Friday, November 13, 2009

"Babes or bugs: you can't have both!"

So I just watched the movie Sick Girl from Showtime's Masters of Horror anthology, and I found more than a few problems with it. For those not in the know, the series features one-hour films by "the foremost filmmakers of fright." In this particular episode, a lebian entomologist, her dream girl, and a South American parasitic mystery bug named Mick fall in love. All of them. And in the great tradition of pseudo-scientific monster flicks like Mimic, The Fly, and Species, it’s ridiculous.


The film conflates spiders, millipedes, snails and insects, which are all vastly disparate denizens of the animal kingdom: in one scene two spiders and two dragonflies are pinned to a board of beetles. If we're going to accept that “bug” is an acceptable overarching term in the first place – it’s not – the screenwriter should at least know the difference between arthropods and mollusks. We also find out that the word "proboscis" is applicable to anything extend-y (which leads to a charming penis joke) regardless of position in body plan and function. These scientists are haplessly uninformed and strangely unwilling to accept the possibility of a new species. “An insect that hunts and kills mammals? Come on, there's no such thing!” an entomologist scoffs at one point, despite the fact that the specimen is the size of a dinner plate. This “bug,” cutely dubbed Mick, is vaguely arachnid and vaguely mantid, with sucking mouth parts and non-functional wings, if they exist at all. The fact that the researchers couldn't determine the sex of an unknown species was taken as a point of spookiness, whereas in biology hermaphroditic, asexual and even intersexed species or individuals are rampant. The real question - whether it has six legs or not - is evaded by the use of quick camera work and cheesy effects.

Not only is the film uninformed, it perpetuates the stereotype of entomologists - in particular female entomologists - as socially-deficient weirdos, a trope emphasized by the protagonist's "deviant" sexual preference for other women. This makes sense in terms of director Lucky McKee's other work (in particular, 2002's May, another weirdo-romance story also featuring Angela Bettis), but in this case her undesirability is directly related to her enthusiasm for bugs: she's the ick-equivalent of the crazy cat lady, baby-voicing the tarantulas that are perpetually crawling all over her while the audience takes its cue to squirm. While cutesy and sympathetic, the placement of this story under the auspices of horror cements the “extreme” status of both “bugs and babes.”

Some other gems o’ skewed-logic that we can glean from Sick Girl:

- Brazil is a place where wondrous demon bugs roam wild, because it's tropical and stuff

- The irresistable urge to add screechy sounds and mucus to everything vaguely monstrous/unknown is never wrong, regardless of the biology you’re ripping off

- Pencil drawings of faeries make for good art

- Lesbians are always hot

It’s hard to say whether this story is to be taken as an individual case or a symptom of general attitudes towards "bugs," those who study them, and alternative sexualities. Maybe it's just a stupid horror movie.

At least the soundtrack was decent.

posted by Anne Chino

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