Bert I. Gordon
Joan Collins - Marilyn Fryser
Robert Lansing - Dan Stokely
John David Carson - Joe Morrison
Albert Salmi - Sheriff Art Kincade
Jacqueline Scott - Margaret Ellis
Pamela Susan Shoop - Corren Bradford
Robert Pine - Larry Graham
Genre - Horror/Science Fiction/B-Movie/Bad Animals
Running Time - 89 Minutes
A bitchy realtor named Marilyn Fryser (Joan Collins) tries to con a group of potential investors to buy some Florida real estate by taking them on a tour, hopefully to make money off of the development rights. Unfortunately for the tour group [but fortunately for us], they don't have any knowledge of radioactive waste being dumped in nearby waters. One of the waste cannisters lands on a beach, where ants roam. This allows the ants to mutate to giant size, suddenly becoming carnivores in the process.
When the two groups acknowledge each other, the humans suddenly become the prey. While some are killed by the ants, some manage to make it to a nearby town for safety. But the town may not be what it seems, and it may have to do with these giant ants.
-Screenplay: It's been a while since I've written a review for the B-Movie Bungalow. Unfortunately, it's for this 1977 B-Movie starring Joan Collins screaming her head off at giant radioactive ants. I usually have fun with these Bert I. Gordon films. I think THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN and EARTH VS. THE SPIDER are fun watches. And while I thought THE FOOD OF THE GODS was pretty average, at least it had moments like that giant chicken and the final act. But EMPIRE OF THE ANTS, while I liked the premise, was pretty much a silly chore to sit through.
I think the biggest culprit is the screenplay. There's really no plot here, at least until the end when it doesn't really matter. The focus of this film should be on the giant ants that are terrorizing our main characters. But they don't have much of a presence until like close to halfway into the film. Instead, we have to watch our human characters walk around, eat food, tour boring locations, and interact with each other in pretty unlikeable and dull ways. It doesn't help that most of these characters are seriously unlikeable or not interesting enough to give a damn about.
Marilyn Fryser, who is supposedly the main character, is a total bitch from start to end. You'd think there would be a character arc in there somehow where she could redeem herself. But nope, there's nothing about her that makes you go, "Yeah, she should live." She's still not as bad as that dude who enjoys forcing himself on women, letting his wife get eaten so he could survive, and lead the others down the wrong path due to the fact that he believes he knows everything. This guy's demise was too easy, in my opinion. It also doesn't help that the girl he tried to rape was pretty much in close proximity with him the entire time - because you know, sexual harassment isn't all that serious or traumatizing. The more "heroic" characters were also pretty bland and did nothing for me. And the characters didn't seem to register that people in their group were missing until it was convenient to do so. I have a lot of faith in humanity when it comes to these people. I honestly wanted to see more of the fake looking ants than I did the fake human personalities. The fact that these characters survived past the first act still frustrates me to no end.
There were also issues that needed to be explained, but weren't for whatever reason. For example, there was some sort of implication that Marilyn's Dreamland Shores deal was a con so these idiot investors could make her rich out of nothing. But that was never really focused on. In fact, the characters who figured it out quickly were murdered first. Yeah, that's how you build a mystery! And the whole final act deal with the ants mind controlling an entire town...after a couple of hours once they grew in size. How in the hell is that even possible? And why would these ants kill people if they want them to love them, appreciate them, and give them all the sugar they could ask for? I think a focus on these aspect would have made for a more interesting and entertaining film. But it really comes out of nowhere and it ends just as soon as it starts.
The story is also oddly paced and there's just not enough interesting things going for it. For an 89 minute film, it felt longer and that's not good. I also find it hilarious as to how this film is "loosely based" on H.G. Wells short story from 1905, when the only thing the two have in common are ants. I wasn't expecting a great script, but at least it could have been fun. Instead, I was left bored and kept looking at the time to see when it would be over so I could review it.
- Direction: Bert I. Gordon's direction isn't masterful, but it does have its moments. It's a pretty standard point-and-shoot affair, with not much visual style that makes the duller scenes more bearable to sit through. There are moments of suspense, I guess, during the chase scenes as you hear the ants communicate with each other. But you're never at the edge of your seat during any point of the film.
I think the most memorable visuals are the giant ants themselves. We get fake huge puppet ants during the attack scenes. Those didn't look too bad. But the matte shots of actual ants re-sized so they could bigger compared to the actors are pretty laughable and really cheap looking. It's always entertaining to watch random ants walk on air rather than towards their intended destination. At least I chuckled at these moments. But honestly, I've probably seen lower budget films with better special effects than EMPIRE OF THE ANTS. For 1977 standards, they're really bad.
I think my biggest issue with the direction, and it's the same as the acting, is that Gordon really directed this film with a serious eye. Why? It's a film about mind-controlling giant ants! Have fun with the damn premise! This isn't Shakespeare, so don't treat it as such.
- Acting: I think of the three components to the story, the acting was definitely the best part of EMPIRE OF THE ANTS. I'm not saying it's great or anything, but all the actors are capable at least. Joan Collins, of Dynasty fame, has claimed that EMPIRE OF THE ANTS was probably the worst acting experience she's had in her life. And judging by her performance, it seems like it. Then again, she's really put through the ringer in this film by director Gordon, so maybe she felt the role deserved better. I don't know. She's not terrible or anything, but you can tell her heart isn't in it. Robert Lansing is probably the best actor as Dan the captain, but you can also tell he's doing this film for a paycheck and nothing more. The other actors are okay [it's nice to see Pamela Susan Shoop in a pre-HALLOWEEN II (1981) role], but they'd probably be better off during a nighttime soap opera rather than a film like this. And I gotta say, the dubbing of the screams were very funny and were a highlight.
I do wish the actors were having more fun with how stupid and silly EMPIRE OF THE ANTS really is. They recite lines and perform scenes with such seriousness, that it took away the camp value for me. I honestly blame this on Bert I. Gordon, since his direction was presented the same way. I read a lot of people enjoy this film because it's campy, but I honestly didn't see it. The dramatic acting didn't do the film favors, in my opinion.
Rating - 4/10
EMPIRE OF THE ANTS isn't a violent movie, but there is more blood than one would expect. But these scenes are fairly tame and extremely repetitive. In fact, the most violent scene in the film was the attempted rape scene that felt very out of place. If you're looking for gore, or a lot of ant mauling sequences, you're looking at the wrong film.
Rating - 2/10
Besides the attempted rape scene and the knee to the groin that followed after, there's not much sexuality in the film at all. We do see Pamela Susan Shoop in a wet blouse though, telling me that it was cold while shooting [if you know what I mean...]. But no one loses any clothes or anything, so fairly tame in this department as well.
Rating - 2/10
EMPIRE OF THE ANTS could have been campier and cheesier, but there are moments that do qualify. The matte shots of giant ants are unintentionally funny to watch. The giant puppet scenes are chuckle worthy. Seeing the actors deliver silly lines with such conviction make one shake their head. And the idea that these ants wanted to turn humanity into their slaves is fairly silly and worth making a campy B-movie about. Too bad the film took itself way too seriously. This could have been cheesier and more fun to experience.
Rating - 4/10
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE TAKING MY EX-GIRLFRIEND OUT TO A PICNIC...
- The narrator claims that the ant could be the next dominant life form on our planet if we're not careful. I'll let the few squished underneath my shoe know about that.
- Some company dumped a bunch of barrels containing radioactive waste material into the ocean. Maybe this is the reason why that shark had psychic powers in JAWS: THE REVENGE. In that case, I hope these assholes rot in hell for making us all suffer.
- Marilyn Fryser won't get mad at one of her co-workers because he's so damn good in the sack. I guess big dicks do achieve more in life.
- Some dude tried to force himself on Pamela Susan Shoop until she kneed him in the junk. Unless you wear a William Shatner mask near a hospital hot tub, she isn't interested.
- The group was too scared to vote about what to do after being attacked by the ants. You'd think they were politicians or something...
- The cops were a bit rough with the group during their escape from a local town. I guess this town's bacon is extra smoky...
- The Queen Ant brainwashed an entire town to obey, love, and feed her sugar whenever she wants it. In other words, she just forced this town to marry her. What a golddigging, diabetic whore!
THE FINAL HOWL
I really wanted to enjoy EMPIRE OF THE ANTS more. Others seem to like it more than I do because it's campy and unintentionally funny. And while I do feel moments are pretty hilarious for all the wrong reasons, I still found the film mostly dull and lacking. The actors are there for a paycheck. The direction by Bert I. Gordon takes itself way too seriously for its own good. The narrative is boring, and the characters are uninteresting and unlikeable. At least the bad special effects are laughable and the premise is decent for a B-movie. EMPIRE OF THE ANTS isn't the worst film I've seen, but not enough sugar will make me want to seek this out again anytime soon.