“Ants communicate by chemicals,” according to an actual quote by Stanford University professor Deborah M. Gordon and this is reinforced by director Bert I Gordon’s (1922-) – yes Mr BIG himself – Empire of the Ants (1977) where once again we have a nuclear link, this time nuclear waste polluting the ocean and washing ashore… This leads to giant ants, which we know is impossible but also ants taking control of the human community through the use of pheromones and controlling their behaviour as a result. They really are taking over in this movie… As the giant ‘queen’ sprays the local population with pheromones to make them work forever to produce more and more white sugar… Insane to link the poison of white sugar to the evil of consumerism and a higher intelligence keeping it that way…
“What we have here is a failure to communicate,” being the key essential violent words spoken to Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke (1967) about the ramifications and failure to conform within the human social order, in this case a prison colony. We may be running a human ant farm, or the ants may be running it for us. Everyone’s running something or running from it for some reason…
Empire of the Ants is enjoyable ‘nonsense’ but the possibilities in terms of mind control and conformity are interesting. But the ant world as it is organised could be seen as a possible socialist or communist state as other ants in The Ant Bully say you should live productively and “not thinking of your own self first”. The point of view of the selfish human who kills others or influences the lives of others for his or her enjoyment for possibly worse … is once again karma calling as there is an ant played by Nicolas Cage in The Ant Bully who is some sort of mystic artist who in his truth seeking doesn’t think that human beings can change and be sympathetic to an entire race or species which is not his own or is different from himself. Man’s nature vs. thinking of Earth’s nature.
But everyone has enemies that “hate your guts” for your past actions and they themselves cannot be sympathetic or see your possibly new point of view or outlook… it is the old adage of a leopard never changing his spots or reviewing his past mistakes but in terms of a human being they may accept the spots they’re given and behave and think differently – or at least try for the sake of the planet. Judgment has already been passed on the planet otherwise as we await the end of days as individuals. I won’t go into the ensuing battle within The Ant Bully and the Wasp/WASP and the ant cooperating to save their colony… from an exterminator!
It is no wonder that this film was rejected at the box office upon release in America as it espouses a central government which is for the good of the entire community and yet it still punishes those children who don’t conform as they instead commit crimes under the influence of other bullies … there is understanding without necessarily killing in return and the atoned ant bully stands up for others who get downtrodden by other bullies.
“Yeah, we’re all small but together we’re big!,” he says and it could be a hint to vote for the right socially collective party and rid yourself of any false prophet or populist anti-Christ who luckily doesn’t have military connections in his or her Fascist bid for power. Foiled again by darn commie ants! Someone, please call the exterminator!!
Ants may even have their own possible deity or mythology softens The Ant Bully and that may be a part of the success of their organisation along with their resistance of getting too drunk on nectar and then to rape or bash their family and commit other crimes in the community… Yes, we’re talking an ant movie where the spectre of hard drugs or chemicals has been erased in their world. But let’s not get too extreme and become an organic vegan who is also an anti-vaxxer! The poison’s already in the food chain, accept it.
Those who are fans of the movie Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) will remember the character of Antie who gives his lives for the children when they are menaced by a scorpion and is bitten and poisoned to death by it as a result. The bond between human and ant is no closer than in this movie as actor Jared Rushton (1974-) from Tom Hanks’s Big (1988) mourns his friend.
Meanwhile in the tv movie entitled Ants! (1977) and nicknamed It Happened at Lakewood Manor, we have the line: “With all America lined up to kiss their dollars goodbye” spoken by a possible new casino entrepreneur who inspects the countryside for a new location. This movie was obviously inspired by Frogs and has former Golden Years of Hollywood actress Myrna Loy (1905-93 unspecified) in one of her last appearances in a wheelchair just like Ray Milland (1907-86 lung cancer) was trapped in one in Frogs. The film’s title and Loy in the cast promises the sight of the Hollywood actress being devoured by ants but this tame entry suffers the 1970s tv movie fate of being dull and not at all explicit. Loy was a life-long Democrat and was politically active and I guess the message that proposed casinos just sap the poor through poker machines couldn’t be resisted no matter how vague the message.
“They can turn on us,” says on professor in the movie and “When there are enough ants a chemical signal sets off savage biting.” Again, there’s that protection of the self within ants when it is compared to human politics as well, which has the turning point of political factions or movements rioting in the streets – in the name of peace or whatever they think is politically correct at the time. It’s usually the prompt for some higher intelligence in the form an organised military junta to take over and use their corrupt influence to become rich themselves at the expense of the average worker.
“The same with ants with people,” says the department of health in Ants! over scattering the forces of the ants which then leads to a loss of momentum in terms of a political movement. Gerrymander is another political word and related laws and the devious ways of causing people to be unable to vote. Myrna’s protest is made.
To look at Phase IV (1974), which was the only feature length film directed by famed credit and graphic designer Saul Bass (1920-96 non-Hodgkins lymphoma) and it is rather remarkable in its idea of political and physical transformation of the human together with the ant and the formation of a new species which can live in harmony on planet Earth. It is no wonder that Bass never made another feature, not because this low-budget film flopped so badly, but because it is perhaps the ultimate idea of harmony and peace between man and nature… also within himself with a partner which is in this case is of the opposite sex… and so you really can’t aspire to say any more as a fimmaker.
The movie begins in the deserts of Arizona where there is some sort of disturbance happening among the ant community as its predators have disappeared and they threaten the local human population. Two scientists turn up and they are different kinds of men in that one is the war-like Nigel Davenport (1928-2013 pneumonia) and the more reserved and intellectual Michael Murphy (1938-) who inhabit a purpose-built laboratory which hopefully will withstand the attack of an ant army… The film also stars Lynne Frederick (1954-94 alcoholism) and she and Davenport also appeared together in the cult Apocalyptic movie No Blade of Grass (1970) which is also just as believable as Phase IV – to me, anyway.
The ants build structures which are obviously made with some sort or architectural intelligence. They are pillars and perhaps a sign of peace or a warning of some sort. But Davenport being your usual American with a shotgun blasts these pillars to pieces in a form of deliberate provocation. It proves to get the results he wanted and the ants start to storm the area surrounding the complex. Davenport’s next step is to use poison and saturates the ants and leaves some alive just so they can learn from the experience in terms of negative reinforcement… Foolish man as he also kills a elderly local couple and they must take in their daughter Lynne who is in shock … He then realises that the ants have some sort of intelligence which can make a single ant which has evolved some super intelligence to sabotage the laboratory by chewing through wires and shorting the electrical generator and air conditioning…
“How could they know…It’s impossible,” says Davenport: “They knew.”
There is great use of real ants in this movie and the photography was done by the same cameraman who worked on the documentary apocalyptic prophecy of The Hellstrom Chronicle (1971) which is essentially what this article is talking about. The Hellstrom Chronicle has a provocative script by David Seltzer (1940-,) who would later write the anti-Christ movie The Omen (1976) and the underrated pollution related horror movie Prophecy (1979), which plays up the serious issue of civilisation once again being reduced to ruins by insects, something which Phase IV looks upon more constructively.
“The Utopia of who are they after all but a bunch of wretched unimportant hedonistic creatures… not even with a passport to heaven… I am man, made in God’s image and therefore I can destroy,” says Professor Nils Hellstrom provocatively about ants as he is played by actor Lawrence Pressman (1979-) in this ‘documentary’ which won the Oscar for Best Documentary back in the day.
Just to mention another documentary which used the fears of the prophecy of the Bible, narrated by Orson Welles, and was released by the same company that released Dogs and that is The Late Great Planet Earth (1971). It tells us about the coming of the anti-Christ who was possibly eradicated in the form of possible socialist – as opposed to communist – Bobby Kennedy… It also quotes from Zechariah 14:12 which in various incarnations of the Bible as it hints at the ants or Covid or Ebola when “the plague with which the Lord will strike all nations” as the “flesh shall consume many, while on their feet” and “their tongue shall even consume in their mouth” – In other words, look out everyone ‘cos ants will consume you alive en masse while you talk yourself endlessly to death politically about nothing constructive… and don’t stand on your feet while having sex! Or was it AIDS or a possible nuclear holocaust which consumed planet Earth.
Perhaps the anti-Christ will rise in the form of the revival of the promise of the Kennedys with cradle to grave medical care and relief from poverty which is often the cause of mental illness and then crime. I’m glad I live in Australia where the socialist dream is partially true and acknowledged by Christian conservatives who foster the children of the nation to dream on happily. Conservatives can revolutionise the world by being open-minded and caring as it realises its selfish dogma is no longer defensible. The power of the swinging Christian voter is not to be underestimated. The Late Great Planet Earth warns us not to take the Bible too literally as it suggests anyone and everyone with good intentions should be looked upon suspiciously as a possible anti-Christ… I guess it’s like an insurance policy which is about to expire and your next tithe will help pay for the next instalment and ensure you really aren’t the anti-Christ and that the self-fulfilling prophecy of the Apocalypse is okay along with the denial that there may be another option than just a countdown to doom. Just a humble film critic commenting about this lousy documentary… I thought Dogs was better. Ants, incidentally, barely rate a mention in the Bible and are referred to as ‘her’ when they are.
But back to Phase IV and it is the ants that died in the chemical attack unleashed by Davenport that are taken back to be inspected by what looks like another leading general ant as Davenport’s provocation of war has created a powerful enemy. His only hope is to kill the ‘queen’ or ‘breeder’ as Murphy asks: “What do they want?” Peace and harmony?! Not after poisoning them and shooting at their peaceful protest pillars… and the ants find a way to become immune to every poison used as they produce off-spring which can eventually resist every chemical man throws at them. Something we know as a fact…
Lynne later causes Davenport to be bitten by a rogue ant which drives this war-monger almost insane with a poisoned mind of conserving the world for man as it has been and always should be. He is being pushed further over the brink into madness while Lynn as the woman acts intuitively and emotionally to the ant invasion and almost innocently wanders off into the desert where she may pass freely or die for being one of those negative killer humans. The mutant ant even wanders peacefully across and through Lynne’s belly button while she sleeps. Such is the link between woman and nature.
“Queen…,” yells an obsessed Davenport about killing the ‘breeder’ as he shrugs off Murphy just before the ants capture him when Davenport drops into a pit the ants have built to trap him and where we assume he is devoured by the ants until there is nothing left but hair and bone.
There are two endings to Phase IV and the restored one which was long thought lost goes beyond the fact that Lynne survives and emerges from a sandpit to mate with Murphy… “I thought we could come to an understanding, an agreement, but that’s not going to be… They wanted us… we didn’t know for what purpose but we were being told,” say Murphy in the original ending before the human and ant intelligence becomes one and a brave new world awaits. The restored ending is a bit more visually ponderous… I guess the movie says accept all communities and ignore the intelligence of ants at your peril … But as Professor Hellstrom said: “Where there is no intelligence, there is no stupidity” about man’s assumption of the power and care taken within the world of the less than pea-sized brain of an ant. Perhaps that also goes for the average worker with average intelligence in the community who carries on despite the ineptitude and corruption of others in charge of the human world order and the stupid waste of resources. The revolution will be kind of peaceful says Phase IV…
Just a quick word on Quatermass and the Pit (1967) and its vision of Mars once being populated by insects in the shape of locusts who fled their own self-imposed self-destruction and arrived on Earth only to leave their imprint in terms of demonic forces or “noises, bumps, even things being seen”. Do you have hallucinations which you attribute to a pentacle? Well, the excavation in one London underground station under construction uncovers a spaceship from Mars which contains these insects. It is again that element of the unknown in terms of an invasive force which maybe the id of another man in the midnight hour invading your own, or is there an evil and demonic force in the darkness … Pictures of the devil often have him with horns like they were inspired the antennae of an ant or insect… Is man still vainly looking in the mirror as he wants to go to Mars while he reduces Earth to what Mars is already itself!?
“They were coming …Them! Them!,” is the terrified cry of one man who experiences the horrors of these insects in a hallucination and a nod to the original movie. The demonic element of a physical poltergeist is not even considered in Phase IV but man’s war-like anger which overcomes him, as opposed to the fears of women, is again looked at when Professor Quatermass, who is the peace-loving and humane hero in this movie becomes possessed with an urge to kill… amid a script which contains army types who have lost touch with humanity.
“Because you are different, you had to be destroyed…” is the reasoning of Quatermass once he recovers his temper and it may be the answer why the locusts destroyed themselves on Mars and made a desert of it. “Perhaps some are immune,” adds Quatermass about the provocation within his mind before he himself gives into to anger and chaos. He is human after all. Bloody insects. Call the exterminator, or better still, you’d better inform Washington, general… as poison even in the mind is the answer for everything from cancer to ants, or it used to be… All the more reason for man to be aware of his own nature and the nature that exists around him… Wait! What’s that burning smell? Is it an ant in your phone or your computer or your television set chewing through the wires and interrupting, causing the software to…