Monday, August 03, 2015

Beach Week: Jaws 2 Coloring Book (Treasure Books; 1978)

Beach Week: Comic Book of the Week: Jaws 2 (Marvel; 1978)

Beach Week: Jaws 2 (1978)

I once wrote regarding Jaws II (1978) that your enjoyment and appreciation for this sequel may depend, finally, upon which end of the pool you’re swimming in.

If you’re in the deep end of the pool, having just finished a viewing of Spielberg’s superb Jaws (1975), you may find the 1978 Jeannot Szwarc sequel a serviceable horror film, perhaps only lacking a bit in terms of inspiration and execution. It’s a step down from greatness, for certain.

But if you’re swimming in the shallow end of the pool, having recently watched Jaws III (1983) and Jaws: The Revenge (1987), this first sequel may rightly be considered an unqualified home-run.

Unlike either of those later sequels, Jaws II features some strong horror set-pieces, and re-connects the viewer powerfully with Roy Scheider’s Chief Martin Brody, and his family.

Importantly, this sequel also seems to occur in a reality viewers can identify with, and not in some fantasy land in which sharks growl like lions or jump headlong onto the pointed masts of passing ships.

But while Jaws was a remarkable human story -- made doubly so by the unforgettable friendship of Brody, Hooper, and Quint -- and a great adventure set on the sea to boot, Jaws II adheres to a less awe-inspiring template. 

Essentially, the film is precisely what critic Roger Ebert called the slasher film sub-genre: a “dead teenager” movie.

Only this dead teenager movie happens to feature a great white shark in the role of Jason or Michael, and is set at sea instead of in suburbia or at a summer camp. 

The crazy thing is that on these terms, Jaws II is actually a pretty good slasher movie.   It’s just -- again -- a come down from the brilliance of Spielberg’s picture.

“I think we’ve got another shark problem.”

In the waters near Amity a great white shark prowls again. 

The first victims are two vacationers that are attacked near the underwater wreckage of the Orca.  The next victims are a water skier and her mother, but their death is ruled accidental.

Amity’s sheriff, Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), however, becomes obsessed with the notion of a great white threatening the peaceful town, much as one did a few years earlier.

But the town officials all think he is simply Chicken Little, insisting that the sky is falling.  When Brody causes a panic on a public beach in front of potential real estate investors, the town officials take his badge away, declaring him a menace.

Soon, however, Brody learns there is even more at stake than his job. His sons Mike (Mark Gruner) and Sean (Marc Gilpin) join a group of teens on a boat race to Lighthouse Island. 

They change course for Cable Junction, however, unaware that a great white is shadowing the convoy’s every move…

“I don’t intend to go through that Hell again.”

To examine Jaws II as a “dead teenager” or slasher film, let’s take just a moment and unpack the slasher paradigm a bit, as I defined it in my book Horror Films of the 1980s (2007).

All good slasher movies begin with an organizing principle, and then a set of related elements in orbit around that organizing principle. 

The organizing principle is a “hook,” the key aspect to connect every element of the film together, and in Jaws II, our organizing principle is not unexpectedly summertime in Amity, a beach town. 

This umbrella provides us our primary settings (the beach and the ocean).  It also gives us a sturdy victim pool, in this case not the unsuspecting swimmers of Jaws, but rather a gaggle of teenagers sailing at sea in their rag-tag boats.  This flotilla comes under attack by the menace, a great white prowling the waters nearby.  We also get, under this same umbrella, water-skiers and other summertime revelers.

In addition to the victim pool, another common element of slasher films comes into play in Jaws II. In particular the “crime in the past” plays a kind of oblique role in the action of the film. Chief Brody wonders if this shark has arrived in Amity because it is the mate of the one he destroyed in Jaws.  Perhaps it has come looking for its opposite number? 

If that is indeed the case, then the shark picks the right victims by going after Brody’s family.  The crime in the past is the death of the shark from Jaws, and Martin -- the only survivor of that “murder” is the overall target of the apparent rage spawned by that crime.

You see, this time it was actually “personal” as well…

If we break down the dramatis personae of Jaws II, we see that it consists of “types” also dramatized often in slasher films. For example, the killer in slasher films is almost universally defined as “the other” by appearance and nature. That appearance generally includes a mask, but may also include a blue collar uniform (garage overalls) of some type. 

In broad terms, the shark in Jaws II is certainly easily defined as an “other” since it is a fish. Also like a slasher it depicted with near-supernatural powers.  It always knows the right place to be to seek the weakest or most vulnerable victim.

Jaws II also gives us the common slasher movie archetype of the Cassandra Figure, named after a figure in Greek myth that could see the future but was never believed about her visions.  In many slasher films, we meet a character whose warning are dismissed, even though he or she speaks the truth, and knows that danger is imminent. 

In Halloween that figure is Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence).  In Friday the 13th (1980), the Cassandra figure is Crazy Ralph.

Oddly enough, Jaws II’s Cassandra Figure is heroic Chief Brody himself, who loses his badge over the (correct) assertion that another great white shark has arrived in the waters of Amity.

Jaws II distinguishes itself from the typical slasher film largely in its heroic depiction of the teenagers who encounter the shark. One teen jumps into the shark’s path and saves Sean Brody.  Others pray aloud, seeking fellowship and grace in prayer. Sure, some of the kids act as the stereotypical “bitches, practical jokers and jocks” that I note in my book, but overall these teens aren’t so dislikable that you root for them to be killed. Sure they want to score and have fun, but they aren’t rotten or indulged to the point that we despise them.

In terms of film grammar, Jaws II -- much like its predecessor -- frequently employs the P.O.V. subjective shot, as it bears down on victims.  In other words, our eyes are the killer’s/shark’s eyes, and indeed this is a crucial aspect of the slasher format, though for different reasons.

The P.O.V. in the Jaws films relieves the director of having to deploy a malfunctioning robot shark for several compositions, whereas the P.O.V. in slasher films is deployed so audiences will be surprised by the killer’s identity when it is revealed in the last act.

By breaking down Jaws II into the slasher paradigm, we can note, at the very least, that the film seems far more formulaic (and thus predictable) than its predecessor did. 

For example, there is no moment in the film with the raw, human power of the Indianapolis scene aboard the Orca, and no death here that carries the same weight as Quint’s, or even Hooper’s (apparent) demise in the shark cage.   

In some sense, the sheer number of teens in the victim pool here also renders Jaws II less scary. We never get to know the teen characters all that well, and so it matters not very much when a few of them die.  They aren’t differentiated to such a degree that we are knocked back on our heels and left in shock when we lose them.

That said, Penelope Gilliatt writing in The New Yorker pinpointed the sequel’s great virtue.  She wrote. “It lies in the performance of Roy Scheider as the kicked-out police chief, an underdog with a nose for danger and with real tenacity.”  She further notes that Scheider is a born actor and “seems always to be contemplating the temper of things.”

Scheider is Jaws II’s most valuable player because he invests the material with real humanity and real passion, even when the screenplay isn’t entirely up to snuff.  In 1978, we might have termed his emotional state “shell-shocked” but we can see today that Chief Brody suffers from PTSD.  He’s never gotten over that encounter with the great white in Jaws, and so Jaws II very much concerns him confronting his own state of fear, his own demons.

Finally, Jaws II is a bit less effective than its predecessor because of the carnage candy factor (see: Scream 2 [1997]). In this case, that means not only are there more victims to kill (and therefore less identification with each individual), but also much more elaborate death scenes, including ones that strain believability.  The deal killer in Jaws II is the moment that the shark brings down a helicopter. 

I can readily imagine and believe that Brody and company fight a supernaturally-powered giant shark once, in Jaws.  But the next shark he encounters is also so powerful and vicious that it can down a helicopter, without being killed itself?

This, my friends, is Jason Voorhees territory, and that brings us back to the movie’s structure. It’s a (wet) slasher film.

Not that there is anything wrong with that.  Jaws II is an entertaining horror movie, but it does not endure as a classic like its predecessor does.

That said, I will happily watch this sequel over and over again if the alternative is Jaws III or Jaws: The Revenge.

Finally, there's one scene I'd like to mention here that continues the amusing cinematic sea animal war begun by Orca (1977). There, you will recall, the killer whale saved Charlotte Rampling from a shark, dispatching the great white with relative ease.   In Jaws II, there is a rebuttal to that moment.  Here, we get a scene where the corpse of a killer whale is seen on the beach...ripped apart by a great white.   

Too bad there was never an Orca II to continue this pissing contest between Jaws knock-offs.

Beach Week Movie Trailer: Jaws 2 (1978)

Beach Week Gear: Jaws Halloween Costume (Collegeville)

Beach Week: Jaws (1975)

A modern film classic, Jaws (1975) derives much of its terror from a directorial approach that might be termed "information overload." 

Although the great white shark remains hidden beneath the waves for most of the film -- unseen but imagined -- director Steven Spielberg fills in that visual gap and the viewer's imagination with a plethora of facts and figures about this ancient, deadly predator.

Legendarily, the life-size mechanical model of the shark (named Bruce) malfunctioned repeatedly during production of the film, a reality which forced Spielberg to hide the creature from the camera for much of the time. Yet this problem actually worked out in the film's best interest. Because for much of the first two acts, unrelenting tension builds as a stream of data about this real-life "monster" washes over us. 

In short, it's the education of Martin Brody, and the education of Jaws' audience.

After a close-up shot of a typewriter clacking out the words "SHARK ATTACK (all caps), images, illustrations and descriptions of the shark start to hurtle across the screen in ever increasing numbers. Chief Brody reads from a book that shows a mythological-style rendering of a shark as a boat-destroying, ferocious sea monster.

Another schematic in the same scene reveals a graph of shark "radar," the fashion by which the shark senses a "distressed" fish (the prey...) far away in the water.

Additional photos in the book -- and shown full-screen by Spielberg -- depict the damage a shark can inflict: victims of shark bites both living and dead. These are not photos made up for the film, incidentally, but authentic photographs of real-life shark attack victims.

Why, there's even a "gallows" humor drawing of a shark (with a human inside its giant maw...) drawn by Quint at one point, a "cartoon" version of the audience's learning.

Taken together, these various images cover all aspects of shark-dom: from reputation and lore to ability; from a shark's impact on soft human flesh, to the macabre and ghastly.

This information overload about sharks also comes to Brody (the audience surrogate) in other ways, through both complementary pieces of his heroic triumvirate, Hooper and Quint, respectively. 

The young, enthusiastic, secular Hooper first becomes conveyor of data in his capacity as a scientist.

Hooper arrives in Amity and promptly performs an autopsy on shark attack victim Chrissie Watkins. He records the examination aloud into a tape recorder mic (while Brody listens). Hooper's vocal survey of the extensive wounds on the corpse permits the audience to learn precisely what occurred when this girl was attacked and partially devoured by a great white shark. 

Hooper speaks in clinical, scientific terms of something utterly grotesque: "The torso has been severed in mid-thorax; there are no major organs remaining...right arm has been severed above the elbow with massive tissue loss in the upper musculature... partially denuded bone remaining..."

As Brody's science teacher of sorts, Hooper later leads the chief through a disgusting (and wet...) dissection of a dead tiger shark (one captured and believed to be the Amity offender). Again, Hooper educates not just Brody; he educates the audience about a shark's eating habits and patterns. All these facts -- like those presented by illustrations in the books -- register powerfully with the viewer and we begin to understand what kind of "monster" these men face.

Later, aboard the Orca, Quint completes Brody's learning curve about sharks with the final piece of the equation: first-hand experience. 

Quint recounts, in a captivating sequence, how he served aboard the U.S.S. Indianapolis in 1945. How the ship was sunk after delivering the Hiroshima bomb, and how 1100 American sailors found themselves in shark-infested water for days on end.

Over a thousand sailors went into the water and only approximately three-hundred came out.

As Quint relates: "the idea was: shark comes to the nearest man, that man he starts poundin' and hollerin' and screamin' and sometimes the shark go away... but sometimes he wouldn't go away. Sometimes that shark he looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. And, you know, the thing about a shark... he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be living... until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then... ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin'. The ocean turns red, and despite all the poundin' and the hollerin', they all come in and they... rip you to pieces."

This testimony about an eyewitness account is not the only "history" lesson for Brody, either. Brief reference is also made in the film to the real-life "Jersey man-eater" incident of July 1 - July 12, 1916, in which four summer swimmers were attacked by a shark on the New Jersey coast.

This "information overload" concerning sharks -- from mythology and scientific facts to history and nightmarish first-person testimony -- builds up the threat of the film's villain to an extreme level, while the actual beast remains silent, unseen. When the shark does wage its final attack, the audience has been rigorously prepared, and it feels frightened almost reflexively. 

Spielberg's greatest asset here is that he has created, from scratch, an educated audience; one that fully appreciates the threat of the great white shark. And a smart audience is a prepared audience. And a prepared audience is a worried one. We also become invested in Brody as our lead because we learn, alongside him, all these things. When he beats the shark, we feel as if we've been a part of the victory.

Another clever bit here: after all the "education" and "knowledge" and "information," Spielberg harks back to the mythological aspect of sea monsters, hinting that this is no ordinary shark, but a real survivor -- a monster -- and possibly even supernatural in nature (like Michael Myers from Halloween).

Consider that this sea dragon arrives in Amity (and comes for Quint?) thirty years to the day of the Indianapolis incident (which occurred June 30, 1945). Given this anniversary, one must consider the idea that the shark could be more than mere animal. 

It could, in fact, be some kind of supernatural angel of death.

Thematically, the shark could also serve as a Freudian symptom of guilt repressed in the American psyche. The shark attack on Indianapolis occurred thirty years earlier, at the end of World War II, when a devastating weapon was deployed by the United states.

Now, in 1975, this shark arrives on the home front just scant months after the fall of Saigon in the Vietnam War (April 30, 1975) -- think of the images of American helicopters dropped off aircraft carriers into the sea. 

This shark nearly kills a young man, Hooper, who would have likely been the same age as Quint when he served in the navy during World War II.

Does the shark represent some form of natural blow-back against American foreign policy overseas? I would say that this idea is over-reach, a far-fetched notion, if not for the fact that the shark's assault on the white-picket fences of Amity strikes us right where it hurts: in the wallet; devastating the economy. 

It isn't just a few people who are made to suffer, but everyone in the community. And that leads us directly to an understanding of the context behind Jaws.

It Was Only Local Jurisdiction

President Nixon resigned from the White House on August 9, 1974...scarcely a year before the release of Jaws.

He did so because he faced Impeachment and removal from office in the Watergate scandal, a benign-sounding umbrella for a plethora of crimes that included breaking-and-entering, political espionage, illegal wire-tapping, and money laundering.

It was clear to the American people, who had watched the Watergate hearings and investigations on television for years, that Nixon and his lackeys had broken the law, to the detriment of the public covenant. It was a breach of the sacred trust, and a collapse of one pillar of American nationalism: faith in government.

In the small town of Amity in Jaws, the Watergate scandal is played out in microcosm. 

Chief Brody conspires with the town medical examiner, at the behest of Larry Vaughn, the mayor, to "hide" the truth about the shark attack that claimed the life of young Chrissie. 

Another child dies because of this lie. 

We are thus treated to scenes of Brody and the town officials hounded by the press (represented by Peter Benchley...), much as Nixon felt hounded by Woodward and Bernstein and the rest. 

We thus see a scene set at a town council meeting which plays like a congressional Watergate hearing writ small, with a row of politicians ensconced for a long time before an angry crowd. The man in charge bangs the gavel helplessly.

These were images that had immediate and powerful resonance at the time of Jaws. If you combine the "keep the beaches open" conspiracy with the Indianapolis story (a story, essentially, of an impotent, abandoned military) what you get in Jaws is a story about America's 1970s "crisis of confidence," to adopt a phrase from ex-president Jimmy Carter.

Following Watergate, following Vietnam, there was no faith in elected leaders, and Jaws mirrors that reality with an unforgiving depiction of craven politicians and bureaucrats. 

The cure is also provided, however: the heroism of the individual; the old legend of the cowboy who rides into town and seeks justice.

Brody is clearly that figure here: an outsider in the corrupt town of Amity (he's from the NYPD); and the man who rides out onto the sea to face Amity's enemy head on, despite his own fear of the sea and "drowning." 

Yes Brody was involved in the cover-up, but Americans don't like their heroes too neat. Brody must have a little blood on his hands so that his story of heroism is also one of redemption.

Why is Jaws so enduring and appealing? 

Simple answer: it's positively archetypal in its presentation of both the monster -- a sea-going dragon ascribed supernatural power -- and it's hero: an every-man who challenges city hall and saves the townsfolk. 

This hero is ably supported by energetic youth and up-to-date science (Hooper), and also wisdom and experience in the form of the veteran Quint. 

You're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat
You can't truly engage in an adequate discussion of Jaws without some mention of film technique. The film's first scene exemplifies Spielberg's intelligent, visual approach to the thrilling material.

This introduction to the world of Jaws -- which features a teenager going out for a swim in the ocean and getting the surprise of her life -- proves pitch perfect both in orchestration and effect. Hyperbole aside, can you immediately think of a better (or more famous) horror movie prologue than the one featured here?

The film begins under the sea as Spielberg's camera adopts the P.O.V. of the shark itself. We cling to the bottom of the ocean, just skirting it as we move inland. 

Then, we cut to the beach, and a long, lackadaisical establishing pan across a typical teenage party. Young people are smoking weed, drinking, canoodling...doing what young people do on summer nights, and Spielberg's choice of shot captures that vibe.

When one of the group -- the blond-haired seventies goddess named Chrissie -- gets up to leave the bunch, Spielberg cuts abruptly to a high angle (from a few feet away); a view that we understand signifies doom and danger, and which serves to distance us just a little from the individuals on-screen.

With a horny (but drunk...) companion in tow, Chrissie rapidly disrobes for a night-time dip in the sea, and Spielberg cuts to an angle far below her, from the bottom of the ocean looking up. We see Chrissie's beautiful nude form cutting the surface above, and the first thing you might think of is another monster movie, Jack Arnold's Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954). 

Remember how the creature there spied lovely Julie Adams in the water...even stopping to dance with her (without her knowledge) in the murky lagoon?

Well, that was an image, perhaps, out of a more romantic age. 

In this case, the swimmer is nude, not garbed, and contact with the monster is quick and fatal, not the beginning of any sort of "relationship." 

In a horrifying close-shot, we see Chrissie break the surface, as something unseen but immensely powerful tugs at her from below. Once. Then again. After an instant, you realize the shark is actually eating her...ripping through her legs and torso. She begs God for help, but as you might expect in the secular 1970s there is no help for her.

The extremely unnerving aspect of Spielberg's execution is that recognition of the shark's attack dawns on the audience as the same time it dawns on Chrissie. She doesn't even realize a leg is gone at first. It's horrifying, but -- in the best tradition of the genre -- this scene is also oddly beautiful. 

The gorgeous sea; the lovely human form. The night-time lighting.

Everything about this moment should be romantic and wonderful, but isn't. 

Again, you can detect how Spielberg is taking the malaise days mood of the nation to generate his aura of terror; his overturning of the traditional order. Just as our belief in ourselves as a "good" and powerful nation was overturned by Vietnam and Watergate.

The more puritanical or conservative among us will also recognize this inaugural scene of Jaws as being an early corollary of the "vice precedes slice and dice" dynamic of many a slasher or Friday the 13th film. A young couple, eager to have pre-marital sex (after smoking weed, no less...) faces a surprise "monster" in a foreign realm. 

That happens here not in the woods of Crystal Lake, but in a sea of secrets and monsters. It's also no coincidence, I believe, that the first victim in the film is a gorgeous, athletic blond with a perfect figure. Chrissie is the American Ideal of Beauty...torn asunder and devoured before the movie proper has even begun.

If that image doesn't unsettle you, nothing will.

I wrote in my book, Horror Films of the 1970s (McFarland; 2002), that, ultimately the characteristics that make a film great go far beyond any rudimentary combination of acting, photography, editing and music. It's a magic equation that some films get right and some don't. Jaws is a classic, I believe, because it educates the viewer about the central diabolical threat and then surprises the viewer by going a step further and hinting that the great white shark is no mere animal, but actually an ancient, malevolent force. 

The film also brilliantly reflects the issues of the age in which it was created. And finally, Jaws updates the archetypes of good and evil that generations of Americans have grown up recounting, even though it does so with a distinctly disco decade twist. The Hooper-Brody-Quint troika is iconic too, and I love the male-bonding aspects of the film, with "modern" men like Brody and Hooper learning, eventually, to fall in love, after a fashion, with the impolitic Quint...warts and all.

Finally, you should never underestimate that Jaws depends on imagination and mystery. 

It is set on the sea, a murky realm of the unknown where the shark boasts the home field advantage. Meanwhile, man is awkward and endangered there. We can't see the shark...but he can see us. With those black, devil eyes. 

When you suddenly realize that the only thing standing between Brody and those black eyes is a thin layer of wood (the Orca); when you think about all the information we've been given about great whites and their deadly qualities, you'll agree reflexively -- instinctively -- with the good chief's prognosis.

We're gonna need a bigger boat.

Beach Week Movie Trailer: Jaws (1975)

Beach Week: Cult-TV Theme Watch: Sharks

In the summertime -- and at the beach -- there is no more fearsome a nightmare than the appearance of a shark in the surf.

Sharks terrify us because of their strength, power and "alien-ness," but also because they can attack, often fatally, without warning.

In the course of everyday life today, man as a species has few real predators.  But go to the ocean, and a predator swims just beneath the glassy surface of the sea...watching and waiting.

Accordingly, cult-TV has often featured stories that feature sharks as the villain.  On an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man, in 1977, for example, Steve Austin (Lee Majors) had to defeat the trained sharks of Pamela Hensley while working to retrieve a nuclear submarine, in "Sharks."

Oddly, the sharks of cult-TV history are not always traditional in nature, or even ocean-bound.

For example, a classic episode of The Outer Limits (1963-1965), "The Invisible Enemy" featured an alien shark of sorts on Mars, one who could glide invisibly beneath the sand, and pull astronauts down to their deaths.

On Saturday Night Live (1975-present) in the 1970s (and immediately following Jaws), there was a recurring sketch about a "land shark," one who could ring your doorbell or knock on your apartment door.  Once let in, he would eat you.

On a sixth season episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 - 2003) called "Tabula Rasa," Spike owed money to a loan shark demon who was literally a bipedal shark.

Shark aliens (called Karkarodon), similarly, have appeared on The Clone Wars (2008 - 2014).

And on Saturday morning television, a shark knock-off of Scooby Doo had his own show, called Jabberjaw (1976 -1978).

Today, we associate the phrase "jump the shark" with a 1977 episode of Happy Days (1974 - 1984) titled "Hollywood."  There, Fonzie (Henry Winkler) went water skiing -- over a shark -- and that's the weirdest, perhaps, of all Jaws knock-off/tie-ins. 

The Cult-TV Faces of: Sharks (Beach Week)

Identified by Pierre Fontaine: The Outer Limits: "The Invisible Enemy."

Identified by Hugh: Saturday Night Live (Land Shark!)


Identified by Hugh: Jabberjaw


Identified by Hugh: The Super Friends

Identified by Hugh: Happy Days


Identified by Hugh: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Identified by Chris G: Smallville

Identified by Chris G: Shark

Identified by Hugh: Doctor Who: "A Christmas Carol"

Identified by Carl: Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Sunday, August 02, 2015

The Eight Most Disgusting Parasites in Cult-TV History

A parasite is defined as the dominant partner in an unwelcome relationship of different organisms.  In other words, the parasite is a life form that benefits from an involuntary partnership, while the other creature in the relationship…does not.

Throughout cult-tv history, we’ve encountered many memorable and monstrous parasites, a fact which probably arises from the popularity of the 1951 alien invasion novel The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein.  

By some definitions, Star Trek’s the Borg might themselves be considered parasites, since, with their assimilation nanites, they transform and co-opt organic beings into Borg.  

But for this post, I’m going to concentrate on some memorable and gruesome biological parasites, rather than mechanical ones.

What's the fear of parasites?  In short, it's the idea that our bodies can be used and abused by an intelligence not our own; that our bodies could be viewed as a resource or even food by some other creature.  Many of the creatures on this list assume control of our physical selves, and replace our intelligence with theirs.  Others see us, alarmingly, as just meat.

So here are eight truly horrific, incredibly disgusting cult-tv parasites.  These are the monkeys you most definitely don’t want on your back…or anywhere else inside you for that matter.

8. Prehistoric tape worm.  This revolting creature appeared in the fourth episode of Primeval, which aired in March of 2007 in the UK.  

Here, a flock of adorable dodos  waddle through one of the series' colorful time anomalies into modern England, but a few of these extinct, flightless birds are carrying a parasite that can temporarily seize control of the host and act aggressively to assure reproduction.  One of Connor's (Andrew-Lee Potts) friends, Tom (Jake Curran), is infected with the organism after a dodo bite on his arm.  He soon suffers debilitating headaches, massive pain and increased paranoia as the worm inside him...grows.  At one point in the episode, we see a high-resolution scan of Tom's skull, and this large, lively worm wriggling about inside it.  

7. The Hellgramite.  This parasite appeared in the third season of the first Twilight Zone remake (1985 – 1989) called “The Hellgramite Method.”  In this tale by William Selby, an alcoholic named Miley Judson (Timothy Bottoms) realizes he risks losing his family if he doesn’t get off the booze permanently. Accordingly, he answers an ad for a cure for alcoholism and meets with Dr. Murrich (Leslie Yeo).  The doctor, -- who lost his own family to a drunk driver -- gives Judson a red pill to swallow.  Inside that pill, the drinker later learns, is a parasite called a Hellgramite: an unusual brand of tape worm that survives and thrives on alcohol. The more Judson drinks, the more the worm feeds and the bigger it grows.  Now, Judson doesn’t even get the buzz of feeling drunk, no matter how much liquor he consumes!  Eventually, if he keeps drinking, the Hellgramite will kill Miley, so the traumatized alcoholic must either starve the tapeworm and stop drinking for good, or let the thing kill him…

In this case, the cult-tv parasite, while quite horrible, is actually put to good use: curing alcoholism.  At episode’s end, the Hellgramite Method works, and Miley Judson is a new man.  As the voice-over reminds us, what this drinker needed “was something a little extra,” something that could only be found…in The Twilight Zone.

6. The Selminth.  This parasitic creature appeared in the fifth and last season of Angel (1999 – 2005), in an episode titled “Soul Purpose,” written by Brent Fletcher and directed by David Boreanaz.  

In this entry, Angel becomes trapped in a vegetative state while under the influence of a slimy worm-like creature called a Selminth Parasite.  

This creature causes hallucinations in its host, and in the episode, Angel dreams that Spike has replaced him as the champion of the Shansu Prophecy.  Here, the worm is used as a weapon by a sinister agent (Eve), and alters the very mind-state of the host.  Angel must wake up and remove the parasite from his chest, or live in a a nightmare for the remainder of his days...

5. "Conspiracy.”  In “Conspiracy,” a late first season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is warned by a friend, Captain Walker (Jonathan Farwell) that some kind of sinister agenda is afoot in Starfleet Command.  

After Walker’s ship, The Horatio explodes in an apparent accident, Picard fears there might be some truth behind his friend’s paranoia.  He orders the Enterprise back to Earth, and there discovers that the Admiralty itself has been infiltrated by parasitic aliens bent on conquering the Federation from within.  These small, crab-like aliens enter human beings through the mouth, and then completely control all higher mental functions.  The small parasites also report to a much-larger, dinosaur-like “mother” being that has found a home inside Commander Remmick (Robert Schenkkan).  The parasites die without this mother being in close proximity.

These creepy alien parasites (revealed in Star Trek novels to be related to the Trill…) can be detected by a sort of breathing gill that extends from the back of the host’s neck.  In the episode, Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) rigs one for Riker (Jonathan Frakes) so that he will appear compromised, but can actually rescue Captain Picard from danger.

I must admit, I absolutely love this episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  It has a more sinister, diabolical vibe than most episodes.  In fact, it’s downright scary at times, especially the unresolved ending, which suggests the parasites could return one day, and have sent a message to their brethren out in space. I also love the visual of Picard and Riker frying the alien mother organism with their phasers.  So much for respect and tolerance for all alien life forms!   I've always found it ironic that Gene Roddenberry so vociferously complained about Admiral Kirk's treatment of another parasite, the Ceti Eel in The Wrath of Khan (1982) -- how dare he shoot it! it's a life-form -- but then Picard and Riker reacted exactly the same way in this TNG episode, with revulsion and phasers firing.

4. The Ganglions.  These skittering, slimy, multi-tentacled parasites appeared in the short-lived alien invasion series Dark Skies (1996 – 1997).  The ganglions were first seen in the pilot episode, “The Awakening,” written by Brent Friedman and Bryce Zabel and directed by horror legend Tobe Hooper. 

The Ganglions enter the human head through either the nose, ear or mouth, and the assimilation process is slow and incredibly painful.  First, possession by the parasite causes a nervous breakdown, but eventually the host mind is erased completely, and the Ganglion is in total control of his human steed.  We learn in the course of the series that the Ganglions took over the Greys' planet, much in the same way that they intend to take over the human race.

In “Awakening,” cult-television gets one of its most gruesome and effectively shot scenes as the scientists of Majestic attempt to remove a ganglion from its human host, a farmer.  The results aren’t pretty.   The ganglion escapes, attempts to attach to another unlucky soul, and then is deposited in a jar by John Loengard, using very long tongs.  This scene remains harrowing, even today, and is splendidly shot by Hooper.

3. “Roadrunners.”  An eighth season X-Files episode, Roadrunners,” by Vince Gilligan, introduces a parasitic creature that may or may not be of this Earth.

Here, Agent Scully (Gillian Anderson), sans partner, visits Utah to investigate a strange death.  She soon runs afoul, instead, of a weird cult that believes a worm parasite represents the second coming of Jesus Christ on Earth. 

These committed cult members attempt to get the worm inside Scully – who is pregnant at this point – by allowing it to burrow underneath her flesh, inside her back.  This episode successfully gets under your skin too, by forging an atmosphere of extreme isolation and vulnerability.  

In The X-Files, we are used to Mulder always having Scully’s back during a crisis.  But here, Mulder is gone, abducted by aliens, and we don’t quite trust Agent Doggett (Robert Patrick) yet.  Here, Scully is the most alone we’ve ever seen her, in real physical danger, contending with villains who can't be reasoned with.  And she faces, clearly, a fate worse than death with that wriggling, monstrous worm in her back. In a truly upsetting scene, Scully is tied to a bed on her stomach, as the creature makes its subcutaneous approach.

A group of vocal folks like to complain about the last two, largely Mulder-less years of The X-Files, but episodes such as “Roadrunners” certainly  prove the series was effective as ever in generating authentic, deep-down scares.  I also appreciate the conceit that this particular parasite is never explained.  We don't know what it is, where it came from, or why it is here.  Creepy.

2. The Invisibles. In a classic first season Outer Limits episode written by Joseph Stefano and directed by Conrad Hall, an undercover GIA agent, Spain (Don Gordon) attempts to infiltrate a secret and subversive society called the Invisibles.  

Once inside the secret community, Spain learns that the strange group is led by hideous alien invaders: horrible crab-like creatures that attach themselves to the human spine and totally control minds.  If the joining process goes wrong, humans are rendered deformed and nearly lobotomized.

Gordon attempts to warn government officials about the alien invasion in the offing, but the Invisibles are already onto him, and just waiting to absorb him into their ranks.  In an absolutely tense and suspenseful scene near the episode’s climax, a wounded, prone, Spain is unable to escape as a skittering, multi-legged Invisible dashes towards him, attempting to join with him.   He pulls himself along, screaming for help, as the thing, in the background, looms ever nearer.  The feeling of vulnerability, entrapment and terror generated in that image, and throughout “The Invisibles,” remains incredibly potent almost fifty years later.  Being joined with these huge, inhuman things is indeed a fate worse than death… 

1. Earwig.  We never actually see the parasite in the classic episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery titled "The Caterpillar," but we certainly learn all about it.

Here, a nasty civil servant, Stephen Macy (Laurence Harvey) covets a co-worker's wife (Joanna Pettet) and attempts to off her husband with a parasite called an earwig.  The murder scheme goes horribly wrong, however, when Stephen himself is exposed to the wee bug.

The earwig, you see, possesses a “decided liking” for the human ear. Once inside the ear canal, the odds of an earwig evacuating it are a thousand-to-one. They can’t turn around, and so instead keep plowing endlessly forward...burrowing into the brain and feeding on grey matter as they seek an escape route. The pain caused by these “stealthy chaps” is agonizing and horrible, and death is nearly always the result. Here, Macy undergoes agonizing pain as the earwig digs in. In fact, his hands must be bound to his bed-posts so he doesn’t claw his face apart in an attempt to get rid of the bug chewing a path through his brain.

By some miracle, Macy survives the ordeal, which he describes as an “agonizing, driving, itching pain,” and the earwig exits his ear.  Unfortunately, those two weeks are only the beginning of Hell for Mr. Macy.  He learns that the earwig was female and laid eggs inside his brain.  The larvae will hatch soon, and find a ready source of food: his brain,  Despite its lack of overt horrific visuals, "The Caterpillar" proves utterly disgusting and macabre in its suggestion of a fate worse than death: a perpetual itch you just can’t scratch.