Phase IV (1974)

Phase IV (1974)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Phase IV Photos

Movie Info

Saul Bass had a fascinating career as an animator and as designer of title sequences for a number of notable films, including Psycho, Vertigo, Anatomy Of A Murder and Seconds. However, Phase IV was his only credit as director of a feature film. A visually inventive science-fiction story, Phase IV concerns a group of research scientists working in the Arizona desert who find themselves confronted by an Army of super-intelligent mutant ants. The results are more intelligent than the description would lead you to believe, and Nigel Davenport and Michael Murphy turn in good performances as the embattled men of science.
R (for violence and language)
Musical & Performing Arts , Science Fiction & Fantasy
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
Paramount Pictures

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Nigel Davenport
as Dr. Ernest D. Hubbs
Lynne Frederick
as Kendra Eldridge
Michael Murphy
as James R. Lesko
Alan Gifford
as Mr. Eldridge
Helen Horton
as Mildred Eldridge

Critic Reviews for Phase IV

All Critics (10) | Top Critics (3)

Cinematically, the ants are never very menacing.

Full Review… | March 25, 2009
Top Critic

So-so ecological SF thriller.

Full Review… | June 11, 2005
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

A concept and a script that is initially spellbinding but then quickly turns into mystifying vacillations between fact and largely unconvincing fiction.

Full Review… | June 11, 2005
New York Times
Top Critic

Should forever dispel anyone's image of ants as little black dots.

Full Review… | February 27, 2009

A killer bug flick upgraded for the downbeat 70s, a small scale B-picture reworked for the post-2001 hard sci-fi set.

Full Review… | November 18, 2008

With its amazing bug footage, and psychobabble scripting, it's The Hellstrom Chronicle (an obvious influence) taken into Twilight Zone territory

Full Review… | July 12, 2008

Audience Reviews for Phase IV

If this was a documentary on ants then it may have actually been good!? Phase IV is a low budget schlock sci-fi film about gigantic ants terrorizing Arizona. The artistic direction was actually really good, it really was a shame that Phase IV became the only film from Bass. There was enough close up on ants to make your skin crawl but otherwise Phase IV suffered from poor writing and bad acting.

Sylvester Kuo
Sylvester Kuo

Super Reviewer


Saul Bass was celebrated for the opening animated sequences to several Hitchcock films and he lends his unerringly highbrow directorial debut 'Phase IV', a kaleidoscopic surrealism. The ant colonies and insect photography are a seamless collage of animatronic close-ups and vérité nature photography by Ken Middleham. Other than Michael Moriarty's expository narration, the beginning 10 minutes could be a wildlife documentary chronicling the ingenuity and antagonism among the ant ranks (ex. A time-lapse dissolve of a tarantula being devoured by ants is hypnotic). As the countdown from phase I to IV accelerates, the movie never achieves liftoff because it feels like a dry treatise on interspecies communication. The monolith-esque structures in the desert definitely hearken back to Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey' but Bass lacks the otherworldly hypnosis for such visual storytelling. The gaudy climax featuring a human slowly from the sands into a psychedelic montage could be an outtake from a Ken Russell acid trip. Much like 'Transformers', the human counterparts are secondary and extraneous "necessities" but the ants are truly the undisputed headliners with moments of gravitas ala the ants' funeral procession in which they align and mourn over their fallen comrades. No one can argue that Bass wasn't an artisan for title credits but he was on less sturdy ground as a director.

Cory Taylor
Cory Taylor

Super Reviewer

"Phase IV" is an oddball, low-budget sci-fi flick from that heady, post-"2001: A Space Odyssey" era before "Star Wars" ruined the genre forever. Two thoughtful scientists are isolated in a Southwest desert laboratory, researching a theory that local ant tribes have gained human-level intelligence and organized themselves into a super-colony eventually poised to subjugate man and take over the world. Once the ants outside learn of this work, they surround the lab and put the scientists (along with a vacant ingenue who survived a nearby attack) under siege. The action is divided into four "phases," delineating stages of the ants' elaborate campaign. This is not some knowingly campy "monster movie" -- it is deadly serious, without any trace of humor. "Phase IV" is not a great film, due to its tiny cast and scope (there's barely more than one set). However, it's much better than it sounds. The closeup footage of ants is remarkable in suggesting an insect conspiracy, and the orange-tinged color scheme beautifully illustrates the arid heat (a crucial plot point). As the dedicated scientists, Nigel Davenport and Michael Murphy fully commit to making a superficially silly premise seem plausible, and Brian Gascoigne adds a moody synthesizer score with plenty of atmosphere. Interestingly, this was director Saul Bass's only feature. Otherwise, he had a long career as a title designer. On YouTube, one can find a "lost ending" that is visually brilliant but not necessarily good for the film's narrative shape.

Eric Broome
Eric Broome

Super Reviewer

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