Monster Mixtape: Arachnid Warriors

It’s that time of the year again. There’s a slight chill to the late summer evenings. Leaves are starting to bring out their fall colors. Each day is just a bit shorter than the last. We can all feel what these changes signify. No, not going back to school, but that it’s the season for monster movies! Between now and Halloween I’ll be highlighting ten of the best toothy, sharp-clawed, and mutated aberrations to shred the silver screen. Some are old classics, others are newcomers, but all are awesome.

“Your basic Arachnid warrior isn’t too smart, but you can blow off a limb and it’s still 86 percent combat effective.” Let’s talk about the bugs from Starship Troopers.

Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 scifi shoot ‘em up is a divisive film. Some see it as a dumb bastardization of Robert Heinlein’s classic novel, while others have defended it as a joking and self-aware send up of Nazi propaganda. To me, the movie has all the subtlety of a mobile infantry solider stepping on your foot with a steel-toed boot and growling “It’s satire. GET IT?!”, but there is one thing I think we can all agree on—the big-budget Bugs hold up really well.

There’s an entire Insect Zoo of arthropod terrors to choose from. Mosquitos on steroids. Enormous versions of bombardier beetles that can shoot plasma farts into space. Giant beetles equipped with a flamethrower between the eyes because—what the hell—it’s called science fiction for a reason. And, of course, a Brain Bug that I can only imagine a Freudian psychologist would love to talk to Verhoeven about. But my favorite by far are the standard-issue, swarming warriors that literally rip and tear through our protagonists.

starship-troopers2

The creation of special effects master Phil Tippett, the warriors are melee specialists surpassed only by the famous xenomorph in terms of deadliness. Every end is pointy. And their numerical superiority aside, the warriors are durable enough that throughout the film it takes a crowd of soldiers to even bring down one of the yellowjacket-striped stabbers. There are worse fates, though. If the warriors manage to lock their nutcracker-like jaws around you, well, let’s just say you’ll be half the person you used to be.

Starship Troopers’ soldiers certainly play into the insectoid advantage. The weaponry Heinlein imagined for his soldiers was a little closer to what Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise shrugged around in All You Need is Kill Live, Die, Repeat Edge of Tomorrow. Verhoeven instead envisioned his troops as machinegun-toting kids who can barely remember to point the barrels of their weapons at the enemy, led around by leadership about as competent as that of Zapp Brannigan. This isn’t a gripe. For the viewer, it means we get to see what the alien warriors can do up close and personal over and over again.

Being blasted by a plasma bug’s butt cannon isn’t really scary. And while painful, being turned to slurry by a tank beetle’s biological napalm doesn’t quite hit home. But the warriors are sharp, personal, and messy. They’ll kill any way they can, and if you see one you know there are thousands more behind it. Regardless of how you feel about Starship Troopers, at least we can all be thankful it gave Tippet the opportunity to introduce us to a new many-jointed nightmare.

Brian Switek is the author of My Beloved Brontosaurus (out in paperback from Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and Written in Stone. He also writes the National Geographic blog Laelaps.

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