Empire of the Ants (1977)

Don’t pay any attention to the posters:  H.G. Wells has very little to do with this one.  In fact, if you actually read his original short story, it is very hard to find anything the two have in common, except for a boat trip down the river.

Instead, Wells merely gives Bert I. Gordon an excuse to do a giant ant movie — although one strongly influenced by the fact that he made it in the Seventies, not the Fifties.

Instead of the usual nuclear blast which would have caused the ants to mutate into giants back in the Fifties, here it is a lost barrel of radioactive waste on a deserted Florida beach which does the job.

Unfortunately, a crooked land developer (played by Joan Collins at her bitchiest) decides to try to sell that particular patch of swamp, and arrives with a boatload of prospective buyers for a tour of the property.

When the ants show up to disturb their picnic, they flee up the river in the hopes of reaching safety in the next town, with the ants killing the stragglers…

This would be where most people would think the film should end, only there is a major twist after they reach the town and the film takes off in a totally unexpected direction.

Frankly, this has to be one of Gordon’s best films.  Not only are the ant effects better than anything in his previous giant bug movies, but he finds enough plot turns and twists for two of his Fifties movies.

As always, it’s good to see Robert Lansing (perhaps best remembered now for his recurring role as Control on The Equalizer) although he is nearly hidden behind a scruffy beard.  As this is a Bert I. Gordon film, the rest of the cast are largely unfamiliar, and seem to have been drawn from Television.  Which, again, is no surprise.

But it is that bold, final twist which really stands out.  One might note that it bears a slight resemblance to an idea which shows up in Phase IV but never really gets fully developed.  It is a deeply disturbing, to put it mildly, and miles from Wells’ original conceit, where the ants remain more or less normal sized, but have developed the ability to use tools.

And it is one of those endings which would never have been made except in the Seventies.

Oh, well.  It’s just a touch smarter than your average B-Monster movie but it still generates its share of scary moments.

And that means it is well worthy of a midnight viewing.

Particularly if you are binge watching giant bug movies.

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