As I write this, I’ve just heard news that stop motion special effects artist Ray Harryhausen has just passed away at the age of 93. His death reminds me that his monsters and those “Big Bug” movies from the 50s were the first flicks I latched onto when I was kid. It helped that me and my brother were extremely fascinated by insects and spiders growing up, but to see them in a science fiction film in which they grow to an enormous size and wreak havoc upon mankind was a whole new experience for me.
Praying mantids, ants, wasps, scorpions, and grasshoppers have all been turned into giant monsters. We’ve even had one about giant mutant ticks, but it seems spiders are the favorite of filmmakers to grow monstrous on celluloid. That’s perfectly understandable; their appearance alone is nightmarish enough, more so when you learn about their feeding habits and how they capture prey. Spiders use webs in most instances to ensnare, mummifying in silk, and injecting an agent into them via a set of fangs that breaks down the internal organs into a soup that can be easily sucked out.
Aren’t spiders cool?
I think they are, but enough about them.
I saw a movie once in the early 90s called Popcorn about a bunch of kids being menaced by a killer in a theater where this film festival is being held. There are these fictional movies being shown, movies the filmmakers created just for this flick, and I vividly remember one of them was about a giant mosquito. The prop mosquito built for the fake movie was even used to kill someone, that person being impaled on its proboscis (aka stinger). I remember thinking at the time ‘Wow, hey, yeah, a giant mosquito movie! That would be cool!’
It makes sense too. Like spiders, they feast on bodily fluids, they’re universal, everyone knows the evil mosquito. At the time I wondered why no one had leapt on this insect before and made a movie about it?
In April, 1994, Fangoria #131 arrived in my mailbox, and a quick scan of the cover gave me goose bumps. Down in the left corner, covered in blood is what appears to be some kind of giant insect, a mosquito, and right inside the photo are the words, ‘Big bugs bite back! (& they really suck).’ And directly underneath that photo is the word, SKEETER, in all caps.
My God, I thought, I think they just made a giant mosquito movie! Looking excitedly at the contents I find confirmation: WHAT’S THE BUZZ? Mosquitoes are bigger than ever in the indie films “Skeeter” and “Nightswarm,” and boy, do they really suck (heh heh).
Holy fuck, they made two giant mosquito movies!
I quickly turn to page 30 and revel in the photos I immediately see. Most of the article is devoted to what I consider the sub par ‘Giant Skeeter’ flick, Skeeter. Nightswarm (aka Blood Fever) is relegated to a minor spread below at the halfway mark across pages 32 and 33. If you’ve never seen either flick, the difference between the two is that Skeeter has bird-size insects while Nightswarm has man-sized ones. I’ll admit even though Skeeter is the more “polished looking” flick, the one you’ll have more fun with is Nightswarm, which was later released under the name Mosquito.
The article starts off introducing us to a guy named Gary Jones, whose primary job, before this directorial gig here, was special effects artist. Looking up his resume on IMDB shows he had done FX work on four movies I’m a fan of: Evil Dead II (1987), Moontrap (1989), Army Of Darkness (1992) and John Woo’s Hard Target (1993). Ever since Mosquito, his work has stayed primarily in the B-movie marketplace, either as a director, assistant director, or special effects artist.
One of the things that make Mosquito the better of the two flicks is basically the giant mosquitoes themselves. Keep in mind this is before Jurassic Park (1993) and before that movie heralded in the sometimes-overbearing art form of computer generated imagery. Gary managed to construct some really cool looking, anatomically correct, giant insects for his film, all realized as either animatronic puppets, stop motion FX, or, at one point, I swear, good ol’ fashion animation.
Same thing applies to some of the victims who run into them and end up getting sucked dry. There are few standout effects, one of a chick getting her blood sucked out through her ass cheek, a man who takes a stinger impalement to the eye, and a weasely character who deservedly gets attacked by a couple of skeeters and in the process of being sucked his skin wrinkles and his eyes pop out and explode.
Jones co-wrote the movie with a Tom Chaney and a Steve Hodge and as he describes in the article, the origin for how the mosquitoes got so huge is certainly the most unique in the annals of Big Bug movies. It also begs the bigger question, when extraterrestrial life gets into what is basically a “fatal car accident” while navigating Earth’s atmosphere, would the indigenous fauna of our planet scavenge their bodies? Well, in Jones’ movie, the mosquitoes certainly have no qualms sucking on alien fluids, and whatever was in that particular alien species blood grows these mothers to a troublesome size.
This very scene also showcases some nice stop motion animation as we actually see our earthly sized skeeter traversing alien skin and sticking its proboscis into it.
As it pertains to the actors in the movie, Rachel Loiselle, who plays Megan (easy to pick out in the behind-the-scenes cast shot below), the late Ron Asheton, who plays Hendricks (5th from the left) and Gunnar Hanson (3rd from the left), who plays the main villain, Earl. No mention at all of the late Steve Dixon, who died last year, (1st from the left, aka the black guy), who plays, Parks, the meteorologist—no, not a weather man, an actual meteor chaser, or Tim Lovelace, who plays, Ray, boyfriend/hero to Lioselle’s groin kicking heroine (4th from left, aka dude with the shotgun).
The way that Ray and Megan first encounter the giant mosquitoes is absolutely perfect. You know how bugs sometimes collide with your windshield while you’re driving, killing themselves something awful all over it? Well, as our couple are heading into the country for Meg’s new job as a Ranger at the local state park, a giant mosquito dips to low as it’s flying across the road and smashes against the front bumper, going splat all over the hood and up onto the windshield.
From conversation that erupts after the accident, she wants to get the body back to the lab, at school, and Ray wants to forget about all that and just relax, giving one the sense that their characters might be collegians—the sexy science major and the jock/frat boy.
I was fortunate enough to have a short exchange with actor Tim Lovelace about the movie. Here’s what he had to say about how he got into acting, and into Mosquito:
“I had done a couple of short films, student films and was a featured extra in Hoffa (then the scene got cut from final) and worked as an extra in The Carrier. I was considered for the lead in The Carrier but I was still in the Marine Corps Reserve and was scheduled to be gone during most of the filming.
I had been working as an actor doing theater, commercials, voice work, and industrial films for about 3 years when I met Gary. He was doing makeup FX for a commercial where I turned into a werewolf. When I walked in his studio to have my head cast for the prosthetics I saw giant mosquitoes he was making and storyboards up on the walls along with a lot of other props he had built including Bruce Campbell’s head from Moontrap. Being a huge fan of classic horror films, especially giant creature flick,s we hit it off right away. I told him I had to be in Mosquito. He invited me to audition for the role of Ray. He gave me a copy of the script and it said Ray was a black guy! I auditioned against about 20 other guys, some black some white and got the role. Glad I did because it was a dream come true and I made a lot of friends I’ve had ever since including Gunnar Hanson.”
Through Tim, I was also able to connect with Rachel Loiselle and asked her about her experience on the movie, Here’s what she told me about breaking into acting and meeting Gary Jones:
“I attended Wayne State University on scholarship and earned a theatre degree. After graduation I signed with all the local talent agencies, one of whom called me for the Mosquito audition. The audition monologue was from Gremlins, when Phoebe Cates talks about Christmas and finding her father dead in the chimney. When director Gary Jones offered me the role of Meghan, he asked “How do you feel about nudity?”. I responded: “Yours or mine? Yours, OK. Mine? Uh, no.”
I appreciate in director Gary Jones that he treats a production as a collaboration and considers input from all involved. It would be a privilege to work with him again.”
Gary chose Gunnar Hanson (Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974) to play the lead villain, Earl, the brawn, and by the looks of his two partners, a brother and a cousin, also the brains of the bank robbery operation they have going in the movie. Mike Hard plays Junior, Earl’s brother, and he plays his “villainy” at the cartoonish level, while Earl’s cousin, Rex, played by some dude named, Kenny Mugwump, plays his “villainy” a non-issue. He’s not on screen enough for us to know how much of a douche he could be. The robber’s initial encounter with the giant skeeters results in Junior accidentally shooting poor ol’ Rex in the back, killing him on the spot.
Ron Asheton’s (who died in 2009) character, Hendricks, is a Park Ranger at the very park Meg is scheduled to start working at. It appears he plays things rather fast and loose, and I have to admit upon initial viewing his character annoyed the hell out of me. Hendricks complains a lot, and on one level can be viewed as the comic relief, but I grew to like him in the many subsequent viewings I made of the flick throughout the years. Surprisingly he makes it through 95% of the movie, only meeting his untimely end in a dumbwaiter when the rope snaps and he goes plummeting down to the basement of this farmhouse. If the fall didn’t kill him, the giant mosquitoes nesting in there surely did.
Tim’s thoughts on Ron:
“Ron Asheton and I found out on the shoot that we lived just down the street from each other in Ann Arbor When we I was a kid, about 11 houses away from each other! I remembered a guy we all thought was weird; he always dressed in black and wore black cowboy boots and aviator glasses. We’d see him with a girl in a long leopard print coat and knee-high boots. I had no idea he was a famous musician. We stayed good friends after the shoot and would hang out whenever I was in Ann Arbor. Ron was good buddies with Gunnar and Gary as well. We all stayed in contact with each other over the years. It was a blow to all three of us when we got the news that Ron passed.”
Parks (Steve Dixon) is in the area investigating the crash of the “meteor” (aka alien ship), and runs into Ray and Meg, even giving them a ride to the state park for her job, but once there they discover all the campers and rangers, minus Hendricks have fallen prey to something insidious, something that has sucked everyone dry of their blood.
It’s not long before Hendricks fills them in on what killed them.
The film really starts to cook once the gang decides they need to get the hell out of the area pronto, like, back to the city, but they can’t do it in Parks’ jeep. Too open. Only sensible solution is to use an RV they come across.
Earl and Junior finally insinuate themselves into the mix when our heroes pick up the two after their car is trashed, and a battle of wills results as to who’s gonna use the RV for what. Earl wants to go deeper into the country to hide out despite the giant skeeters.
There’s a scene in this section of the movie that nearly crippled me with laughter the first time I saw it, and after repeated viewings it still manages to make me chuckle like mad. It’s when Earl, with hatchet in hand, grabs Meg, and tells everyone to cool it and do what he says, or he’s going do horrible things to her with it. Meg manages to get free by stabbing him in the thigh with a severed mosquito proboscis. I can never tell if he says, “You bitch!” or “You little bitch!,” but she replies with, “Damn straight,” and then proceeds to kick her foot as hard as she can up into his junk. No, that’s not the part that cracks me up—it’s Earl’s reaction. He doesn’t scream in pain, or do anything, he just falls to his knees with a blank, slack jawed expression on his face, and the camera lingers for a bit on him when he’s on the ground, looking up at Meg with the same continued look on his face. That scene just kills me every time I see it. And to top it all off Ray interjects, “That’s my girl.”
Here are some of Rachel’s recollections:
“Night shoot, driving down a dirt road in the RV. I’m strapped in a safety harness with Jake Jacobsen holding onto the tether, hanging out the door, screaming my head off with Tom Chaney on the roof filming. Suddenly Jake yanks me in, ow. Seems we got within a foot of smacking my head into a tree. Thank you, Jake!
Shooting the exteriors at the Chaney property, the company provided a port-o-potty in the barn. This was in July. By the second day, it was… fragrant. Being one of only three women on set, I asked Mrs. Chaney if she might welcome the ladies into the foyer powder room. She most graciously agreed. Thank you, Mrs. Chaney!
The crawling through the sewer pipe scene was tough on the guys. I was small enough to sort of crab-walk, but Gunnar, Tim, Steve and Ron had to crawl. Hard on the knees.
Fun fact: the fake hatchet used to cut my face was called “the Shemp axe” (as in the Three Stooges).
Fun fact: long days of shooting, everyone’s tired, trying to fling the bug guts from buckets… got inadvertently renamed “gugbuts”.
Fun fact: the day we shot the house explosion blue screen was my birthday.”
And a final comment on that Fangoria article, right at the end of it there’s this: “Keeping a close watch on the film’s violence, Jones claims to be aiming for a PG-13 rating. . .” I was at the mall one day, in summer of 1995, and as I usually did, I walked into Saturday Matinee (the video store I used to do all my VHS shopping at which is now long out of business), lo and behold, the first thing I literally set eyes on was a row of movies called, Mosquito. Despite the name change, I instantly made the connection, went over and looked at the back of the movie. There was enough information there for me to easily conclude this was indeed Gary Jones’ movie. I bought it on the spot. And, as you can tell, (see photo below) it ultimately went out with an R-rating.
Image Entertainment put out a DVD in late 1999, with the same artwork. No extras not even a trailer and the movie was framed at 1.33:1. Yes, you can safely assume I bought that version, too, and still have it to this day. It quickly went out of print, though, and if you can find it anywhere it pretty much goes for an arm and a leg. The only other movie I own that Gary Jones has directed is another “Big Bug” movie he ended up making about giant spiders appropriately called, Spiders (2000). There was another, Frostbiter: Wrath Of The Wendigo that he made around the time he did Mosquito, which I have never seen, but would like to.
One time I came across another article in Fangoria (I can’t remember what it was called, or what issue it’s in) that stated Jones was planning on doing a sequel to Mosquito. Unfortunately that never materialized. Tim Lovelace told me at one point he was planning something called, Mosquito 3D. I would love to see Jones do another skeeter flick, but would mostly love to see it done as a sequel rather than a remake, using the two surviving characters. Concerning any future releases of Mosquito on DVD, Tim has also indicated that Jones owns the rights to the movie, and the ball is completely in his court as to when that happens. He also indicated Jones wants to do a 20th Anniversary Edition, but is trying to work out the monetary logistics on how to make that happen. Seeing as the movie’s anniversary isn’t until 2015 we can only hope that’s plenty of time for him to have all that figured out.
Now, I know some of you are asking yourselves why am I reading a review of a movie that is long out of print and is not scheduled for any kind of re-release in the near future? Well, two reasons, 1). I just plainly love it, and 2). Jones and Lovelace have gotten back together for a new B-movie that hits DVD in late June called, Axe Giant: The Wrath Of Paul Bunyan, and from the look of the trailer, I’d say this might be another movie of his bound for cult classic status. I’ll refrain from commenting on it further, for I hope to be reviewing it next month, and wanted to whet people’s appetite for it in this Mosquito review.
(Many thanks to Rachel Loiselle for talking with me, and Tim Lovelace for his comments and for photos #2, 3 and 4, which I snatched off his Facebook page).