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The 100




Empire of the Ants
(1977)
Reviewed by Steve Crow
Rating: 9 Beans

BUY IT NOW
VHS
oor H.G. Wells just can't rest easy. The obsession with turning his books into really bad movies back in the 70's is at its worst here (although Food of the Gods is another good example). Obviously Wells' predictions of a future utopia blinded him to the fact he really should have got a good lawyer to protect his book rights a century down the road.

In any case, don't be looking for a 19th century morality fable here. Instead we get a modern-day real estate scam set in Florida, being run by Joan Collins (Dynasty, Edith Keeler on Star Trek). Producer Samuel Z. Arkoff must have been shopping at the Out-of-Work Star Trek Guest Star bin that day, because we also get Robert Lansing (Gary Seven on Trek, The Nest, and some decent stuff on Kung Fu: The Legend Continues and The Equalizer) as salty tour boat captain Dan Stokely. As Marilyn Freyer, Joan is trying to unload some real estate, unaware that the nearby dumping of radioactive waste has mutated the local ants. As any fan of 50's horror movies should know, this causes the ants to swell up to incredible size and become unwieldy puppets and bad matte shots, and then go on a rampage.

The ants pick off the first few real estate browsers, but quickly grow bored and grow after the group en masse. After having to set his boat on fire to destroy a couple of ants, Captain Stokely, Marilyn, and the others flee into the swamp. Their numbers are further reduced before they can find a boat. Managing to wreck that boat too (Captain Dan isn't really that good a captain...), they flee to the local town. After trying to escape and wrecking a car (Captain Dan doesn't do very well with land vehicles either), they find that the queen ant has already been there and doused the locals with pheromones, while taking over the local sugar refinery and having the humans work for them. The local sheriff (veteran actor Albert Salmi, who deserves far better) takes them before the queen, who spritzes Marilyn with pheromones. Fortunately, Captain Dan defeats the horde of ants with the cunning use of a...road flare. With their queen destroyed (and queen bee Joan Collins dying along with her), the ants go on a rampage while the survivors set the refinery on fire, presumably destroying the ant menace for good.

Where to begin? Arkoff and director Bert I. Gordon (Food of the Gods, Village of the Giants, The Amazing Colossal Man, War of the Colossal Beast...do you see a pattern forming here?) must really dislike Joan Collins. By all accounts the actress, desperate for work in her pre-Dynasty days, hated this production and she's got good reason. Running around in a blue-light K-Mart skirt and blouse, she is dunked, swarmed, dipped into green slime that appears to have come from a septic tank, and finally gets to die at the mandibles of the berserk queen bee after being hosed with gas. Robert Lansing fares a little better, although he has the look of a man gritting his teeth and willing to battle giant puppet-head ants for a paycheck. Mr. Salmi does the best he can, while the rest of the cast is a forgettable selection of low-budget 70's actors: the kind who usually show up in daytime and nighttime soap operas.

The special effects are embarrassingly bad. There is a combination of matte shots of actual ants, giant blank-eyed puppets, and multi-lens POV shots. The matte shots unceasingly fail to convey any sense of realism, as real ants scurry over photographs.

The movie doesn't bother to really introduce you to the characters who get killed off, and in fact you'll probably find yourself cheering when some of them bite the big one. Also, it's not quite clear why the ants kill the real estate folks when their (apparent) goal is to convert humanity into their slaves. The ants have apparently controlled the local town for several weeks, so it's not like they decided to change their mind halfway through feasting on the tourists.

There are a few suspenseful moments, as the survivors flee through the woods and then get to the apparent safety of the town. However, most of the suspense arises from what seems to be the very realistic torment that the actors are being put through. Joan Collins convincingly puts forth the distaste and pain that she was apparently feeling during the production of this movie.

Overall. Empire of the Ants is just one of those embarrassingly bad 70's movies (see also Food of the Gods and Kingdom of the Spiders) that set out to try and capture the 50's style of "nature gone amok" monster movies with a low budget and a few desperate "name" actors. You can't really dismiss these movies as camp: the producers and directors are all too intent on their films being taken seriously. Overall, something to watch if you're looking for some unintended comedy.






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