Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: Sting of Death

Sting of Death (1965)

Critter: Mutant Physalia physalis, Portuguese Man-of-War + Mad Scientist = “Jellyfish” Man

Size: Man-sized, of course

Modus Operandi: Sneaks up on unsuspecting, but deserving human victims and stings them with his stinging gloves & tentacles

How the Menace Emerges: A disgruntled Igor-like research assistant breeds his own extra-large man-of-war on electricity, seawater and human blood creating a lethal headdress wielded for revenge

End Goal: Being alone with the pretty lady and vengeance

Sting of Death is the sort of film that just isn’t made any more. Many folks might see that as a good thing, but they’re also the same folks you try not to invite to your parties. It is a fun movie, but that’s just the obvious part. Although buttressed upon tried and true formulas, the premise is unique and the critter is entirely absurd. The budget was nil, yet with a low-budget craftsman at the helm, everything that counts is in place. It is well-paced and looks gorgeous. It is the combination of these conflicting things that makes Sting of Death such a rarity and such a resounding success.

William Grefé is the craftsman behind Sting of Death, the man responsible for skillfully turning a disfigured research assistant into a vengeful “jellyfish” man while still managing to toss in an equally absurd (but catchy) poolside dance number (The Jellyfish, sung by Neil Sedaka). If you listen to the commentary, a priceless chat between Grefé and the immeasurable Frank Hennenlotter, you can get a sense of what sort of process is required to pull this off. This is real grindhouse. Sting of Death is packaged on DVD with Death Curse of Tartu, the even lower budget film Grefe made as a drive-in companion piece at the distributor’s last minute request. Even though the baddies in this one are all vertebrates, it too comes with a gratuitous dance sequence and fabulous commentary from Grefe and Hennenlotter. For only 10 bucks, it’s a steal.

For those of you who laughed at the absurdity of using an inflated plastic bag and leftover Mardi Gras beads to represent the mutant Man-of-War here, I suggest that you check out these photos of the real deal here, here and here.

Nit-picking Science: To be fair, the Portuguese Man-of-War is not a jellyfish at all, but a related, rather more complex, colonial supercritter. As siphonophores, each “individual” Man-of-War is actually made up of a colony of specially differentiated individuals collectively and obligately living as a single organism. Although they are all the same species, this species differentiates itself into four distinct types of organism (zooid), each with its own purpose in creating a fully functional Man-of-War, and each unable to survive on its own. The first zooids are the pneumatophores, which look like floating plastic bags and keep the collective critter afloat. The next zooids are dactylozooids which are the nasty, stinging, venomous tentacles that capture and kill prey organisms, but in order for the man-of-war to eat, it needs the next set of zooids, the gastrozooids. These guys do the digesting for the group. Lastly, no Man-of-War is complete without a means of reproduction, and that’s where the gonozooids come in. Sting of Death merely added another mutualist to this party: the human host who expanded the Man-of-War’s hunting range to include large terrestrial mammals. Oh, and while I couldn’t find out for sure, I suspect that Dr. Richardson is mistaken when he says that Man-of-War venom is exactly like cobra venom.


Field Guide to Invertebrates in Film: Parasite (2004)

Parasite (2004)

Critter: The worst CGI, toothy Annelids ever committed to film.

Size: Apparently, this was up to the whim of the animator for each scene

Modus Operandi: Slimily slither around, gnashing teeth and occasionally biting or eating people.

How the Menace Emerges: An environmentally concerned bioengineer gets a gig with an oil company to try to make things right from the inside by creating an oil-eating enzyme. When the drunk, cowardly and otherwise useless blue-collar crew ignores her precise instructions, a huge dose of the enzyme is sprayed on an annelid and wreaks genetic havoc.

End Goal: Who cares.

A worm, of sorts, is sprayed with an experimental enzyme engineered to eat oil. It then builds a chrysalis made of masking tape (well, at least it’s not CGI). Strangely, once it’s out of it’s chrysalis, it hasn’t metamorphosized at all. Add to the mess a group of ecoterrorists from the head scientist’s past and you have a heck of a mess. So, what about the so-called parasites of the title? They don’t seem to be parasites at all, but rather run of mill predators. And they are portrayed with, hands-down, the worst CGI ever.

I know I’ve said this before, but Parasite really is the worst entry in the Guide to date. Terrible acting, terrible, terrible CGI and an absolutely useless story. It attempts to play the eco-horror card, but fails miserably. Just tossing in a villainous corporate executive, a concerned scientist and a group of ecoterrorists without any story or character development just doesn’t cut it.

To be fair, the makers of Parasite were attempting to make a complete rip-off of Alien/Aliens. They saw a successful formula and thought that stealing bits and pieces of it would be enough. It just wasn’t.

Nit-picking Science: Dr. Hansen, there is no way that you can tell if the cells you are looking at are acidic or not. Also, what about those little cells tells you that any organic matter, living or dead, can serve as hosts for this so-called parasite? Despite your completely unfounded prognosis, these things behave exactly like man-eating predators in every way. Just because 90% of your film was a sorry rehash of Alien/Aliens that doesn’t mean that you have to stretch the story to include parasites, too. If you are going to, at least look up what they are in the dictionary first.


david lynch thursday!

"Oww God Mom The Dog He Bited Me," 1988.