Movie Double Feature
Of The Ants
two of the worst giant monster flicks of the 1970s, I wouldn't
be surprised if Empire
of the Ants and Tentacles
actually played at a drive-in somewhere as a double bill. Perhaps
that's why they've been yoked together on MGM's new DVD. Just
remember: Crap x 2 = twice the crap!
brimming with clichés, Empire
of the Ants is about
— you guessed it — giant ants and the people who run screaming
from them. That reliable sci-fi bugaboo, radiation (this time
in the form of industrial waste dumped at sea), is again the
culprit. A leaky container of radioactive sludge washes up on
an isolated Florida beach. The contents are nibbled on by common
black ants that rather quickly morph into man-size monsters.
Crooked real estate developer Joan Collins (pre-Dynasty)
unknowingly leads a tour group of potential buyers straight
into their twitching mandibles. Befitting their now much bigger
brains, these mutant ants are smart — they attack the group's
charter boat, forcing the crusty captain (4D
Man's Robert Lansing) to set it ablaze, leaving everyone
stranded miles from the nearest town with only wild swampland
in between. Weaponless, the humans have no option but to try
and make the trek. One by one the annoying characters are picked
off until only five are left. Eventually it dawns on the survivors
that, since the ants could easily kill them all at will, the
beasties must have a different motive in play. In fact, the
ants seem to be herding them towards a particular destination...
of the Ants proves conclusively that director/visual
effects designer Bert I. Gordon had learned exactly jack
squat in the 20 years since Beginning
of the End and The Amazing Colossal
Man. The special effects techniques are exactly the same
as employed for those 1957 chestnuts only they look worse in
color than they do in black and white. Gordon makes greater
use here of built-to-scale monster props than he did in the
old days — probably as a cost-saving measure — but they're quite
fakey-looking. The bigger mechanical ants of Them!,
a film made almost a quarter-century earlier, are far superior.
(It's easy to tell that Bert wasn't very confident in the believability
of his ant puppets; whenever they attack the camera goes all
wobbly so you can't get a good look at 'em.) Empire's
story and script pretty much follow the hoary old 'giant bug'
template as well... We even get an ominous-sounding narrator
trying to scare us with pseudoscientific nonsense at the start
of the film, a staple of virtually all '50s giant monster movies.
Aside from a couple of curse words, a teeny bit of blood and
some slightly more adult-oriented situations, Gordon (who also
wrote this thing) could've easily cranked this out two decades
earlier with John Agar or Peter Graves in the boat captain role.
can only speak for myself, but if I'm going to watch a cheesy
sci-fi monster movie from the '50s I prefer to watch one actually
made when Eisenhower was president!
on to Tentacles,
an Italian Jaws rip-off released
the same year (1977) as Empire of the
Ants. Here a man-eating octopus is substituted for the
great white shark. Folks, this one's painful enough on its own...
so I promise not to resort to any lame calamari jokes.
are disappearing along the seashore of a California coastal
community only to be later found in the water as mutilated corpses,
their bone marrow sucked out. Elderly journalist Ned Turner
(esteemed director and occasional actor John Huston) investigates
the deaths and at first suspects a link to the underwater tunnels
being constructed in the area by the politically-connected Trojan
Corporation. But the coroner points to a biological explanation:
the victims appear to have been killed by a giant octopus, one
which doesn't abide by its species' reputation for shyness.
While the local sheriff (Claude Akins, playing a kinder, gentler
version of his head-in-the-sand lawman from The
Night Stalker) seems more concerned with minimizing the
economic impact of the killings than stopping the aquatic beast,
Turner approaches marine biologist Will Gleason (Bo Hopkins)
for solutions. Then Gleason's sister-in-law and foxy wife (Delia
Boccardo) are killed by the monster; the annual kids' sailboat
regatta is attacked with major loss of life. A vengeful Gleason
hunts for the creature's lair, hoping to destroy it using a
pair of trained killer whales — natural enemy of the octopus.
seemingly possessed of a decent-sized budget and competent
talent both behind and in front of the camera, Tentacles
is an absolute mess. Even worse, it's a real snoozer. The meandering
script, lame special effects and plodding, lethargic pace are
like a cloud of octopus ink discharged in the face of the viewer.
It's never once scary, suspenseful or even mildly interesting.
Hopkins performs a spacey, heartfelt soliloquy to the whales
at one point. During the (botched) climactic octopus-whale fight,
the music score sounds like something more befitting a movie
about the Battle of Stalingrad.
screen time is spent with characters and subplots that have
absolutely nothing to do with the eventual outcome. The scenes
with Shelley Winters, as Turner's plump, jolly sister, are positively
cringeworthy. And why would John Huston agree to appear in this
film? Slumming big time is Hollywood icon Henry Fonda
in a "special guest appearance" as Mr. Whitehead,
grumpy owner of the Trojan Corporation. He has three scenes,
consisting of him either talking grumpily on the phone or grumpily
dressing down a subordinate. He really has nothing to do with
the plot and, like Huston, simply drops out of the movie.
makes its Region 1 DVD debut among MGM's latest Midnite Movie
titles, as the Side B feature of a double bill "flipper" disc
pairing it with the previously-released Empire
of the Ants. Side A's presentation of Empire
is exactly the same as the "stand-alone" version of
that film issued in 2001.
A/V specs: Empire's
1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks as good as the film
ever has in any form, complimented by a strong and clear mono
audio track. At 2.35:1 (also 16x9 enhanced), Tentacles
is visually of similarly high grade. Rare among Midnite Movie
titles, the Tentacles audio track
is in Dolby Surround. Each title comes with its U.S. theatrical
trailer as an extra. (NOTE: MGM is distributing its August 2004
Midnite Movie titles exclusively through Best Buy and its
corporate entities. These discs won't be available at Amazon until
February 2005.) 9/08/04