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  THE HELLSTROM CHRONICLE

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 Package
     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.

The Story
     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.

The Direction
     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 true victor.
 

Vital Statistics

THE HELLSTROM CHRONICLE
Wolper Pictures

Director/Producer: Walon Green
Screenplay: David Selzer
Cinematography: Helmuth Barth, Walon Green, Vilis Lapenieks
Editing: John Soh
Cast: Lawrence Pressman

     

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