Insectula [aka Insectula! Creature From Another World] is, in the words of its director, Michael Peterson, a movie about a giant mosquito-like alien attracted to Earth by the increased CO2 in the atmosphere. It has adopted the currently rather popular retro aesthetic of creature-feature film making — a nostalgic throwback to pre-CGI days, though Peterson’s film adopts both practical and digital FX methods, seeking the best way to navigate the treacherous waters of monster creation without coming aground on an ever-rising budget.
“I’m trying to put in a balance of CGI and practical (non-CGI),” he said in a recent interview. “I love practical effects like miniatures, cable controlled and stop motion, but to do a movie like this 100% practical isn’t realistic with my budget, so I’m trying to mix the two the best I can. Given that this isn’t taking itself seriously, I’m able to get away with some fun things like trying to make the CGI shots look like they were shot with miniatures … not necessarily to make them look like real life, but to make them look like they are practical [FX].”
From what I’ve seen of the film Peterson is achieving some excellent work, with spectacular scenes of giant insect mayhem. Whether or not Insectula will compare to the great giant insect flick Them! (US-1954; dir. Gordon Douglas) in terms of script and direction, its insectoid monsters certainly transcend the stiff (if effective in context) puppetry of the 1950s classic. Peterson has described the film as “an ode to the movies I grew up with as a child, the American International pictures, Hammer films, Dr Phibes, 50s B-movies and of course the nuclear monster movies…”
It is NOT, however, a satire of those films but comes from a genuine love of them.
A giant alien mosquito-type insect is drawn to earth from the CO2 pollution in search of blood. Del, a government agent, loses loved ones to the creature and is on a personal vendetta while the Dr Kempler is captivated by it and attempts to help the creature cleanse the earth. (IMDb)
Below you can view a trailer and some early footage, though Peterson is quick to point out that the FX in the trailer and clip are early-stage stuff. “Some of the renders in the trailer were very quick and early tests and I’ve gotten much better since then,” he explained. “The trailer materials were for interest in funding and when we render out our finals I will be much more picky.” Keep that in mind as you watch (and as you look at the images that are scattered through this article) and you may be impressed… in fact, you should be.
Warning: This next clip includes gruesome imagery. Mind you, so did the trailer, so I guess you’re already traumatised.
Backbrain representative Kaiju Search-Robot Avery [aka Avery Guerra, Battlesoid, Averyzilla] talked to Peterson about this big creepy-crawly monsterfest, exercising his insatiable curiosity about the ins and outs of independent filmmaking and all things monstrous.
Avery Guerra: Is the full title Insectula! Creature From Another World or just Insectula!?
Michael Peterson: The original working title was Insectula! Creature From Another World, but now it has been shortened to just Insectula!
AG: So what’s the film about? The title seems to suggest a single entity on a rampage, but from the trailer it appears that there are various types of giant creatures in it.
MP: The movie is really kind of a throwback to the nuclear monster movies of the ’50s and ’60s, but using global warming instead. A giant mosquito-like alien travels from planet to planet searching for increased CO2 levels indicating life, much like a real mosquito is attracted to CO2. Its embryonic stage is in a lake so it’s of a different form than its adult stage. The other giant monsters in the trailer are creatures on its planet, and some of that is because I was using the trailer for funding purposes. I would imagine we will have a much different trailer when we get closer to release. Sub plots involve a government agent with a vendetta against it and a mad scientist-type character who wants to help it “cleanse” the earth.
AG: Sounds great! What inspired you to make this sort of film? And what filmmakers have influenced your approach to filmmaking?
MP: I spent my childhood down in the basement watching Super 8 creature feature movies over and over and reading Famous Monsters of Filmland. This film is an ode to those movies. People now can buy or watch whatever movie they want, but back then you had the Super 8s borrowed from the library and creature features on Saturdays and that was it. It was much more exciting when a movie you liked was coming on.
That’s why I have a real soft spot for the older Corman films, but Hitchcock, Carpenter, Sam Raimi all had an influence, I think. I’m probably closer to the sensibilities of Raimi than the rest as it seems like we may share the same sense of humor.
AG: How did this particular film come about?
MP: I was working on some test scenes as a proposal to do effects for another movie. I did them very easily and quickly and they looked really big budget. I thought Man, I could make a pretty big-looking picture for a really low cost. Eventually I decided that’s just what I’d do.
There is a real lack of giant monster films [lately] and I really like them. There was Cloverfield and 1998 Godzilla etc., but I really wanted to revive the melodrama that sometimes occurred in the older ones. Plus making a giant monster film on my budget seemed almost impossible, so some of it was really a test to see if with the tools we have access to at home I could accomplish very difficult challenges.
AG: What types of FX are being used to bring Insectula! to life? Old style or new?
MP: I’m very partial to practical effects actually … cable controlled, stop-motion, puppets and miniatures. But they just weren’t doable with my budget. I’m trying to mix as much practical as I can afford and having to mix that with CGI. I’m doing a lot of the CGI myself so I’m remaining very cognizant of not getting too cheesy-looking.
AG: What are some films that you’re using for inspiration to make this film?
MP: Them!, The Deadly Mantis, It Came from Outer Space and the Japanese Toho pictures are the basic ones. However, I’m throwing in a lot of stuff, such as odes to Kubrick, Hitchcock, Twilight Zone, Jaws — really everything I love. I’m mashing it all together and keeping it from being too serious — without venturing into the Scary Movie overt comedy style.
AG: What are some of your favorite creature features?
MP: The ones I mentioned earlier are probably my favs. I think The Deadly Mantis and Them! because they did such a wonderful job on the monsters. Tarantula was another good one. My original premise was to do something along the lines of The Giant Claw and have a real goofy monster, but I rethought that, fearing the goofiness would wear thin. Plus I’m not making fun of these films … I love them, and to mock them wouldn’t be fair. So I put my head down and dove into 3D rendering programs until I felt competent at it.
[Note from the editor: Elsewhere Peterson remarked that his "favorite of all time" is Carpenter’s The Thing. I only mention this to illustrate the man's excellent taste.]
AG: What can fans of the genre expect to see in this film?
MP: I’m trying to bring the vibe from the above-mentioned films into this one. It’s campy but not mockingly. I’m using the algorithm Scorsese’s The Aviator used to emulate the old Three-Strip Technicolor process. I saw that used on Hobo with a Shotgun recently and they actually used Technicolor people on it, but I must say I don’t think they did it quite right. They went overboard. The people using Technicolor back then tried very hard to tone it down and make it look natural; it’s just that colors would pop out in spite of their best efforts.
AG: What was your estimated budget?
MP: I shot about 50% of the movie myself and we haven’t finalized our budget deals so far so I can’t tell you right now. Suffice to say that this will be completed for a shockingly low price for the quality. I’m trying to show what can be accomplished. We shouldn’t even get close to the budget of Gareth Edward’s Monsters, which in itself was low.
AG: What sort of release do you hope to obtain?
MP: I’m talking with a foreign distribution company so we should have good reach into Europe and Asia. We haven’t ventured into the domestic distribution yet. I expect to release it sometime in 2012 is all I can say right now.
This is one film we’ll definitely be looking out for! Oh, did you notice there’s even a zombie….