Empire of the Ants (1977)
Cast: Joan Collins, Robert Lansing, John Carson,
Director: Bert. I. Gordon
Nutshell: Ants feeding on carelessly strewn toxic waste leads to devastating and terrifying consequences.
Footage of Ants of all shapes and sizes performing their duties and a deadpan voice over get the ball rolling in H. G. Wells’ Empire of the Ants. The voice over chides viewers for not taking ants seriously enough, not respecting them enough, not realizing that in the not so distant future, these very ants could be the “next dominant force of the planet”.
This warning is followed by footage of some uniformed “official” types heading out to sea on their boat full of toxic waste and dumping it unceremoniously and liberally; barrel after barrel after barrel plops into the sea adjacent to a stretch of unkempt land which has been earmarked by Joan Collins as Dreamland Shores; a Five-star luxury estate that will be the envy of the world. She has organized a tour of the stunning landscape to be and a few motley potential buyers gather for her “free tour” of the future paradise which at the moment is little more than barren fields with numerous signs exclaiming the arrival of “a Future 18 Hole Golf Course”, a “future Swimming complex and State of the Art Gymnasium”, there are “future shops and cinemas and restaurants, casinos” and future everything you could possibly ever want.
One day it should be a thrilling prospect but at the moment it’s a pretty much nothing more than a dump being presided over by a madly egocentric woman bent on fleecing her customers dry before no doubt absconding with their hard-earned cash. Sadly for Ms. Collins the group that has gathered for her tour appear to be little more than a bunch of cheap freeloaders sensing free cheap wine and sandwiches! None the less, the show must go on and away the dozen or so tourists go, whizzing through the barren nothingness which is to be a “future paradise on unparalleled magnificence”. Its not long before they are into their little ride that strange and ominous sounds are heard from nearby but not much attention is paid to the odd sounds closing in around them. We have already been shown some ants chowing down on a weird and sinister gleaming mercury like substance seeping out of the toxic waste containers thrown about the sea so callously by the “agencies”.
The weird sounds get closer and closer and then the camera turns to Ant-Vision form the attacking insects point of view. They stalk their victims slowly waiting for their chance to make their move. The audience can tell when the ants are on the prowl because the camera ingeniously turns into Ant-Cam or Ant-Vision and instead of one image the screen is split up into many tiny images just as an ant would see things! Whenever the Ant-Vision is on, the audience knows that an attack is imminent.
The first to go are a middle-aged couple who have discovered that the piping meant show the grand water system around the complex is just some plastic pipes bunged into the ground to make it appear as though there are pipes laid throughout the project. The ants have been gorging on the atomic waste and have mutated into giants towering over their human victims when they attack, leaving the humans no chance of survival. 8 feet tall ants suddenly launch a murderous attack on the hapless couple taking just seconds to make a meal of them. The ants are furry and snappy, somewhat reminiscent of the cute Giant Bunny Rabbits from Night of the Lepus from about the same era! You might consider keeping one for a pet if it would just stop screaming for two seconds!
Anyway, there are plenty of “Oh My God’s” and “Get the Hell Outta Here’s” being bandied about, and a huge amount of wailing and crying as the crew try desperately to stop becoming a tea time snack for the rampant Ants. This are looking ominous and terribly perilous for the survivors and hysteria starts to set in as the ants close in…and in a sinister twist, it appears that they aren’t just hungry for flesh but that there is some higher plan being put in to action as the ants seem to be herding the human crew rather simply devouring them. What do these horrid ants have in store for our desperate group of tourists…who will survive and what will be left of them appears to be the question that needs to be answered most of all as the film heads for a slight detour twist and a dramatic showdown.
Suffice to say that there happens to be a giant sugar factory producing “enough sugar to feed an army” in the vicinity and it is being guarded and manned by some “official types” once again. There is more than meets the eye and our survivors are in for a shock when the police that rescue them are not leading them to a building where they have a most unexpected member of the ant kingdom calling the tune. You are reminded of the ominous voice over at the start of the movie and realize that aaaaah, indeed….one day this could indeed come to pass.
The film waddles along at a pace that is just fast enough for a viewer to not give up on it and of course there is the wonderful Joan Collins playing Alexis Colby-Carrington again as she seems to have done her entire career. The names and films and decades may change but Joan Collins is forever playing the same character; Alexis Colby Carrington. Ms. Collins’ type casting so rigidly forcing her to play a caricature again and again and again. It may be a caricature the world has grown to love her in, but we actually never got to see another side at all. Here she has a juicy role – in the first half of the movie she is cold, confident, bitchy Alexis but in the second it changes to hysterical, screaming, not so confident, cold bitch Alexis mode.
In fact, most of the film is spent imagining the horrible death that ought to be reserved for Miss Collins…but then you have to remind yourself that the special effects and gore effects are too cheap and tacky to provide us with such gruesome delights.
The supporting cast of losers is typical for a movie as this and is perfectly suitable.
Fact is, any movie featuring Joan Collins for an entirety of its running time, giant monster ants, some delicious 70s style sexism and ropey special effects has to be well worth watching and this ridiculously, preposterously loopy fable based on H.G. Wells novel is at least streets ahead of Irwin Allen’s The Swarm, that amazing turkey that bombed spectacularly in the summer of ’77, The Summer of Sam. Donna Summer’s I Feel Love was number one…and ants were fortunately, just ants.