Co-Scripted and Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Shifty land developer Marilyn Fryser (Joan Collins) is trying to swindle the unwitting out of money on her island paradise which turns out to be infested with giant intelligent ants. When the ants attack, they must struggle to survive.
Empire of the Ants is a very loose adaption of the short story of the same name by HG Wells and is most definitely a B movie, but it is just so much fun and for the time the special effects aren’t bad. The larger budgeted Damnation Alley from around that time had some giant scorpions in the beginning but looks way worse. It is an enjoyable B-movie romp. Joan Collins is delicious as the conniving con woman. Robert Lansing as Dan Stokely is pretty much the he-man gruff loner of every movie of the era. Those two both showed up about ten years earlier in different Star Trek episodes.
I caught this movie over the weekends when I was very young. It played on local affiliates on Saturdays or right after church on Sundays. And it still appeals to that kid in me even though the characters are barely fleshed out and they serve to either scream before they die or scream as they run away. Calling them two dimensional is pretty accurate. They are more like caricatures than anything.
I have a serious love of old school special effects and Empire of the Ants uses plenty. The use of giant puppets and bad photographic miniatures gives it an enjoyable cheesiness. If you have seen the movie enough you will notice the point where the ants start crawling up into the sky while climbing on a building in the town. Even so, with its cheesy B-movie charm it does not bother you. The cheesiness gives you a feeling akin to finding loose fries in your takeout bag after you thought you ate them all.
They overcome the limitations of the ant puppets by keeping the shots brief and shaky. I give Bert I. Gordon credit for doing that. The weakness in the special effects only becomes obvious when Gordon decides to linger on a imposed shot or a spliced together shot involving close-up ants. The fuzziness of the joined images becomes clear and occasionally parts on people or ants disappear at the seam.
One thing that confuses me to this day is that the movie implies that the giant ants were created at the beginning of the movie through toxic waste but as the story progresses it looks like the giant ants have been around for quite some time. It is a major plot hole in my opinion, but it does not take away from the enjoyment for me.
Eventually after fleeing the island the survivors stumble across a town that to their horror has been taken over by the very same giant ants. I still do not get how the ants managed to do it. It is just one of those things that sticks out to me. It is a sizeable community with apparent through traffic and some industry that extends beyond their borders so nobody ever got suspicious? The ants have everybody under their control and even a few people on the outskirts. At least one would have a friend or relative that does not live there. It seems like it happened quickly but that speed and the implied cleanliness of it defies logic. I have seen the movie dozens of times so obviously it is not that important, but it is a question I would like answered.
There is nothing scary in this supposed horror film. It is an entertaining movie with plenty of light campiness. It is unapologetically fun, and its purpose was to make a quick buck. But it has withstood the test of time and is still an enjoyable movie.
Bert I. Gordon created plenty of schlock in his time. It was all entertaining and this is no different. I have a soft spot for bad movies. I am not talking movies that are just straight out bad. I am talking about movies that know they are bad and embrace it. Their purpose is to entertain you and not be deep or meaningful. They know they are not great movies, but they put a genuine effort into creating the best possible movie they can. It shows here that this is the case. Despite it is flaws you cannot go wrong here.