Movie Reviews 451 – Empire of the Ants (1977)

I’ve already mentioned my myrmecological ventures when I reviewed Phase IV, one of my favorite science fiction movies featuring ants. The high bar of excellence for giant sized ants however was set by magnificent film Them! back in the 50’s but it was only a matter of time before lowbrow American International studios caught up to cash in and give us Empire of the Ants.

While billed as “H.G. Wells’ Empire of the Ants”, let me assure you that this has absolutely nothing to do with the venerated author’s novella other than sharing a title. Instead of normal millimeter sized threats, this film ups the ante (see what I did there?) with Volkswagen sized six-legged Formicidae – that’s fancy talk for ants!

After a minute or two of documentary style scenes of ants in their natural habitats, the varied unique looking genus and species, and sounding off their scientific names the film begins with the requisite biological disaster setup. In this case it is a scene of an offshore boat unloading clearly marked radioactive waste into the ocean soon followed by said oozing barrels washing ashore some nearby beaches and being feasted on by ants. All this before the opening credits, so you know they’re not messing around here.

The film stars a pre-Dynasty Joan Collins, clearly having already mastered playing über bitch roles, as a shady real estate sales lady trying to hawk some Florida swampland to a group of prospective buyers. Having been invited for a free tour of a remote island in the Keys, most of the guests are really there for the free lunch and alcohol which is followed by a boat trip to the designated island which is nothing more than a mock development site with signage for future promised installations. It doesn’t take too long before some start disappearing while on the tour and eventually they have some up close encounters with the buggers that have them heading back to their boat. Of course the ants have already swarmed and destroyed that escape which leads the party – well the dwindling number of survivors anyway – trying to make it across the island to the one other boat there.

Surprisingly they do make it out and are even escorted to the nearest town, but that’s when they encounter things even stranger than the giant ants nobody seems to believe when they try to warn others. I don’t want to spoil where the story goes from here but let’s just say the Alien franchise took a page from this one.

Most of the characters are as phony as the his and hers matching leisure suits they wear (Hey, it was the 70’s man) on top of the equally implausible relationships they forge along the way. Equally ridiculous are the clearly delineated projections in scenes where the behemoth ants occupy a portion of the screen as the actors ‘react’ to non-existent threats. The few scenes where humans do physically engage the insects, they are poorly made flopping fuzzy armatures. Even the periodic pinhole bug’s eye view shots look more like they were filmed with holes from a spaghetti colander than a multi faceted lens.

Now you might think that all these negative comments are to be taken as a warning to avoid this film. Au contraire! This is one of those ‘you must see it to believe it’ films for which I highly recommend at least one viewing. Just have a can of RAID handy. You may want to use it.

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