CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — If you liked the movie “Lavalantula,” shown at last year’s Insect Fear Film Festival, you’re in luck.
The lava-spewing killer tarantulas are back in the TV-14 rated “2 Lava 2 Lantula,” a 2016 sequel that will be shown at this year’s festival on Feb. 25 at the University of Illinois, along with the R-rated “Caved In,” featuring giant subterranean killer beetles. Both films were produced by Paul Hertzberg, a U. of I. graduate who will be a special guest at the film festival.
“I thought this was a nice opportunity to honor someone who has contributed to making the festival an annual event by continuing to produce these movies. If it weren’t for producers who know there’s a market for these movies, we wouldn’t have been able to have a film festival for 34 years,” said entomology professor and department head May Berenbaum, who founded the festival.
Hertzberg said he’ll miss attending the Academy Awards that weekend – he’s a voting member of the academy – to attend the Insect Fear Film Festival.
“It will be a hoot. It’s combining learning with entertainment, and that’s always a good thing,” he said.
Hertzberg graduated from the U. of I. in 1971 with a business degree, and his early career included advertising sales and magazine publishing. Then he and some partners decided to form a TV production company. They had minimal success until they booked the Four Tops and taped a concert show shortly before the group released a top-10 single.
Hertzberg found success producing music and comedy shows. At one point he was offering several music shows at a film convention, along with an action movie called “Courier of Death,” for which his company had acquired the rights.
“The only one that sold was ‘Courier of Death.’ It was awful. It was out of focus. It was not technically proficient,” Hertzberg said.
But he saw the market for action movies, so his company began making its own for theatrical release and for HBO. Eventually, HBO stopped buying action movies, but Hertzberg saw that the Syfy channel wanted disaster films. His company made “Snowmageddon,” “Mega Cyclone,” “Christmas Icetastrophe” and “Stormageddon,” among others.
It also made creature films, including “They Crawl,” “Komodo vs. Cobra,” “Mongolian Death Worm” and “Lavalantula.”
Berenbaum was intrigued by “Mongolian Death Worm,” rewatching it recently to try to determine what the worm is supposed to be.
“I’m not exactly sure what a death worm is. It has a lot of features that don’t resemble anything on this planet, but it is long and segmented,” Berenbaum said, speculating that it might be a syrphid fly larvae.
Hertzberg said the spiders in “Lavalantula” and its sequel “are kind of silly,” and “it was a hoot” to reunite members of the cast of “Police Academy” in “Lavalantula” and “2 Lava 2 Lantula.”
He said his independent film company, CineTel Films, has been successful – producing between 175 and 200 movies – because it’s found a niche doing films the major studios don’t do.
“We’re intrigued by staying in business and making a profit. We try to give people what they want,” Hertzberg said.
Unfortunately for lovers of films featuring giant killer insects, his company is changing directions in response to the market, which Hertzberg said wants character-driven films with big-name cast members. The company will soon release a romantic comedy with Sharon Stone, Famke Janssen, Ellen Burstyn and Tony Goldwyn.
The 34th Insect Fear Film Festival is Feb. 25 at Foellinger Auditorium. It is free and open to the public. Doors open at 6 p.m. for an insect petting zoo, face painting, balloon insects, exhibits, insect ventriloquist Hannah Leskosky and a display of entries in the Insect Art Contest for students in area schools.
Opening remarks and presentation of the art contest winners begin at 7 p.m. “2 Lava 2 Lantula” will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Hertzberg will be onstage for a question-and-answer session with the audience at 9 p.m., followed by “Caved In” at 9:45.