Definitely one of
the most unique killer bug movies ever, an insect documentary done up as
an apocalyptic thriller that manages to locate the best worlds of both.
THE HELLSTROM CHRONICLE won the 1971 Academy Award for
Best Documentary, but plays more like science fiction. Its makers are
best known for their non-documentary film work, including director Walon
Green (screenwriter of THE WILD BUNCH and SORCERER), writer David Selzer
(who scripted WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and THE OMEN) and
composer Lalo Schifrin (whose many famous scores include the DIRTY HARRY
soundtrack and the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE theme). Appropriately enough, the
title character was fictional, portrayed by actor Lawrence Pressman
(who’s gone on to become a hard-working supporting player in everything
from SHAFT to AMERICAN PIE).
Yet for all that the film works as an insightful look
into the real-life world of insects, and an uncommonly entertaining one.
Nils Hellstrom is a dedicated scientist who’s widely
shunned as a crackpot. He’s concerned by the apparent fact that insects
are set to displace man as the rulers of the Earth. He illustrates this
by taking us into the worlds of various insects and demonstrating how
they’re superior to us.
First we get a peek into an ant colony whose
participants’ penchant for self sacrifice far outstrips our own. We also
see the lives of bees, who have a similarly selfless devotion to their
colony. Termites are seen doing everything they can for their queen, a
pulsating gelatinous mass that spits out larvae. Fireflies, on the other
hand, have life spans spanning a single day, and so use that short time
to exist as fully as they can, effectively demonstrating the mantra “the
purpose of life is life.”
Hellstrom includes a hidden camera experiment in which
he places various insects in peoples’ food to record their disgusted
reactions. He also destroys the outdoor habitats of various insect
colonies, claiming they’ll rebuild within days--whereas it would take
humans millions of years to complete an equivalent undertaking.
As a final apocalyptic warning, Hellstrom profiles the
ravenous Driver Ants, who constitute a “mindless, unstoppable killing
machine” that will someday unleash its fury on mankind. In the meantime,
apparently all we can do is wait.
Walon Green began his filmmaking career directing
National Geographic documentaries, which is evident in the eye-popping
insect photography of THE HELLSTROM CHRONICLE, surely among the finest
ever captured. The images Green has captured are astounding, from a duel
by rival ant colonies over a bee carcass to an extreme close up of a
lizard’s eyeball punctured by an ant’s mandible.
Of course Green, being the Hollywood bigwig he was,
films and edits these sequences as if they’re outtakes from THEM or
ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS. The music score by Lalo Schifrin swells
with overwrought war movie dramatics during an aunt battle and gets
downright porny during a black widow spider’s deadly seduction.
There’s also Nils Hellstrom’s priceless David Selzer
penned narration, which revels in hyperbolic verbiage. The
transformation of locusts from peaceful critters to airborne menaces is
likened to Jekyll and Hyde. The development of predatory plants to
entrap insects is dubbed a “macabre masterpiece of revenge” and the
Driver ants’ lair a “seething house of horror.”
Yet for all the hysteria, it must be said that
Hellstrom’s arguments aren’t that far-fetched. According to the end
credits all his claims have been verified by actual scientists.
Regardless of whether we humans should actually fear a mass invasion by
Driver Ants, the fact remains that the insect world has the jump on us
in many respects, and, when all is said and done, may well end up the
THE HELLSTROM CHRONICLE
Director/Producer: Walon Green
Screenplay: David Selzer
Cinematography: Helmuth Barth, Walon Green, Vilis Lapenieks
Editing: John Soh
Cast: Lawrence Pressman