Friday, March 8, 2013

The Hellstrom Chronicle

The Hellstrom Chronicle
Walon Green, Ed Spiegel

I was obsessed with bugs as a kid, but what kid wasn’t at least a little interested in them? I recall checking out book after book on the subject, carefully memorizing their anatomy and various species.  I drew pictures, wrote stories, and kept a fair number of them captive in jars. Dinosaurs were awesome, but my true love was for bugs. My bug fever has cooled considerably since I was very young, (although a lifelong appreciation of spiders has remained, much to the chagrin of my wife and certain friends.) but I have distinct memories of seeing the VHS box for ‘The Hellstrom Chronicle’ and the very idea of a documentary explaining how insects would overthrow mankind was fascinating, but far too horrifying a notion for me to beg my mom to let me see it.

‘The Hellstrom Chronicle’ is a strange film in that it is a faux documentary that uses real nature footage to sell its environmental horrors. Dr. Nils Hellstrom (Lawrence Pressman) is a scientist thrown out of academia for his radical notions that eventually only two species will one day remain on Earth, humans and insects. They will be in constant conflict, but a conflict that will end with people almost certainly being the losers. His evidence is backed up with scenes of violence in the insect world, and an ill-advised hidden camera sequence. Ultimately, Dr. Hellstrom insists, the insects will inherent the Earth and reign long after the last human has perished.

The nature footage is the real strength of ‘The Hellstrom Chronicle’. The camera unflinchingly shows the harshness of insect life without turning away. It also manages a few moments of true beauty which keep the film from being ninety minutes of insect murders. The music is minimal and eerie without ever intruding pm the narrative. When the film lets the insects do the talking, it’s a riveting film. Dr. Hellstrom’s narrative swings wildly from a calm rational discussion of insect life to a full blown apocalyptic diatribe about the death of mankind under the crush a billion tiny monsters.  He underscores the menace successfully just as often as he blows it wildly out of proportion, but then again had this just been yet another nature documentary about insects it probably wouldn’t still be discussed over forty years later.

There is a section on the middle of the film, where a “hidden camera” shows us unsuspecting people discovering insects in their food and at the grocery store. It’s extremely phony; none of the reactions feel genuine. I guess it was meant to be played for comedy but it isn’t particularly funny. Thankfully the movie gets back to bugs eating other bugs as soon as it can.

‘The Hellstrom Chronicle’ is an interesting mix of eco-horror, and the nature gone amok film, a trope  that would undergo refinement over the course of the 70’s. I can see the faux documentary side of it as an attempt to break down the wall of artifice between movie and viewer, something that would eventually transform into the found footage movie. It’s a fascinating film that might just connect to the bug loving kid you used to be.

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