Cinema: Thumbs Up for the Instinctive Disregard for Human Life

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, August 1995

Cinema: Thumbs Up for the Instinctive Disregard for Human Life
By Paul Kvinta

"They're small creatures, there's a lot of them, and they latch on to your brain," says University of Illinois film instructor Richard Leskosky about the spongy little maggots that bore up from the center of the earth in the 1958 B-movie classic The Brain Eaters. "They're effective invaders almost until the end. Their problem is they can't handle high-voltage electricity."

To say that Leskosky and his wife, entomologist May Berenbaum, bring a strange flair to the business of film criticism is an understatement. The two academics, who are compiling their analyses into a book, specialize in the esoteric art of deconstructing celluloid insects and aliens--from Jiminy Cricket to Godzilla--on the basis of such real-world biological considerations as population patterns, mating behavior, and overall ability to survive unkind acts by humanity, such as being showered with hot acid. A typical diagnosis involves the "protagonist" in the 1954 epic Devil Girl from Mars. Her tragic flaw? A desire to mate with human males, a strategy "fraught with hazards associated with post-zygotic reproductive isolating mechanisms."

As to the mightiest alien force in history, the pair has a well-formed opinion. "The pods in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers," says Berenbaum. Runner-up? The gargoyles in the Alien movies. "But," Leskosky notes, "the aliens got nuked and Sigourney Weaver took care of the queen mother."

He ponders that assessment and then notes that the creatures did make a hardy comeback in Alien 3, with a fourth Alien currently in the works. "Actually," he admits a little sheepishly, "the existence of a species often has more to do with the box office than anything biological."

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