The Shocking FX Shot That Launched James Cameron's Career

After suggesting to Roger Corman that he become "second unit director," Cameron blended his artistic and scientific knowledge

James Cameron personally placed the mealworms used for a special effects shot in Galaxy of Terror (1981).

It was clear to everything that James Cameron was one of the most gifted people at Roger Corman's New World Pictures in mid-1981, when they began filming the truly campy sci-fi B-movie Galaxy of Terror.


The film was loosely basing much of its look and content on Ridley Scott's successful film Alien (1979), and James had personally designed many of the sets, but he noticed they needed help filming "insert" shots, and volunteered himself for the role of Second Unit Director.


The story of his infamous "mealworm" shot is told in the second episode of BLOCKBUSTER: THE STORY OF JAMES CAMERON — the award-winning "biopic podcast" series, starring The Walking Dead's Ross Marquand, from filmmaker and journalist Matt Schrader.



You can subscribe and listen to BLOCKBUSTER free on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, and all other platforms. BLOCKBUSTER is winner of Adweek's Creative Podcast of the Year, and earned two Webby Honorees and NYF Radio Awards, including for Best Podcast Miniseries.


The script described a severed arm covered in squiggling worms, but when the art team and some live reptile food — mealworms — failed to squiggle, James had to think quickly.


He was trying to film these closeups for the film in the hours that the main actors weren't on set, so time was always tight. James quickly surmised that he could use methylcellulose — the substance they used for the "alien slime" in the film — as an electrical conductor. He could zap the mealworms into the squiggling needed.


That moment of brilliant — and disgusting — creative genius is depicted in Blockbuster's Episode 2. And the trick worked.

The crew was amazed at James' innovation to pull this off, and so was another person observing him at work: producer Ovidio Assonitis, who believed if James could command a small set, he'd might also be able to command a larger one, on another campy B-movie: Piranha II.


That story on the next episode 3 of BLOCKBUSTER: THE STORY OF JAMES CAMERON.



You can subscribe and listen to BLOCKBUSTER free on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, as well as all other platforms. BLOCKBUSTER is winner of Adweek's Creative Podcast of the Year, and earned two Webby Honorees and NYF Radio Awards, including for Best Miniseries.


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