Saturday, May 24, 2014

Featuring, Literally, a Cast of Thousands: "Ants" (1977)

After the success of "Jaws" in the mid-1970's, films involving nature rising up against man were a dime a dozen. The budget for this made-for-television film probably wasn't much more than that.

The story centers around an old hotel run by Ethel (Myrna Loy) and her daughter Valerie (Lynda Day George). Next door, construction foreman and Valerie's main squeeze Mike (Robert Foxworth) is building or digging something when his men happen upon an ant colony. One man dies, another is in the hospital, and the grizzled doctor is flummoxed. Why is an ambulance having to show up at the hotel three or four times a day, what is causing these mysterious poisonings? We certainly hope thousands of killer ants don't ruin Tony (Gerald Gordon) and Gloria's (Suzanne Somers) plans to buy the old hotel, or handyman Richard's (Barry Van Dyke) romancing of hot homeless hippie Linda (Karen Lamm, completing the sexy blonde trifecta featuring George and Somers). Government officials poo-poo Mike's killer ant theory (I blame Jimmy Carter), and shut the hotel down because of a mysterious "virus." Mike goes a little nuts trying to prove his theory, and inadvertently pisses the ants off as well. The insects trap most of the cast in the hotel, and they must be rescued since no one seems to own any of those flowery looking ant traps.

While typical of a network television movie, you have to admit that is one heck of a cast. Bernie Casey, Brian Dennehy, and Rene Enriquez all show up in supporting and small roles. Myrna Loy, taking a cue from Olivia de Havilland, Gloria Swanson, and Helen Hayes, who all appeared in disaster flicks long after their prime, does okay with her annoying role. Barry Van Dyke is so tan, he should be checked for melanoma. The small setting guarantees the majority of the budget could be spent on some splendidly average special effects. There are lots of shots of ants (how some characters don't notice hundreds of ants at their feet is beyond me), and I did find myself brushing away imaginary bugs as the film went on. The optical effects are pretty atrocious.

The film is full of crazy subtexts. At one point, Casey, an African-American actor, turns a fire hose on a crowd of white people and accompanying police. The climax involves fooling the ants through meditation and relaxation, before a hilarious shot that looks like something out of a Cheech and Chong movie. Fremantle Media's DVD release lacks extras of any kind, but makes up for it with a crystal clear transfer that makes the film look a lot newer than almost forty years old.

No, this isn't especially terrifying, or even exciting. But it is a reminder of life before cable television, when a network movie was actually something to look forward to. "Ants" is average, but a good average. Wow, one whole review and not a picnic pun in sight! (* * *) out of five stars.