Review by Lucas
= Highest Rating
since DVDs began flooding the marketplace, becoming
one of the fastest selling home entertainment
products ever, critics of the format have levied
complaints against several of the major companies
for what appears to be a reluctance to unleash
their classic horror titles. In particular, Warner
Bros. has been guilty of keeping a vast number
of genre efforts under lock and key. The tide
may be turning, however.
months ago, Warner released a beautiful print
of the Hammer version of The
Mummy, to capitalize on the DVD release of
Universal's Mummy Returns.
In October, fans can look forward to the Hammer
of Frankenstein and Horror
of Dracula. A King Kong
special edition is rumored to be in the works.
This month, perhaps to tie in to the giant spider
flick Eight-Legged Freaks
currently skittering across the big screen, fans
can finally chow down on a pristine release of
the greatest giant bug movie of all, Them!.
1950s crawled with giant bugs, spiders, crustaceans,
and other spawns of nuclear testing. Where horror
films of the '30s and '40s usually focused on
supernatural monsters and creatures of folklore,
'50s cinema turned away from things that went
bump in the night to emphasize Man's tampering
in "God's domain." The splitting of the atom opened
up a new world of potential horrors in the guise
of mutations and freaks of nature, that science
fiction took profitable delight in exploiting.
Them! led the march,
blazing a trail for a parade of giant monsters
either unnaturally enlarged by radiation, or released
from million-year old prisons by nuclear testing,
The Deadly Mantis,
of the End, Monster
from Green Hell, and many others. None
ever hoped to match the chills and technical artistry
to be found in Them!.
opens in the desolate New Mexico desert, where
the only clues to a series of bizarre murders
are the remains of the victims' trailer and general
store, thefts of large amounts of sugar, a mysterious
footprint, and one silent, shocked little girl.
Entomologist Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn,
in a charming performance) is called in and puts
the pieces of the staggering puzzle together:
giant ants (in the words of the film's tagline,
"a horror-horde of crawl-and-crush giants clawing
out of the earth from mile-deep catacombs!"),
mutated by residual radiation from atomic tests,
are at large, and Man has become their prey. Medford,
his daughter Patricia (Joan Weldon), police officer
Sgt. Ben Peterson (James Whitmore), and FBI agent
Robert Graham (The Thing
himself, James Arness), must find a means of containing
and destroying the ants before they multiply and
spread throughout the world —
"We may be witnessing a Biblical prophecy come
true... The beasts will reign over the earth."
familiar? After decades of imitations, Them!'s
plot is hardly as inventive as it must have seemed
in 1954. While familiarity often breeds contempt,
Them! still holds
up as a creepy, genuinely frightening tale bolstered
by a high-quality cast, impressive special effects,
and an eerie score. Director Gordon Douglas builds
suspense by allowing events to unfold slowly,
mysteriously. Who is responsible for these deaths?
What did the girl see that put her into a state
of shock? Why steal sugar? The audience pieces
events together along with the film's characters,
so that when the first giant ant appears on-screen
to menace the heroine, of course —
we are just as shocked as they are. Douglas' cast
performs admirably. Giant monsters are often problematic,
particularly when their human costars must interact
with them. Often, actors tend to go over-the-top
in their reactions to the threat in this type
of film. Fortunately Whitmore, Gwenn, Arness,
and Weldon are convincing as characters faced
with an improbable and apocalyptic scenario. Gwenn,
as the blustery professor, is particularly excellent
and served as the blueprint for the giant monster
experts to follow. They believe that these ants
could bring about the destruction of the human
race, and we are swept up in their horror. When
the ants trap two young children in the L.A. sewers,
the race against time to find them is a nail-biter
thanks to the conviction of the performers.
ants themselves are a technical marvel. Full-scale
mockups operated from off-screen, these monsters
are terrifying to behold. While the use of stop-motion
animation may have resulted in more realistic-looking
ants, the actors ability to play off of the creatures
further enhances the film's believability. Accompanied
by a chilling chittering sound as their means
of communicating with each other, the ants of
Them! are some of
the best-realized monsters of the 1950s.
is a perfect blend of giant beasts, suspense, and
exciting Man-against-Monsters set-pieces —
of science fiction cinema. It is only fitting that
Warner Bros.' DVD offers a gorgeous print of the
film. The black and white photography sparkles with
nary a speckle or signs of print damage. Certain
sequences, such as the investigation of the ants'
nest, display some slight grain but these instances
are few and far between. This release marks the
best the film has ever looked. Along with
the fun trailer and an "exposé" of other
giant bug films, Warners also offers archive footage
of how the ants were operated. While I was hoping
for some insight into the mechanization of the monsters
or a detailed look at their insides, this "montage"
seems to be no more than a few clips of outtake
Despite that disappointment, Them!
is a classic and a film true science fiction lovers
should own. Run, don't walk, and purchase a copy...
Show Warner Bros. that we want our classic horror
and sci fi!
The DVD reviewed here was withdrawn by Warner in
2005. In August 2006, a double feature disc was
issued pairing Them!
with The Beast
from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). The same transfer
and extras covered by this review are present on
Side B of the double feature DVD — and at ten bucks
it's a heck of a deal.