The Empire of the Ants
G. D. Williams | USA | 11/10/2008
(1 out of 5 stars)
"Joan Collins appeared bored through most of the film. The box cover is a sale ploy. You never see Miss Collins dressed that way in the movie.
Robert Lansing had some great moments as the fearless boat skipper. His performance was believable.
The special effects were bad. The music was not memorable.
Another thing: half way through the movie it goes from bad science fiction to twilight zone when the survivors reached the town. They may have escaped the radioactive ants, but escaping the zombie townspeople will be harder.
The movie ends in a sugar factory. Burnt sugar and roasted ants do not make an appetizing dish.
This movie and the H.G. Wells' short story have nothing in common. Read the short story.
Giant Ants: Offspring Of The Unholy Cinematic Alliance Of Be
Robert I. Hedges | 07/03/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)
""Empire of the Ants" is one of the most laughable monster spectacles of the 1970s, even by Bert I. Gordon's standards. Gordon, whose trademark was giant or tiny things brought to life in "horrifying" adventures, was the patriarch of such films as "Village of the Giants", "Attack of the Puppet People", "The Amazing Colossal Man", and most notably "The Food of the Gods". Of course Gordon did some more conventional pictures as well, but he will always be known for bad rear projections and puppets of animals of intensely incorrect size. By the time this film was done in 1977, his effects techniques were extremely dated, and the ants actually look much less realistic than many creatures from his earlier films. The rear projection method is especially bad, and the sense of scale of the ants changes throughout the film. Watch for the scene at the sugar refinery when the ants climb the sky next to the building. On the other hand, the projections are ultra-realistic compared to the ant puppets used for the close-up ant attack shots, scenes which are so funny they actually account for the relatively generous three star rating I gave the film.
The film opens with a narrator somberly intoning "This is the ant. Treat it with respect..." over closeups of an anthill. The narrator goes on to explain that ants are incredibly smart and that "some herd aphids, just as man herds cattle". The film then shifts to the credits and radioactive waste drums being dumped into the ocean in a scene extremely reminiscent of "The Horror of Party Beach". Of course a drum of waste immediately washes ashore and springs a leak, which ants flock to. By a stroke of luck, Joan Collins is an uppity real estate agent trying to sell lots of radioactive swampland in a development called "Dreamland Shores". If ever there was a role Joan was born to play, it was this one. Joan has chartered a boat skippered by Dan Stokely (Robert Lansing) who turns in by far the most competent performance in the movie. There is a cast straight out of any mid 70's disaster movie, and upon alighting at the island unfettered lust and emotion immediately breaks out in multiple unsavory subplots.
With the menacing theme music (which sounds very similar to a John Williams score that you may be quite familiar with) swelling portentously, the ants start to divide and conquer, ruining several ridiculous romances and making this into more of a soap opera starring Joan Collins and giant ants than an actual horror movie. The Lawsons (Jack Kosslyn and Ilse Earl), an unlikable couple, are the first to depart this mortal realm when they venture into the woods to inspect the fire hydrants on their own (honest). The rest of the tour group continues on their inspection of the property without even noticing they are gone. When their absence is noticed two other passengers go looking for them, finding something they really didn't want to in the process, and making everyone wonder if you are venturing into a swamp for commercial purposes, wouldn't you at least take the precaution of packing a radio? There's an advanced tram system after all, but no communication facilities of any sort.
After the insect mayhem commences in earnest, they have to decide whether to go on foot, stand their ground, or hike two miles to a boat and freedom (I should point out that the ants attacked the boat they arrived on; it burned and sank). The dialogue in the film is unbelievably inane, but my favorite line comes when the group is deciding what to do at this juncture and one woman shrieks "We're all too scared to vote!" Really? That's a new one. They decide to make a run for the boat, and despite lots of ludicrous excitement-inducing plot devices (Collin's sweater is snagged on a small twig. How will she ever get free?!) the majority of the group gets into a rowboat, and after the patently absurd and entirely predictable death scene of the old freeloading couple, Harry and Velma Thompson (Harry Holcombe and Irene Tedrow), they start to paddle down the stream. It doesn't take long to pick out the next to die, as the histrionics that emerge from Larry Graham (Robert Pine) are so over-the-top ("It's unfair this should happen to me!") It turns out the ants actually are smarter than the cast members, because they capsize the boat and start chasing the five remaining survivors in a single direction ("They're herding us like cattle!") Just in the nick of time, they encounter a homestead owned by a crazy old couple who solemnly intone "Whatever you do, don't let them take you to the sugar refinery", implying they know about the giant ant menace.
Suddenly in a jarring bit of direction, the survivors are in a police car, being taken to the station, lodging, and the sugar refinery (of course). After a subplot about the difficulties of renting a car, the survivors steal a car, and are quickly intercepted by police officers who take them to the refinery. This is no ordinary refinery. When a whistle blows giant ants swarm to get sugar, and the entire place is operated by zombies. Well, they aren't actually undead type zombies, but they are incapable of independent thought, and the sheriff and mayor are in on the ghastly mind-control plot in which the queen ant controls all the people to do her will by releasing pheromones in a big spray of stink at them in a phone booth. This is called indoctrination, and everyone needs a booster once a week. Naturally our survivors head straight for the front of the line. Joan Collins gets sprayed, and becomes an instant convert to the wisdom of the great ant. Next up is Captain Lansing, who lights the queen on fire with a road flare, while fellow hero-in-waiting Joe Morrison (John David Carson) escapes, steals a gasoline tanker truck and lights the whole place ablaze resulting in fiery chaos and a ludicrous burning ant puppet. In the end the sheriff joins the anti-ant forces and the four principals escape in another stolen boat, while the music swells.
"Empire of the Ants" is definitely one of Bert I. Gordon's most ridiculous projects, but it does have quirky moments of pure campy entertainment that make it worthwhile for any aficionado of cinematic cheese. The script is terrible, even for a movie of this sort, the acting is atrocious, the special effects look positively ludicrous, and Joan Collins playing it deadly seriously sends it over the top. If you want a scary horror film, do not even think about it; if you want to laugh at a spectacular Hollywood embarrassment, this is the film for you."