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Film Review: Empire of the Ants (1977)

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Empire-of-the-Ant-1977-movie--Bert-I.-Gordon-(9)SYNOPSIS:

After a swindling land developer Marilyn Fryser (Joan Collins) throws a party for prospective property buyers in the Florida everglades their expedition swiftly goes awry as they encounter the landscape has been infested my gargantuan man eating ants.

REVIEW:

Directed by: Bert I. Gordon
Starring: Joan Collins, Robert Lansing, John David Carson, Albert Salmi, Jacqueline Scott, Pamela Susan Shoop, Robert Pine

Empire of The Ants is loosely based upon the story by H.G. Wells and is the third installment of Wells stories released by American International Pictures after The Food of The Gods and The Island of Doctor Moreau. One can only speculate what how Wells would receive his Sci-Fi odyssey adaptation on the silver screen.

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The opening sequence is reminiscent of a nature biography. We’re introduced to the behaviour of the ants and learn that the colony communicates through pheromones. In essence they carry an obligatory gene to respond to the queen’s demands. A certain sense of foreboding is divulged from the narrator, “…but humans don’t have to worry about that.” The presence of the narrator conveys a certain feel of authenticity or justification to a far-fetched plot. It manages to fixate the viewer despite the abundant level of campiness the premise seems to exude.

An orchestra type soundtrack seems to provide additional authenticity exploiting the fear factors. The overall mood from the get go is a sense of undeniable dread. The music does get a little redundant after a while and seems to have hauntingly similarities to that of the Jaws soundtrack.

The hair styles, apparel, vehicles, dialogue and even morals and values seem to capture the seventies movement well. Many viewers experiencing this expose for the first time may even find mild humor in the vast diversity the culture seems to have in comparison to our contemporary ways.

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One can bank that Joan Collins’ presence was an inevitable box office draw. It’s a little staggering to discover Empire of The Ants grossed over two and a half million, not a bad achievement for its era. Collins’ character of Marilyn Fryser is one the audience loves to hate and she looks delicious while doing it. The svelte, demure minx eventually gets what’s coming to her and the audience will in all likelihood cheer her demise.

The mutated ants’ point of view is captured effectively. We sense their primal tendencies through multi-spectral vision as they hunt the group of unexpected property seekers. The corresponding audio is creepy, haunting and perhaps even a little on the trippy side. We have to remember for the time frame it was not completely inconceivable for a group of teens to go to the theatre after participating in any assortment of medicinals before-hand.

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Special effects for the remainder are pretty campy. Viewers are best advised to keep the expectations low and not to take the action sequences and terror fray too seriously. Many of the actors complained of their scenes with the mock up ants having sustained varying degrees of lacerations, scrapes and bruises from the clunky props. The post production comes off as borderline laughable. The giant ants are rendered by means of enlarged photography or enlarged projection. As a result the ants often appear to crawl directly off the ground and into thin air. This of course can be attributed to the ants being photographed in a set line where the back drop was not included. The end result looks a little absurd in nature but good for a few laughs if nothing else.

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A certain subtext is captured well through dialogue at the campfire scene. A societal pecking order is detected and a mutiny begins to arise throughout the guests. Despair and unease are the motivators and the actors do an exceptional job of cultivating these emotions. They manage to put their differences behind them only to run amok once again in the river sequences. Those familiar with seventies film and television will recognize a lot of the actors from of course the aforementioned Collins, to Robert Pine who you may recognize from the seventies show CHIPS as the police sergeant. His role as the whining, indifferent Larry Graham is a drastic change from what we’d become accustomed to and it’s intriguing to witness him shine in this portrayal. A little closer to home, horror fans may find something eerily reminiscent in Pamela Susan Shoop playing the most fetching Coreen Bradford. Pamela was a main fixture in many Glen A. Larson productions in the seventies and eighties from Magnum P.I. The Fall Guy, Knight Rider and so on. You may also remember her guest appearances in Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk. Shoop went on to play Karen, the ill-fated nurse in John Carpenter’s Halloween who had her face peeled off unceremoniously in the bubbling hot water below by Michael Myers. At any rate the performances are without question above par and is arguably one of the redeeming factors in this film.

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Such memorable dialogue is spewed forth as, “My God they’re herding us like cattle!” While watching Empire of The Ants those sitting in the same room complained that the screaming was a little over the top. In hindsight isn’t every campy, exploitation flick, precisely that?

-Two out of five tombstones

Bonus Features

    • — EMPIRE OF THE ANTS —
    • New Audio Commentary With Director Bert I. Gordon
    • Photo Gallery
    • Radio Spots
    • Theatrical Trailer

Empire of the Ants is now part of a bluray double release per Shout Factory

 

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