“If a movie makes you
happy, for whatever reason, then it’s a good movie.”
REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*******
Giant bug movies have always been a favorite
of mine; Tarantula, Black Scorpion, The
Deadly Mantis, Earth vs. The Spider, etc. The best of them all has to be Them!, the 1954 classic about atomic
testing causing ants to mutate to gigantic proportions. It was the first and
best of the 1950’s cycle of big bug movies.
In the 1970s, bugs and just about every other
form of nature, struck back against irresponsible humans who were poisoning the
planet in a plethora of nature-runs-amok films such as Frogs, Kingdom of the Spiders, Squirm, etc. They may not have been
gigantic like they were in the 50s, but they were just as deadly. However, Mr.
B.I.G. himself, Bert I. Gordon, the man responsible for entertaining, 1950s
giant creature classics like The Amazing
Colossal Man, Beginning of the End, Village of the Giants and the
aforementioned Earth vs. The Spider, had
already brought back giant wasps and worms in 1976’s Food of the Gods,and felt
that 1977 was the time to bring back the best giant insects of them all…the
ants. Using the great H.G. Wells’ popular short story as his inspiration, Empire of the Ants was born.
The movie begins when a canister of toxic
waste, which was dumped and supposed to sink into the ocean, washes up on shore
and leaks its toxic sludge into a neighboring ant hole.
Nearby, con woman Marilyn Fryser (Joan
Collins) and her lover/partner Charlie (Edward Power) attempt to sell some
worthless land called Dreamland Shores to a large group of potential buyers
including nice guy Joe (John David Carson), middle-aged Margaret (Jacqueline
Scott), beautiful Coreen (Pamela Susan Shoop), two-timing Larry (Robert Pine)
and his poor wife Christine (Brooke Palance).
As the group surveys the land, a few members
break off on their own. Cautious Margaret, while flirting with boat driver Dan
(Robert Lansing), asks him if he thinks the land is a good investment; Larry
gets Coreen alone, puts the moves on her and gets a knee to the groin for his
trouble, and Coreen eventually hits it off with Joe. All the while, the ants
silently watch them.
The entire group is gathered and taken on a
leisurely tour of the area. The tour doesn’t last long though as the dead body
of one of Marilyn’s crew (Tom Ford) is found. Joe and Coreen volunteer to check
things out and find the remains of a married couple (Jack Kosslyn and Ilse
Earl) that were originally part of the group. To their horror, they also find a
horde of giant ants and all hell breaks loose as the intelligent insects attack
and destroy Dan’s boat. With no way off the island, the terrified group starts
a campfire in order to keep the ants away.
The next morning, a storm begins and the rain
puts out the fire. The group frantically decides to make a run for it with the
ants hot on their tail. An elderly couple (Harry Holcombe and Irene Tedrow),
who can’t keep up, hides out in an old shack. Christine falls, sprains her
ankle and is killed by the ants, and, while helping a tangled Marilyn escape
from a tree branch, Charlie also meets his demise. As the rain stops, the
elderly couple, thinking that it’s safe, emerges from the shack only to find an
army of ants waiting for them. The remaining group members stumble upon a
rowboat and slowly take off down the river. The ants attack again, turning the
boat over and killing Larry.
The group realizes that the ants are leading
them toward a specific destination upstream and, as they continue to move
along, they come across an old couple (Tom Fadden and Florence McGee) who
contact the sheriff (Albert Salmi) for them. The sheriff drives them into town,
but the relieved survivors soon realize that something still isn’t right. They
can’t seem to find a working phone and everyone in the small town acts very suspiciously.
The group decides to hotwire a car, but while
trying to escape, they’re captured by the authorities and taken to the local
sugar refinery. While there, they discover that the queen ant is using her
pheromones to control every human being in the town and forcing them to feed
the giant ants. Marilyn is the first to come under the queen’s control, but
when they try to control Dan, the clever boat captain burns the queen with a
road flare he took from the abandoned car. Dan escapes with Margaret, Joe and
Coreen, but Marilyn, who snaps out of her trance too late, is killed by the out
of control queen.
Knowing that if the gigantic ants aren’t
stopped they will multiply and eventually take over the world, Joe drives a
leaking fuel truck into the refinery and blows the insects to kingdom come. As
the entire place goes up in flames, Joe, Coreen, Dan and Margaret reach a
speedboat and drive off to safety.