As far as cinematic catastrophes go, Houston gets off pretty light. Other metropolises have a certain quality that invites destruction -- New York is full of New Yorkers, for example, and Tokyo sits on an archipelago teeming with monsters -- but we in the Paved Swamp seem to escape such attention. After all, we usually have our hands full with oppressive heat, fire ants, and the nigh-omnipresent threat of hurricanes, which we know to be a real problem thanks to Dr. Neil Frank freaking the fuck out whenever a stiff breeze blows through the Lesser Antilles.
But you'd be mistaken to think H-Town has come through a whole century of motion picture mayhem unscathed. Here now are the top five Houston Movie Disaster Moments:
5. I Come In Peace (1990)
The aliens are coming! And they want our endorphins! Okay, so it doesn't have the same "oomph" as full-scale planetary invasion, but I Come in Peace does feature Teutonic terror Matthias Hues draining our precious
bodily brain fluids and Dolph Lundgren as Jack Caine, a Cop on the Edge Who Plays By His Own Set of Rules. In this version of Houston, drug lords rule the streets and vice cops like Caine are powerless to stop them, even though the bad guys always hang out in the same place with suitcases filled with heroin. I've elected to show you the climax as opposed to, say, the car chase around the downtown Park Shops, because it has the line. You know the one.
And because it shows you how big Dolph is...I mean, he's huge. I can't decide if his lack of Hollywood success was due to the Curse of Brigitte Nielsen or because Hollywood already reached its quota of Euro ESL action stars with Arnold and Jean Claude.
4. The Swarm (1978)
Rarely has such a talented cast (Henry Fonda, Olivia De Havilland, Jose Ferrer, Lee Grant, Richard Widmark, Michael Caine) been part of such a horrible movie outside of latter-day Terrence Malick productions. Somehow Irwin Allen found a way. Now I admit, I used to read those 1970s scare mags that told me I was either going to get torn apart by sharks the second I stuck a toe in the ocean, messily devoured by rampaging sasquatch, or done in by Africanized honeybees. Taken in that context, 1978's "The Swarm" is perfectly understandable. As is Dr. Crane's (Caine) solemn pronouncement that this invasion is no less than the climactic Ragnarok of mankind's decades-long war against the insects. As a large Southern city, Houston seemed a reasonable candidate for invasion by "Africans" (as they're referred to in just one of the unintentionally(?) hilarious bits of horrendous dialogue), and it burns to the ground so that other, lesser, cities may persevere.
3. Mars Needs Women (1967)
A genetic anomaly is causing only one Martian female to be born for every 100 males, which would normally prompt a lazy writer like me to draw comparisons between the Red Planet and the Red Chinese. There's no time for that here, however, for the Martians have come to Houston like so many Russian merchant seamen to secure fertile young ladies for breeding purposes. They naturally hit all the likely spots (strip clubs, never in short supply locally) and things only go downhill from there. Not even the presence of the toothsome Yvonne Craig can rescue this abysmal effort.
2. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
One of the scariest things to happen to Houston in the last several years (not named Allison) wasn't an illusory nuclear airburst or the prospect of invasion by killer bees, but the coldly calculated manipulation of nationwide energy infrastructure and the plundering of the retirement accounts of thousands of employees by Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, and their cronies. The Enron scandal of 2001 continues to have repercussions on our city, our government, and the global economy. The book, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, written by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, and Alex Gibney's subsequent documentary both offer excellent insight into how the whole house of cards came down.
1. Independence Day (1996)
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None of these examples compare to watching your hometown get nuked...by your own goverment. It's hard to read President Whitmire's expression when he's informed the first target is our beloved city. It would be helpful to know his political affiliation, not only in surmising whether the loss of a key red-state city would upset him or not, but also in determining the veracity of claims by the so-called "ID4 Truthers," who believe Whitmire and other rogue elements in the government destroyed every city in the world through controlled demolitions while mocking up TV footage of huge alien spacecraft.
I mean, are we supposed to believe the Empire State Building just fell down?
-- Pete Vonder Haar