Run for the hills (or the Raid)! Bert I. Gordon, aka Mr. Big (due to his penchant for making films involving giant creatures, and also, it's his initials), brings on some serious cinematic pain with his rendition of author H.G. Wells story Empire of the Ants (1977). Gordon, certainly a man of many hats, not only wrote (adapted from an H.G. Wells story), directed and produced the film, but he also was in charge of the special effects. The film stars Joan Collins of TV's Dynasty, and Robert Lansing, whose television credits are too numerous to mention but is most familiar to me from the 1959 film 4D Man. In the beginning we get some painfully obvious foreshadowing involving stock footage, along with voice over, showing ants busy at work. We then cut to workers in HAZMAT suits on a boat, dumping clearly marked barrels of radioactive waste in the water. We see one of the barrels wash up on shore, as the ominous music plays on...Cut to preparations being made for an excursion by yacht to view swampy properties for sale, sponsored by some realty company called Dreamland Properties, or some such thing. It's here we meet Marilyn Fryer (Collins), the woman in charge. How do we know this? Because she's being a real pain in the rear, basically telling everyone she's the boss, especially Dan Stokely (Lansing), the captain of the boat, who, by the way, wears a lovely earring (yargh, I'm a pirate!) throughout the film (man, the 70's were weird). Soon the prospective suckers...er, I mean buyers show up, and what a charming lot they seem to be...adulterers, freeloaders, and just general sleezy characters all around, and they're off, leisure suits and all. They arrive at a pier, disembark from the yacht, and proceed to a tent to get liquored up (ply the rubes with free booze, and the property sells itself, I guess). Everyone then gets on a two-car tram, and tool around, while Marilyn, sitting in the front of the tram, all of about 3 or 4 feet from the clients, starts yelling into a megaphone in case anyone is hard of hearing (if they weren't, they are now). Earlier we saw the drum of radioactive waste wash up on the beach, and we also saw it beginning to leak silver paint, er...I mean radioactive waste, and we also saw ants wallowing around in the oozing material. That can't be good...I mean, if 1950's (and Bert I. Gordon) taught us anything, it's that radioactive materials generally have the effect of `embiggening' things. Well, sure enough, the ants exposed to the stuff become humongoid, and start picking off hapless members of this little outing. All I could think was this wasn't going to be good for the realty business, what with the radioactive waste and giants ants. Well, the remaining members of the party discover, to their horror, what ate up their former companions, and soon the nightmare ensues...
In terms of the special effects, the whole rear-projection enlargement technique was fairly well dated by the late 70's, but still managed to work well here at some points, but the noticeable difference in that technique and the use of prop ants certainly delineated the differences in the sizes of the ants. One method use would make them appear as big as a bus, while another would make them seem a large as a man. The actors all seem pretty bored and given they spent a fair amount of time futzing around in a swamp, I am sure they probably figured at some point they weren't getting paid nearly enough. The script, well, is pretty hideous. Inane remarks, pointless declarations, and lame characterizations only serve to make so very obvious who was going to be ant fodder. And not a likeable character in the bunch ensured the audience rooted for the ants, as this particular society really didn't seem worth saving. I did enjoy the sort of twist element near the end, even though it was telegraphed so obviously at the beginning of the film, giving this schlockery a bit of originality and a nice little spin within the genre. I have to say, I did get annoyed early on with some of the sound effects. The ants had two basic effects working, one being a persistent chirping which would indicate their presence nearby, and a screaming sound when they were attacking or being attacked. This second one was definitely the more annoying of the two, as it was akin to having a woman scream in your ear every ten seconds.
Also known as Tentacoli, Tentacles (1977) is definitely the worse of the two films on this MGM Midnite Movie creature double feature. Produced and directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis (Piranha Part Two: The Spawning), the film features a number of well-known actors including John Huston (Candy), Shelley Winters (Lolita), Bo Hopkins (The Day of the Locust), Claude `Sheriff Lobo' Akins (Battle for the Planet of the Apes), and Henry Fonda (On Golden Pond). The movie takes place in a small California beachfront town and begins with the disappearance of a couple of people due to something lurking in the waters (if you guess octopus based on the title, give yourself a cookie). Sheriff Robards (Akins) and local curmudgeon and reporter Ned Turner (Houston) are baffled by what is discovered when the bodies are found and examined, as the flesh has been stripped from the corpses, and the marrow sucked from the bones (okay, now I'm thinking maybe it wasn't a giant octopus, but a group of lawyers). There's speculation that Mr. Whitehead (Fonda), President of Trojan Tunnels (insert condom jokes here), and his company's local tunnel project maybe involved, but the evidence is thin. Soon it's decided to bring in a marine expert *cough cough* named Will Gleason (Hopkins), and he ultimately determines what this little beach front community has on their hands is a giant octopus, which then leads to a few more people getting all ate up along with a series of miniature boats destroyed. The situation becomes personal for Gleason, who sets out to destroy the carnivorous marine mollusk with the help of some recently released killer whales (insert free Willy jokes here).
I know the impressive cast list for this film has probably blown you away, but don't get too excited. Fonda appears in three scenes for a total of about five minutes. As far as the rest, well they can hardly save this film, despite their efforts...and not one of them got killed by the `giant' octopus (I was so hoping the incredibly annoying Shelley Winters' character might have been on the menu, but alas, no such luck). Overall the film is a series of loosely connected scenes eventually leading up to a final confrontation that's hardly worth waiting around for...the film starts off really strong with the disappearance of the people, but then gets bogged down as a bunch of rather meaningless characters are trotted around on the screen for the next hour and a half (the film runs about 1 hr 42 min which is about 20 minutes too long). I think Hopkins' character is supposed to be the hero, sort of a conglomeration of the three main characters from the film Jaws (1975) in Brody, Quint, and Hooper, but comes off as a complete lame duck character (most of the main characters that were introduced early on in the film are never seen again after about three quarters of the way in). Another thing I found really annoying was there was never any really clear shot of the octopus, giving us a clear perspective of its actual size, which seemed to vary greatly throughout the film. There was an attempt to create a sense that a giant killer octopus is much more dangerous than a killer shark (many of the films that followed Jaws tried to `one-up' themselves on that film), but it never really flies. At least this attempt wasn't as heavy-handed or obvious as was the case in Orca (1977). All in all the acting was okay with the direction and story sinking this film more than else. The music was odd, if not interesting (also repetitive)...
The anamorphic widescreen pictures for Empire of the Ants (1.85:1) and Tentacles (2.35:1) look very clear and clean, and the audio for both come through well. The only extra feature available for each film is a theatrical trailer. Now that Sony has bought up the MGM catalog, the fate of Midnite Movies seems uncertain. I hope they continue on releasing these lesser known films in this economical `twofer' format, as I will keep buying them.
I enjoyed these movies
E. Barrios | N.Y.C. | 09/02/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This review is more about Tentacles than Empire of the Ants. I watched Tentacles when it first aired on television back in the late 70s. It was nice seeing this movie again since it brought back some fond memories of my youth. It's been a long time and I'm happy I walked down memory lane for this one. It still hasn't lost any of its qualities as far as I'm concerned.
I had forgotten how brutal the octopus was. This creature killed indiscriminately so if you're a parent of an infant, maybe you had better reconsider watching this one.
I will say that the two marine biologists had a brutal yet elegant way of disposing of the monstrous octopus. It sort of reminded me of Boys from Brazil. That's all I'm going to say on that point.
Overall, it's a good movie to watch if you want a little horror without all the gore, which this flick has very little of, if any.
Empire of the Ants is another creature against man movie but with a novel twist that I won't give away. Joan Collins plays her role very well and the other actors do a good enough job. There wasn't a great deal of character development but it was enough to understand where the director was going with this flick. I liked Empire of the Ants because it reminded me of those 1950s movies where small insects get a dose of radiation and all hell breaks loose.
In the end, I say but this double feature instead of renting it. It's worth owning for your collection."
You know who likes calamari? Killer whales.
Craig Edwards | By the sea in NC | 12/17/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Tentacles (1978) When something turns into a big movie hit, like Jaws did, you used to be able to bank money that not too long after there would be a very similar movie released with a strong smell of garlic and fresh olive oil. Oh yeah, the first few names displayed in the credits might be American, but if you looked close the Italian names would start to creep in. And sure enough, here is Italy's big contribution to the "ocean critter makes local beach an all-you-can-eat buffet" flick so popular in the wake of Spielberg's little fish tale. Keeping this from seeming like a foreign film is a cast that includes John Huston (sometime actor and more often director--he directed The Maltese Falcon for pete's sake!), Shelley Winters (The Poseidon Adventure) , Bo Hopkins (Sweet 16), Claude Akins (Guns of the Magnificent Seven), and best of all, Henry Fonda (Meteor)! The story has something eating people right off the shore in a small California beachside community. Aging pesky reporter Huston digs right in, despite high pitched screechy warnings from his sister Winters who's busy trying to help her young son with his regatta race. Sheriff Akins calls in marine biologist Hopkins to help, and Hopkins is thrilled to pitch in because it means he won't have to play the sheriff role for once. Huston eventually discovers the eating machine is an octopus driven mad by high frequency sound waves used by Fonda's oil exploration company, but Fonda's not a bad guy, it was all the work of his assistant Cesare Danova (a fine Italian actor who was in enough American movies to almost qualify as part of the American cast.) Finally it comes down to Hopkins and his friendly trained killer whales (!) to save the day. Well, where to start breaking it down? I had vaguely dreaded this one, picturing it as an ultra gory exploitation movie (like a Lucio Fulci movie) with the American actors unable to hide their embarrassment at being seen in it. Actually, I enjoyed this rip-o--er, I mean...homage! It's PG rated, so there's some suspense and violence, but none of that zesty over-the-top Italian gore (you know, acid, maggots, extreme eyeball damage) and though none of the American actors are anywhere near the octopus scenes except for Hopkins, they give their roles enough care that their scenes are fun to watch instead of dragging the movie to a halt until the next octopus attack. Rumor has it Fonda only agreed to take the job if the movie crew would come and shoot in his backyard, and from his brief appearances on the phone or meeting with Huston or Danova around a swimming pool that are sprinkled throughout the movie, this may well be true, which is awesome! As for the title role, our eight legged star is represented by a real octopus, a big "mechanical" stand-in (towed behind a boat) during the regatta attack, and a couple of floppy rubber tentacles for the other attack scenes. To my trained eye the real fellow looks to be about the size of a cantaloupe but the effects guys use him pretty well. They misuse him pretty well too in the climactic attack as the killer whales (or their puppet doubles) make mincemeat of the obviously real octopus. Animal lovers might want to avoid the movie because of this, but I'd like to think the octopus agreed to the sacrifice for the sake of Italian rip-off movie lovers everywhere. If you're one of them, or a fan of American casts hired to lend a movie some American-icity, this one is not to be missed. If you've seen none of the myriad Jaws ripoffs from the 70's you also might want to take a look to see what you've missed all these years as this one is kind of decent. But then, I've seen Tintorera (1978) and Barracuda (1978), so I know how bad they got too. Ciao!"
Gayle Flewell-smith | 02/07/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Great example of a 70's "thriller" movie. The giant fake ants are pretty good for the time it was made. It also has the obvious funny shots with real ants ( pre CGI ). It worth watching for the 1970's atmosphere....that is something they can't duplicate now days."
"Jaws" with eight arms
C.H. | Beach Park, IL | 08/15/2001
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Just as the hoopla of "Jaws" was dying down, we got "Tentacles". Great cast - Henry Fonda, Shelly Winters, Bo Hopkins, Claude Akins, and John Huston. A San Diego community is terrorized by a giant octopus, and it's passable fare for those who aren't too critical. Could have been much better, but the trouble is that most of the story (and most of the scenes) try to ape "Jaws", instead of trying to create a story of it's own. As a result I have a hard time trying to get into a movie that draws heavily on another one. I was a bit disappointed that Shelly Winters didn't have a heroic underwater scene like in "The Poseidon Adventure." That might have enlightened things a little."