The exclamation mark in the title of this post is not a typo. The movie I’m about to tell you all about really is called Ants! Ants! was part of a 70s trend of eco-horror movies to which people obviously paid no mind, as the situation with humans and the environment is now exponentially worse than it was in 1977. The ants in the title are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, so they stage a crawl-in at a resort. Toxic waste has given them poison in their bites which is enough to kill an adult human. Terror ensues.
Ants! was a TV movie, which may have those of you who gained consciousness after about 1985 pre-emptively yawning. What you have to understand is that TV movies were once exciting events worthy of having exclamation marks included in their titles. Perhaps this was because they roamed the earth during a time when most people had only three channels, but I believe today’s TV movie is a different animal altogether. TV movies in their heyday featured drama, scandal and thrills far beyond the “my brave struggle against my hermaphroditic husband who beat me up while I was struggling with earlobe cancer” crap we get served today. Trilogy of Terror, for example, was a TV movie. So was The Day After.
Not that I actually caught Ants! on TV. My first exposure to the movie was via an oversize box cover at the video store which featured Suzanne Somers’ breasts crawling with ants. Typical of the video release, the main character was forsaken for the person who actually was more famous at the time the movie became available on home video. The star of Ants!, the strong attractive woman in her 30s who says “terrific” a lot and who was not really struggling bravely against anything but ants, was the queen of the 70s, Lynda Day George. However, we don’t get to see Mrs. George’s breasts in the movie, ant-covered or otherwise.
Besides the strong youngish female character, another feature of the old TV movie was an aging screen star, a requirement filled in this case by Myrna Loy who plays a hotel owner and George’s mother. The construction workers who unwittingly release the killer ants are love interest Robert Foxworth and all-around badass Bernie Casey. Casey’s character is such a badass that the ant bites which kill almost everyone else in the movie only make him have to sit down for a bit. The bad guy, other than the ants, is greedy businessman Gerald Gordon. He wants to buy Ms. Loy’s hotel and turn it into a parking lot, and he wants to do it while “doing it” with his attractive assistant played by Somers. Rounding out the cast is Brian Dennehy as the fire chief.
Gordon as the bad guy really makes you hate him and look forward to his death, which is gratifying but doesn’t come ’til almost the end of the movie. There’s another great scene involving a bunch of useless rubberneckers who really shouldn’t be on the scene getting sprayed with killer ants by the wind created by a rescue helicopter. Their dumb asses cause the fire department to have to find another method to get the people trapped in the hotel away from the ants. Somers gets chewed up by ants while taking a nap in her hotel room after giving in to her boss’s master seduction techniques.
The “ant music” dominated by pizzicato violins that you’ve heard in every nature special ever is out in full force here. The effect used to make the ants form huge swirly lines on the outside of the hotel is awesome and as much a thing of beauty as an army of murderous ants can be. On the other hand, the effect of the ants forming a wall in front of the dig site from which they emerged is about as believable as the effects in Dio’s “Holy Diver” video.
I could have done without the sub-plot of the skanky hitchhiker who takes up with a lifeguard at the hotel just so she can have a place to shower, but it does lead to one of my personal favorite horror cliches, the couple who falls madly in love over the course of one day because of the trauma they’ve survived together. It’s fun to watch the search for the cause of the initially mysterious deaths, then Foxworth’s attempts to convince the health department the deaths have been caused by ants, and finally Dennehy and company’s rescue methods. Ultimately it is determined that the ants won’t attack you, even if they are all over you, unless you move. And of course, all the main characters who haven’t tried to cheat anyone after having soulless sex manage to live.
So the next time you start to kill some insects that really aren’t bothering you, imagine yourself motionless at the top floor of a hotel breathing through a tube with ants crawling all over you while Tommy Boy’s dad works to get you to safety. And move that picnic to another spot. You’re not Bernie Casey!