Crossing Over: “STARSHIP TROOPERS”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
Welcome, FANGORIA Readers, to CROSSING OVER, our newest column that highlights the films, series and content out there outside of horror that is fashioned towards or pays tribute to our beloved genre. By shining a light onto these projects, FANGORIA hopes to open a world of entertainment perfect for fright fans that lies just beyond the borders of the horror community. So without further ado…
Much like Walter Hill, Nicolas Winding Refn and David Fincher, Paul Verhoeven is one of those filmmakers whose filmography often toes the line of the horror genre. While Verhoeven has had explicit horror efforts such as HOLLOW MAN and BASIC INSTINCT, his full filmography has frequently courted genre trademarks, from incredible practical make-up FX to sadistic, violent villains that are as memorable as the protagonists themselves. Yet few of Verhoeven’s satirical, non-genre efforts get as close to horror as his 1997 action masterpiece, STARSHIP TROOPERS, an adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s politically-charged 1959 novel.
Perhaps the main reason STARSHIP TROOPERS leans so close to the horror genre than Verhoeven’s other ultraviolent fare is that the film’s primary antagonists are, more or less, monsters. The bug menace is more than just a brainless force-of-nature, however; Verhoeven goes out of his way to show how predatory these adversaries can be. And while the Arachnid’s ferocity makes them terrifying in their own right, the Brain Bug is a nightmare come to life; the scene in which the Brain Bug sucks the brains from a man is likely the single most horrifying thing Verhoeven has brought to the screen, and that’s saying something.
Of course, horror fans can also be sure to appreciate Verhoeven’s balance of practical, animatronic effects and digital FX, which are impressively interwoven to bring the bugs to life. While the CGI VFX help show these bugs in motion, particularly when hives of them corner and rip apart soliders, there’s something unmistakably appealing (and appalling) about seeing the physical versions opposite actors, complete with moving eyes and jaws. Add in the practical gore FX throughout the movie (including scene after scene of post-bug attack disemboweled corpses) and Verhoeven’s flick feels closer to a slasher flick than a stars-and-stripes war movie.
STARSHIP TROOPERS is also frequently shot like a horror film, with the catastrophic drop on Klendathu being a particularly genre-friendly sequence. DP Jost Vacano, a Verhoeven regular since ROBOCOP, shoots the Klendathu raid in bright blue and light shadows whilst keeping the action portrayed with fairly static, straightforward shots. Yet the sequence plays out with an overwhelming sense of panic, and when characters are ripped apart, tossed around or dragged into caves for a then-unspecific fate, it could not atmospherically feel more like a horror movie. Even the outpost swarm later on in the film feels like a psychological horror movie gone wrong, with the first hints at the Brain Bug’s methods appearing to be especially creepy.
Overall, STARSHIP TROOPER’s embracement of multiple genres is one of the many reasons the film stands the test of time, horror included. While the film can be thrilling and humorous at one moment, it can also be unnerving and brutal the next, with Verhoeven treating each of the tonal shifts with the craftsmanship of a true professional. And while STARSHIP TROOPERS might not be playing any revival screenings at a horror festival anytime soon, few could deny why the splattery satire appeals to fright fans’ creature feature sensibilities.