When I was in my early teens, I went through this little sci-fi renaissance. The old video store here used to carry every god awful film on the planet - nothing was taken down no matter how many months went by without a single rental. Of course, you'd notice this the most in the science fiction section, because if the movies that got rented weren't bad enough, the ones that didn't were outright awful.
With that, I've seen a lot of really awful sci-fi/monster movies. Tonight we're gonna do a little featurette on one of the films I watched during my dark days of making Star Wars scrapbooks out of clippings from Starlog magazines -- an insect horror movie!
The atrocity we're gonna take a look at is the 1977 'classic', Empire of the Ants. This is more than just a bad movie, guys. I've sat through some real duds in my time, but this one...jesus. Have you ever watched a movie and wondered how the actors could possibly go through their lines knowing full well the shitfest they were contributing to? I honestly can't believe that anyone who worked on this film thought the final product would be anything less than a complete and total pile of crap.
Okay, first off, the movie stars Joan Collins. Joan, the pinnacle of high social grace and class in Hollywood Collins. On the video box itself, it states that the movie is one 'Ms. Collins would rather us forget!', which just goes to show how much faith everyone has in the movie. In fact, Joan has stated that the movie was 'her worst acting experience - ever'. And here's why....
The movie starts out with some lame 'documentary' on the ants...and ponders the question as to what would happen if the ants were exposed to toxic waste. After that, you won't see or hear of an ant for about an hour. Yes, a full hour goes by in this movie to try to get us to care about some of the most idiotic characters you'll ever meet. The cast is pretty direct - sleazy used car salesman guy, macho good guy who can't seem to get out a line without taking a really deep breath, a feeble old couple, a damsel in distress, and Joan Collins as the sinister real estate schyster, who's looking to sell all the aforementioned fools some bad land on some remote island.
For the first hour, all we get are the characters getting to know each other, and a few shots of the used car salesman trying to feel up all the girls. After about 20 minutes, I was pleading with god to let these alleged giant ants make their appearance and eat everyone....but I soon realized that I should be careful of what I wish for.
Ants. But not just any ants - the worst monster ants you'll ever see. There's two kinds in the film:
1.- Big puppet ants. These are just awful...they only made the head and front legs, so you'd see an actor or actress flailing about while half an ant does the Suzanna dance about 10 feet behind them. Terrible.
2.- Special Super Imposed Ants. Take a look at the picture...
When a scene called for an entire ant to be on film, they'd just superimpose it in the worst way possible. Essentially, you'd see what looked like ink stains on the film, and you were supposed to accept them as giant, mutant ants.
That was just the start of it - in any given scene, the super imposed ants could be any shade of color, and at times seem to be floating in midair. When you add that in to the fact that the director didn't feel the need to tell his actors that they were in a scene with ants...you'll find that 9 out of 10 times, nobody seems to mind walking directly towards a tribe of 10' insects.
The characters who aren't immediately eaten eventually find other people living on the island...it's later revealed that the Queen Ant used her pheromones to turn all the people into sugar-seeking slaves.
Or, more appropriately, take every old person and turn them into ant slaves...
I love how in all these old sci-fi movies, they always cast 100 year olds when they need idiotic characters. The acting here is superb, with the two fossils refusing to say anything bad about the ants.
The climactic scene? After Joan Collins turns into one of the ant slaves, the rest of the characters escape the Ant Sugar Facility, and conveniently notice that there just happens to be a huge tanker trunk marked 'flammable' outside the building. Now, I'm not expert on the process of making sugar, but I am however certain that the ants weren't driving any trucks. So the placement of this truck was pretty suspicious. It reeked of 'let's end this fucking movie already'. And that they did - Joe, the macho character, does something to make the tank explode. When I say 'do something', it looks like all he does is start up the engine. Somehow, this makes everything in a three mile radius go up in flames, and our 'heroes' escape on a boat.
The sheriff of the town, who also happens to be at least 100 years of age, is an ant slave. His words? "Isn't she beautiful? She's fantastic... We must obey. We have no choice. She makes us do it." Empire of the Ants may have been a sucky movie, but they wanted to be really sure there weren't any unexplained plotlines. Still, after hearing this, it takes our characters about another 45 minutes to realize everyone was under ant control - even though the fucking sheriff just told them.
One of the ant slave cops at the sugar refinery: "There's enough sugar in there to feed an army." Sadly, he's referring to a human army. You learn something new everyday. A staple in our armed forces daily regime is a power-packed lunch of a bowl of sugar.
Our damsel in distress, at the sugar refinery: "There's something funny about this place." You've gotta wonder what she was referring to...the fact that everybody there talked like a zombie...the 200' tall pile of sugar...or the herd of giant, mutant ants running around the place like it was the ant stock exchange. Empire of the Ants was really shooting for the three Rs with this one...they nailed ridiculous and retarded with the first five minutes. After that, they got redundant.
My brother and I were talking about how awful this movie was, and started discussing whether or not it'd be possible to somehow make an even worse movie about ants. Surely, Empire of the Ants was bad...but we could do better. This is what we came up with...
Beware, Joan Collins. We rapidly approach your insect throne of unbridled stupidity.