Empire of the Ants (1977)
Empire of the Ants (1977)

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 29 min.

Release Date: July 29th, 1977 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Bert I. Gordon Actors: Joan Collins, Robert Lansing, John David Carson, Albert Salmi, Jacqueline Scott, Pamela Shoop, Robert Pine, Edward Power, Brooke Palance, Irene Tedrow, Harry Holcombe, Ilse Earl

 


 

“T

his is the ant. Treat it with respect … ” Beginning like a nature documentary, a deep, ominous voice highlights the various ways in which ants are intelligent, impulsive, strong, organized, and more (perhaps even capable of mind control due to pheromones). They could almost compete with humans for dominance of the planet, if only they were larger – and aided by the mind of “father of science-fiction” H.G. Wells to boost their fearsome potential.

Here, very loosely based on Wells’ short story, all it takes is some illegally dumped radioactive waste to bolster the ants’ dominance. Marilyn Fryser (Joan Collins), along with partner Charlie Pearson (Edward Power), charters a boat for a group of potential investors to check out the oceanfront properties of Dreamland Shores. A few couples and a few attractive singles compose the seafaring voyagers (around a dozen), who are whisked away to an isolated paradise, which the maintenance workers dub a swampland. As the group dines on the beach, sips cheap scotch, makes small talk, and splits up into more vulnerable pairings, an army of growing insects watches from the edge of the jungle.

Using a combination of sound effects reminiscent of “Them!” and musical cues like in “Jaws,” the movie sets up an inevitable, horrific confrontation between man and bug. But before the blood flows, the rather large collection of characters are given time for light development, as if that will make them more sympathetic victims. Instead, it mostly drags things out; the salacious womanizer (Robert Pine), the ornery boat captain (Robert Lansing), the flirtatious young woman (Pamela Shoop), the poser (John David Carson), the elderly couple, the suspicious couple, and the people seeking solid investments are ultimately just pending fodder, whose hopes and dreams are irrelevant in the face of man-eating insects – save for being recognizable as they’re torn apart by oversized mandibles.

“Not me! I’m an old man!” Once the attacks begin, the film grows slightly more interesting, if only because of the curious combination of monster effects. Frequently employing extreme close-ups, the characters struggle against the giant, hairy heads of partial ant puppets, which alternate with real ant footage (also in close-up or with miniatures to make them appear larger) and ant-eye perspectives (splitting the screen into tiny circles to represent compound eyes). Although the rubbery ant props are far from convincing, they’re more amusing than the green-screened live ants, especially when copious amounts of red paint splash across flailing bodies. Jerky, discombobulating camera movements complete the effect.

“They’re herding us like cattle!” Annoyingly, there’s a lot of screaming going on – both from frightened survivors and the ants, who mirror (quite unrealistically) the shrieking women during onslaughts to heighten the tension. And to further spice things up, the plot takes a wild left turn halfway through, transitioning the picture from a simple killer animal premise to one much more sinister – one in which humans turn out to be as monstrous as the monsters.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10