Empire of the Ants Reviews
Again flick is directed... but, this time co-written with Jack Turley... by Bert I. Gordon and once again with a somber and serious tone despite the silliness of giant, mind controlling ants. But, this film seems to work a bit better then Food Of The Gods as giant ants are a bit more effective then giant chickens and the cast is a bit more subdued, especially hero Lansing, so, we don't get the glaring contrast of serious tone and over the top acting... though there is still some of that. Once again Gordon gives us cheesy moments of real ants photographed and superimposed to look giant and plastic heads and limbs for close-ups though, ironically, the ants make a shrieking noise like a school girl who has just found an ant crawling on her arm. We also, again get characters making some really stupid decisions like an elderly couple who, while fleeing the ants, see a doorless shack and proclaim "We'll be safe in there!"... and there is some really bad dialog recited with straight faces by the cast. And again, like the previous Wells adaptation, this one just should have had more fun and more energy for a B monster movie. Sure there are some sequences which work and give chills but, Gordon's earlier films were a lot livelier, where these two Wells-based flicks are taken far too seriously considering the subject matter and the SPFX, which were cheesy even in the late 70s. No one is saying to make a joke out of it but, recognize that it is a Saturday Night Sci-Fi flick and have a good time with it, like Gordon did with his films of the previous decades. After doing more seriously toned movies like Picture Mommy Dead and Necromancy, Gordon seems to have lost his sense of fun. Empire and Food lack the charm that made Gordon's earlier films a delight.
The cast are a bit more dialed down then Food Of The Gods' Lupino and Gortner, especially with leads Collins and Lansing. Joan Collins plays the manipulating, bossy bitch she made a career out of and keeps a very straight face despite acting with plastic ants. Lansing plays the soft spoken hero very well and it was refreshing to have an older man as the hero instead of a young jock or soldier. The supporting cast features 70s/80s regulars Pamela Shoop (Halloween II), Robert Pine (CHiPs, father of Chris "Captain Kirk" Pine) and Albert Salmi (Superstition) and there is a some cheesy over-acting here but, it is a movie about giant ants so, we'll cut them some slack even if it butts against Gordon's too serious tone.
Overall, much like Food Of The Gods there is some fun to be had here but, certainly not enough as we'd like or, to make it a real B-Movie treat. Sure there is cheesy FX and dialog to laugh at, as well as, the added nostalgia of the 70s stereotypes that make up the film's characters but, the film forgets to have a little fun and Gordon doesn't give it the charm of his earlier works. An amusing watch that would definitely be helped by a few brews and a visit from the MST3K gang.
In the late seventies, I was at a friend's house and I caught a few sequences of It Happened at Lakewood Manor on television. I had no idea what it was, and I spent years, decades actually, tracking that movie down. This, of course, brought me into contact with pretty much every ant-related movie that was made in the seventies. Once I found out Empire of the Ants dealt with monster-sized ants, I knew it wasn't the movie I was looking for, but when I found a listing for it in the mid-eighties and saw Joan Collins' name attached, I had to wonder what sorts of shenanigans this movie held in store. Now I have seen it, and I know the answer, and I wish it was 1985 again and I was just stumbling upon this movie and still wondering how ridiculous it could be.
You know that old saw about having prime real estate in Okefenokee Swamp to sell? Well, this is where it came from. Collins (Dynasty) plays Marilyn, a shady real estate agent who's trying to pass off a little island in the middle of a swamp as paradise that's just begging for a resort to be developed on it. She takes down a passel of prospective buyers, and they discover the area infested with ants. Now, that's not usually enough to get people to not buy land, but you see, these ants are about twenty feet long, as tall as elephants, and need a few tourists to help out with their plan for intergalactic domination. Or something.
While you're watching this, if you're an aspiring filmmaker, just keep saying to yourself "someone greenlit this." Of course, in the direct-to-video age, if you end up making Empire of the Cockroaches, it's probably not going to open on a thousand screens...but you never know. Put together a bunch of non-actors, head them up with some fading TV character types, add the cheapest script and special effects money can buy, and, well, you've just created an American International Picture, really. My guess is that if you caught this back in the day, and were very young at the time, it may hold a good deal of nostalgia value, the same way It Happened at Lakewood Manor does with me these days. But for everyone else it can safely be avoided. * 1/2