly quickly – Deputy Bo (Ty O'Neal) calls in the crazed Vietnam Vet vermin exterminator General George S. Merlin (Randy Quaid) to rid the now-quarantined town of the killer cockroaches. (A character type played the next year with greater effectiveness and humor, and far less histrionics, by John Goodman in Arachnophobia.) The clues lead everyone to the local abandoned gold mine where they face off first with the traitorous town sheriff (James Doohan, who never managed a respectable career after Star Trek) and then a six-foot killer momma cockroach. Steve is killed, but the rest survive and all is well that ends well until Shannon finally leaves town and is confronted with the horrible possibility of a sequel!
What’s wrong with Bug Buster? Well, just about everything. Neither funny nor scary, the script is full of plot holes and the acting is uneven across the board. Characters are less likable than they are simply supposed to be liked, and the cheap production values are only underscored by the incompetent direction. Scenes – of buggies crawling from the lake in the rain and of Shannon going orgasmic as cockroaches crawl over her sleeping body – are repeated too often, the nudity barometer is at zero and the gucky gore is too low and too quick when finally shown. Bug Buster is not only far from being a cult movie, it is a tedious piece of crap that is light-years away from even being a watchable movie.

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