The Cult and Atonement of The Ant Bully but not Them! (1954) Part One

*contains spoilers

Let’s turn to the nature of an organised society and how it is impossible and cumbersome on our corrupt level as human beings to manage one – whereas the humble ant waits to inherit the world from us as we poison nature and ourselves as the ant’s natural order proves to be more endurable and adaptable.

Ant movies started out with such titles as Them aka Them! (1954) as we follow through to the low-budget epic Phase IV (1973) to the movie based on a H.G. Wells (1866-1946 unspecified) story Empire of the Ants (1977) and then through to the children’s movie The Ant Bully (2005). The humble ant may yet eat the possible mincemeat we make of ourselves on this planet… we may be eaten alive!

I will start with Them! which is a part of the cycle of movies which are about mutations caused by the atomic bomb. In this case it is the humble ant which grows to about six to ten feet in length and can obviously kill with a single bite as they also crush you to death.

Them! (1954) poster
Empire of the Ants (1977) quad poster
Phase IV (1973) poster

Them! (1954) was Warner Bros. great nuclear proliferation sci-fi movie of the age, while 20th Century Fox made the gun crazy reaction to an alien visit The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Howard Hughes’s RKO made The Thing from Another World (1951) which was released less than a month after Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted and sentenced to death for leaking plans to Russia for the atomic bomb. Meanwhile Universal started their cycle of sci-fi movies with the release of It Came from Outer Space (1953) a few weeks before the first Rosenberg was put to death in the electric chair leaving behind two orphans under twelve years old. I mean watch the skies from a possibly ‘real’ threat instead of what’s happening in your back yard! Nothing like the movies to take your mind off things such as the arrival of the Cold War and the threat of communism. Columbia made It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) which gave calamari or octopus a bad name or the possibility that it existed in a larger form than you have ever seen.

It was all in the timing… It Came from Outer Space (1953)
It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) poster

Them! opens with a death scene which suggests that all America wins in the wake of the atomic bomb is the wind, justice, a cash register and a rifle as they are all elements in the opening sequence of a destroyed shop where the ants have first made their presence felt. The ants threaten mankind as does the deadly addiction to sugar. Sugar is deadly and so is ‘dem ants as they like it too. And everyone knows that brown sugar is better for you than the white sugar according to Mick Jagger’s song… White sugar cubes are portrayed as some kind of lure and is the real enemy and a lesson in terms of obesity and race relations as well. Meanwhile Them and atomic also shows our insulting behaviour by poisoning the ant communities over the years with cyanide and now with the atomic bomb. Karma is at work and at the heart of every giant nature movie and nature revenge movie… Man may have to truly pay the price for what he continues to do…

“We may be part of a religious prophecy coming true,” says actor Edmund Gwenn (1877-1959 pneumonia) who has been called in to help battle an outbreak of giant ants from engulfing the globe. What is happening is “very strange” and “most unusual” and could be “the end of the world” as the dated dialogue over two queen ants making a nest could spell the end of civilisation as we know it. Them! or ‘they’ must be stopped.

But as it is pointed out by professor Gwenn is that “ants are savage, ruthless and courageous fighters… Ants are the only creatures on Earth other than man who make war” and “their savagery makes man look feeble in comparison.” It all sounds a bit rich considering that ants have survived unchanged for millions of years on Earth and created colonies which thrive on cooperation while man has the planet almost at its expiration date in a matter of a couple of thousand years of dysfunctional colonisation… Perhaps man simply isn’t savage enough… or is forever destroying under the influence of someone or something…

Sandy Descher screams the immortal words: “Them!”
Edmund Gwenn (left) and James Whitmore in Them! (1954)

“We better get our act together or we’ll be extinct in a year,” is another line from Them! but is it necessarily the ants we should worry about. Perhaps if you see ant shaped flying saucers inform the government immediately!

It should be noted that the first scream in Them is almost exactly the same as the one by Janet Leigh when the shower curtain is pulled back in Psycho (1960) … Perhaps a tenuous link between human madness and pheromones… as ants and demons or voices in the mind of Norman Bates are linked to what controls ant behaviour in film mythology… Is man like the ant simply influenced by chemical pheromones? Both induce a woman to scream.

Many years later there was the film Matinee (1993) which was a beautiful and innocent homage to the 1960s Kennedy era atomic age and those atomic mutation sci-fi flicks of the 1950s through the eyes of young teenagers. The film within the film is entitled ‘Mant’ as it tells the tale of a man bitten by an atomic ant and then starts to turn into one much to the horror of his wife and but not necessarily his doctor.

Them! (1954) trailer
Joe Dante references Them! in this scene from Mant! contained within his movie Matinee (1993)
Beloved actor Robert Cornthwaite

Joe Dante (1946-) lovingly recreated this black and white movie within using stars of 1950s movies such as Kevin McCarthy (1914-2010 pneumonia) from Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Robert Cornthwaite (1917-2006 natural causes) from The Thing from Another World and William Schallert (1922-2016 natural causes) from numerous sci-fi movies including Them! Lest we forget those actors and many others of the era as they diverted American children from the imminent threat of the bomb… and the evils of communism. Note also that Cornthwaite and Schallert both appeared in the Supercomputer movie Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970) which I have tackled in a couple of articles.

“When man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world… What we’ll find in the new world nobody can predict,” says Gwenn in Them! after the threat of giant ants is rubbed out and they are exterminated. Nuclear proliferation is the new world order… so what will be the next? An advanced alien intelligence is suggested by the movies as even scarier… Back to pheromones if you don’t believe in a super intelligence in alien form…

If you watch the movie Dogs (1976) or its video title of Slaughter, and this movie was part of the progression of the atomic mutation movies which deformed nature to the modern notion of normal sized animals in nature as ‘they’ strike back. These movies started around the time of the movie Frogs (1972). In Dogs, actor David McCallum (1933-) is a professor who lets his students know one night at the pub that giant ants couldn’t possibly exist since they have an exoskeleton and the mass of an exoskeleton would be too heavy for an ant to actually live and exist within such a gigantic form. That goes for The Black Scorpion (1957) and The Deadly Mantis (1957) too, I guess. So don’t be scared of giant ants…

Matinee (1993) trailer
A beautiful The Deadly Mantis (1957) poster
The ongoing battle between ant and mantis. Does man even figure?

What is interesting about Dogs, apart from critic Gene Siskel (1946-99 brain tumour and surgery) giving it no stars in his review while he apparently asked director John Waters that same year to let him in on the secret of local snuff movies such as Michael Findlay’s Snuff (1976) which he believed was real… Siskel’s inability to see beyond a low budget despite as clever exploitation script gets the thumbs down from me. Anyway, I like Dogs and Siskel only walked out on three movies in his life and one of them was the iconic Maniac (1980).

“The key word was ‘speculative’,” says flaxen-haired professor McCallum about the genius of a fellow academic in Dogs and the main reason the dogs are attacking people in this movie is that they form a pack collective intelligence along with the use of the ‘pseudo-science’ of ants having a collective intelligence when they get together and the use of pheromones which help produce this cooperation…

Dogs (1976) trailer
Antz (1998) poster
Yes, it’s a definite worry…

“Together they seem to accumulate intelligence… they achieve critical mass and something akin to thinking begins,” says the professor played by George Wyner (1945-) as his colleague McCallum laments the lack of original thinking and problem solving in the lazy academia of the day… However: “The discovery of pheromone induced behaviour is nothing new…,” says Wyner and that goes for fish and insects and ants, and it is suggested there is again the pseudo-science of the same collective intelligence in a pack of dogs just like men as they gather in an army and kill other people or invade nations… or just plain riot anarchically for fun! There is that delineation of peaceful and productive thought and action against selfish empire building or fighting without a soul or unselfish purpose… Wars use both contructive thought for destructive action and anarchy lies somewhere in between both these notions of peace and war … at least man doesn’t dismember his rival like some species of war-like ant as an everyday event. Or does he? He murders constantly. Human beings should be able to survive without turning to criminal behaviour or escape poverty stricken reality in a drug-induced haze in the modern world and the movie Phase IV (1974) suggests evolution and revolution as a natural solution. Even if it is only a philosophical one and not a technological one. More a bit later…

“You mean I might be releasing an odour that tell people what to do?,” asks the fat boy in Dogs, which suggests that deodorant be used by those who want to have friends and aftershave for those who want lovers… Or intimate female hygiene sprays that don’t “kill cockroaches” as Lily Tomlin’s character Judith dared to suggest in The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981). Despite what the poor fat boy said, he’ll be rejected anyway. Beyond that and one wonders at the causes of madness in those humans who are rejected and driven mad by pheromones… Do human pheromones cause us to co-operate or rebel? Are they related to chemical imbalances in the mind which is the polite way of describing madness or hearing voices today? Do ants that are not poisoned by drugs both legal and illegal gain their own resistance to man’s poisons which in turn affect and never leave the human food chain? Man does not and cannot so easily adapt to the effect of poisons and drugs. If mental illness is chemically related then a holistic philosophy in treating the mentally ill should include the possibility of mentioning pheromones and natural higher intelligence being a part of the cause as well as a part of the cure and understanding for the sufferer rather than just being dealt more drugs. Further, what if ants were using their own pheromones to continually turn man against himself… and then for the ants to inherit the Earth?

The ‘Sissy’ that drains power in Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
An American ant joke…
A real life particle accelerator…

In Dogs there is also a kind of government linear accelerator high energy particle experiment which is like the time loop distorter in Happy Death Day 2U (2019) in that it causes lights to flicker as it drains power from the local campus supply. Once more don’t underestimate the influence of the cheap exploitation of Dogs.

The Ant Bully (2005) resonates with me since I used to be a young child who would kill ants indiscriminately as I thought I was some sort of Cecil B. DeMille (1881-1959 heart attacks) parting and closing the Red Sea or like director Michael Curtiz (1886-1962 cancer) making Noah’s Ark (1928), where extras reportedly drowned, as I took a garden hose and used my shoes to make my own epic complete with imagined collective screams at the expense of the ant community in my grandfather’s backyard. Like Shakespeare’s “flies to wanton boys” I was playing God and a possible serial killer in the making who tortures small animals. Fortunately, in mid-take one day, my wise aunt interrupted my blockbuster and said to me: “How would you like it if giant ants with boots stomped all over you?” The penny dropped immediately and I shrugged and never did it again. In fact, when I am conscious of the fact, I even try not to step on ants on the pavement. I mean what if people are reincarnated as ants?

The Ant Bully (2005) poster
Shakespeare’s quote is from King Lear I think…
Noah’s Ark (1928) still where it is legendary that extras drowned during the making of the movie

The Ant Bully has a young child who is bullied by other neighbourhood boys who really aren’t that bright as this kid wears a t-shirt with a ring or a Cheerio on it as his mother calls him Peanut/Peenut, which he of course hates and maybe the source of his ostracism. As a result, he tortures ants with a garden hose or else he probably pees on them as well…

The fact that the ant may inherit the Earth didn’t just start with Them! There was a Charlton Heston movie which many remember along with the giant ant movie Them! and that film is The Naked Jungle (1954) which came out the same year. In that film a two-mile wide and 20-mile-long column of ants threaten not only a cocoa plantation in South America but all human life that stands in their way. The film struck at the heart of reality for movie goers at the time despite the ants only appearing in the final third of the action and the rest being a relatively simple melodrama. One memorable scene has a man fall asleep at the controls of a water crossing and is eaten alive by ants. My father remembered this scene and the scream of the giant ants in Them! from his childhood.

The ant population is so organised that we don’t hear of such outbreaks regularly happening as they would have already devoured the world en masse. Ants seem to know that the planet’s resources are limited and so practise population control. The Bible has us afraid of locusts but not necessarily ants as plague and pestilence is predicted … just look at Covid and a recent mouse plague in Australia…

War is bad enough between men. Do we need to engage nature? PInk Floyd perform Us and Them
An ant bully makes his presence felt… and must atone for his sins

“I would have seen it on the telly?,” the average Joe says about such things in the insect related Quatermass and the Pit (1967) which links the demonic and evil forces to insects being in control and possibly dominating and ending the world but I will get to that later…

Ants seem to mind their own business despite urban outbreaks in the homes of some who disrespect them or don’t take precautions. We are reminded there is a constant battle going on in suburbia by the amount of pest control companies in the metropolitan area of every city. Perhaps they do wait for the day when man has exhausted the strength of his poisons and they will strike once fully immune… and yet they are wise enough not to eat everything on earth! The karma of returning constantly to an Earth which has been devastated and picked clean even by an ant would be a hell to forever inhabit for such souls which are either ant or human. A soulless planet inhabited by trapped souls unable to even take on animal form… It sounds like it would be a perpetual hell resembling the planet Mars. Perhaps even bacteria have a soul? Trees scream when you cut them down, I’m told.

I think I was cursed by some higher intelligence like The Ant Bully for a time because of the karma of killing so many indefensible creatures… The Any Bully has the offending child shrunk down to the size of an ant where they have suffered from his dreaded “yellow rain” as Peanut “must face judgment for crimes against the colony”. It could be your local Western human colony of one nation which has invaded another… but that’s not the point…. But the ‘queen’ or ‘breeder’ head ant of the colony says in this Tom Hanks produced movie: “We could change the nature of this human and perhaps buy a brighter future for all ants.” So, the philosophy and possibility of a murderous human being changing for the better is at the heart of the movie.

Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings type scenario
Or will you become an ant in hell?

Peanut has a grandmother who sits in a chair with a Masonic symbol of the square and compass and she also believes in the existence of aliens… The intelligence maybe out there but it may also be beneath our feet such as the malevolent horror movie Phantoms (1998), which saw crude oil containing some sort of collective intelligence… kind of like Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) where the crabs actually attained the ability to speak as they collected the minds they consumed and their intelligence grew exponentially. Perhaps the not so deep beneath our feet ants are either scarier or fairer in their toleration of ‘humanity’.

See how the world will either wither and die or become one with nature in PART TWO

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