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Empire of the Ants (1977)

Joan Collins in Empire of the Ants


Joan Collins

WARNING: Contains spoilers!

In a nutshell, a sleazy land developer invites a group of prospective buyers on a tour of Dreamland Shores, the new community being built. Little do these people know that some previously dumped toxic waste has mutated common ants into murderous monsters. The members of the group are slowly picked off by the ants, until a scant few of them remain. The survivors stumble upon a local town where the residents have been enslaved by the ant queen, and forced to cater to the needs of the ants. In short, the ants are torched and the survivors, minus Joan Collins, escape on a boat up a river.

Like other Bert I. Gordon films (Beginning of the End, Earth vs. the Spider) this one isn't skimpy with the cheese. The ants, putting aside their size, behave unlike any ants in real life. First of all, we learn that these ants not only gained in size, but have apparently also gained in intelligence. Why then would they intentionally walk down a narrow boat dock with a great possibility of them falling into the water, where they would have been totally helpless? Well, as we find out, it's to stop the people from escaping on the boat, which makes some sense at least. Of course, the brave captain, or boat driver as he likes to call himself, manages to set fire to and destroy the only means the poor victims have of getting away from the ants. Now that's pure brilliance right there.

Speaking of the victims, the character development in this movie is so poor that you actually hope the ants kill all of these people off just so they'll shut up about their stupid, insignificant problems they keep complaining about. The ants, in all their screaming horror, (yes the ants actually scream in this movie, which is impossible since ants do not have vocal chords) are somehow smart enough to herd the few people they haven't killed to a local town so they can be enslaved by the queen. Apparently these ants have been watching reruns of Rawhide, because I'm pretty sure herding is not a natural instinct for ants. When the survivors get to the town is when what little sense of reality is left in this movie completely breaks down. You see, all of the townspeople have been "hypnotized" by the ant queen to serve the ants. How this is accomplished is uncertain; the queen is able to eject a gas inside a booth that makes the person in the booth completely subserviant to the queen's wishes.

Now, it's a fact that ants communicate with each other with the use of chemicals, but these chemicals are meant for ants only, and would be totally ineffective on humans. Nevertheless, it works in the film, except when our hero the boat driver uses a flare to torch the queen. Then all hell breaks loose--the ants in the sugar refinery suddenly turn on their human slaves and the formerly hypnotized townsfolk start running around everywhere. Why the queen's hold on the people is immediately broken is a mystery, as well as the sheriff taking one shot at the queen and then stumbling away while poor Joan Collins is left to take the brunt of her wrath and another spray from her butt, or wherever that gas is supposed to come from.

Honestly, I had no idea what was going on in the last few minutes of the film or what Gordon was going for. It's as if the crew had just given up on the movie and was told to film whatever they like. This film is plagued by poor special effects (ants crawling around on thin air), quirky inconsistencies (how does Joan Collins keep changing her clothes?!), terrible acting ("My God, they're herding us like cattle!"), and vomit inducing camera work (every time the ant puppets are brought out there seems to be a compulsive need to jerk the camera around, as if doing this will hide the cheesiness of the puppets). So, it's basically a typical Bert I. Gordon film and if you're in the mood for goofy fun or doing your own riffs, this film is prime fodder.

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