Beginning of the End (1957)
Critter: Gigantic mutant grasshoppers in the Family Acrididae
Modus Operandi: Chomping with razor sharp mandibles
How the Menace Emerges: A USDA agricultural research project investigating enlarging vegetables to feed the world goes awry when grasshoppers sneak in for a munch
End Goal: Dinner
Beginning of the End is the aptly titled second feature from the king of the gianormous, Mr. B.I.G. (Earth vs. the Spider, Empire of the Ants). This time, an agricultural experiment using radioactive isotopes to improve crop yield goes haywire. Grasshoppers that fed upon the gigantic tomatoes and strawberries respond very well to the radiation in their snack and grow to enormous size. They consume an entire town in southern Illinois before heading off to Chicago for some real fun.
Mr. B.I.G. uses his characteristic back projection to inject the enormous fiends into the scene, and for the most part it’s pretty effective. Although grasshoppers are typically not scary when we encounter them in reality, these gigantic ones climbing up photographs of Chicago’s skyscrapers and peeking in the windows would scare the pants off most of us, no matter how herbivorous we knew them to really be. As an interesting side note: this was filmed in California, which even in 1957 had very strict importation regulations against potential agricultural pests. The 300 grasshoppers that star in Beginning of the End were brought in from Texas, where they know how to grow ‘em big. Since they could escape from the set and create a much more miniaturized, but still pesky mayhem in CA, only males were allowed to be brought into the state.
Peter Graves (Night of the Hunter, It Conquered the World) stars as the entomologist responsible for the disaster and determined to fight the military with science until all is well in the world once more. He is joined in his quest by Peggie Castle (White Orchid), who starts out as an independent, star journalist after a scoop, but winds up a meek girlfriend-type by the end. Despite her character flaws, Beginning of the End is punchy and rolls right along. While nothing close to Them! caliber, it would make a fine Saturday afternoon pastime for you B-movie folks.
Nit-picking Science: Dr. Wainwright, I think you’re exaggerating the communication & social capacity of these guys. Rather than working together to devour everything as a team, these guys are usually solitary. When they get too cramped, little hairs on their legs get rubbed, and they go nuts, undergoing a Jekyll and Hyde-style transformation that turns them into an army of destruction. Just as a side note, serotonin has been experimentally implicated as the possible neurotransmitter responsible for this change.