Ants in Your Pants Night was originally set to take place waay back in January (see earlier Blood Feast Zombie Club Night), but unfortunately a faulty DVD-R copy of Phase IV threw a wobbly and forced us to fall back on Herschell Gordon Lewis and schlocky gore.
Six months later, and Jim’s eagle-eyed TV schedule-scanning yielded fruit when he managed to tape Saul Bass’ terrifically shot eco-horror Phase IV from Sky Movies when it screened recently. Team that one up with Joan Collins and dodgy rubber ants in the Empire of the Ants and at last, we could finally sit down to the long-awaited Ants In Your Pants Night with much ant-icipation...
Ants In Your Pants Night is brought to you by Rawshark and The Ants, both real and rubber
Phase IV (1974)
Plot Little ants, big brains.
Rawshark Phase IV has a way of really crawling under your skin. Opening with, naturally, Phase I, we are at first treated to philosophical babble voiceover, shots of outer space, and lots of really, really close-up images of ants. Lots of ants. The ants are starting to communicate with intelligence you see, so it’s up to two scientists to delve into ‘intelligent ant country’ to find out what’s happening. They arrive, take in the sight of crop circles, urge local inhabitants to leave and then erect a space-age research tent / dome amidst the circle of ant towers.
Phase II. The experiment begins as the beardy scientist with what Jim described as ”hair like an ice cream cone” blasts the ant towers. The ants don’t like that though, and attack, only to be countered with ”100% Yellow”, which unfortunately also kills a local farmer and his wife who were seeking refuge. Luckily the daughter of the two locals survives, so our two scientists take her inside the tent for a communal shower whilst wearing sunglasses. The ants meanwhile devise a system to drag a bit of ‘yellow’ back to their base for analysis which prompted Jim to put on his best William ShANTner impression; ”Must.. get… yellow.. block.. back.. to.. hive…”. And thus, the man vs ants filmic chess game really begins.
Let me just say I saw Phase IV as a kid and I thought it was incredible (even though, or perhaps probably because, it scared the crap out of me)! Seeing it again today just reminds me what an amazing film this really is. Saul Bass’ photography combined with Ken Middleham’s close-up insect footage is shockingly breathtaking, and the film talks the intelligent talk with a clever script that only has a cast of six. It’s certainly a film to make you think, even Jim who was led to wonder whether ants ”actually have hands, or do they just have stumps?”
Unforgivably hard to track down, this film is definitely worth your time if you stumble upon it again in Sky’s random movie schedules. Trippy, smart, horrific and with stunning real-life nature photography of insects, Phase IV is indeed a very creepy crawly film.
”I think this yellow should hold them for the next 3 or 4 days”
Jim Yeah, what a stroke of luck, eh? I say it's always worth keeping an eye on those Sky cinema schedules, as you never know what filmic oddities are likely to turn up.
And oddity is the key word here. From the bold opening narrative explaining the truce between warring ant species and the disappearance of their natural predators, through to the very 70s computer laboratory set up (big tape machines, cathode ray tubes, big buttons, switches and pointless flashing lights, etc), you know we're on to something a little different. And when Kendra, the recently orphaned farm girl ("She's nice." - Zomblee) turns up and they all have a "big caramel shower with sunglasses on" (Rawshark), you know this isn't going to be your usual scientists and a hot chick trapped in a research station laid siege to by a colony of intelligent ants type of movie. Oh no.
And the siege takes up most of the film. Initially they shoot the ant towers with a shotgun, which 'ant-agonises' them (Rawshark) so the ants build reflectors that focus on the research station and raise the temperature. This causes Hubbs, the older fella with the "bulbous ant hand" (Zomblee) to go a bit nuts (“he’s a bit mad, this guy…” – Rawshark) and accuse the girl of siding with the ants, while the other scientist talks to the ants using circles and squares through his typewriter. Then at last minute Hubbs comes up with a 'kill the queen' plan, while Kendra is sort of kidnapped by the ants, setting a rescue attempt finale that'll have you scratching your head in a very 70s sci-fi way.
While Rawshark drooled at the sheer quality of the insect cinematography (the mantis in the computer sequence is stunning, as is the dragging-the-yellow bit), Zomblee had other worries playing on his mind, having seen too many weirdy 70s movies. “She’s not gonna have a big ant baby, is she?” he asked in all seriousness, and no she doesn’t, but it’s the kind of movie where I wouldn’t have put it past them.
“Never work with ants or children.”
Zomblee Two guys, loads of switches, buttons and screens and a shit load of ants ready to take over the world. In the 70’s. Phase IV had been a long time coming for me. It was worth the wait. Showcasing pioneering use of macro and time lapse photography to depict the frantic, previously unseen (and strangely unsettling) ant activity, this experimental creature feature has the power to silence any movie snob who regularly badmouths our beloved genre. Maybe that’s because it was lensed by one Saul Bass, the man every title designer wants to be when they grow up. Yes, he’s the one who did the credits for Psycho. Phase IV is the only full length feature he directed, but he has earned considerable kudos by also helming, along with his wife Elaine, a total of six acclaimed short films such as Why Man Creates and The Searching Eye.
It’s perhaps no big surprise therefore that Phase IV has the characteristics of a short film, in that it feels all, you know, arty. The macro photography is nothing short of breathtaking, creating an ambience all of its own – and one of horror and dread. As Jim noticed, it is “scarily, slowly suggestive without blood, guts or tits.”Phase IV is bigger and more significant than that. You know it. I know it. Jim knows it. And Rawshark? He knows it too: “It’s got words like ‘altruism’ in it, this film.”
It sure does. If Stanley Kubrick himself had crafted an ant movie, then it could have turned out something like this. That’s no small praise; it really is that good. Sure it’s slow at times, and it won’t climb conventional narrative ladders to get to an action-filled climax, but it simply doesn’t need to, and doesn’t feel compelled to give you any excuses.
”I’ve located the queen!”
Director Saul Bass
Cast Michael Murphy
Runtime 93 mins
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Empire of the Ants (1977)
Plot Bigger ants, still big brains.
Zomblee I was really looking forward to this one. Joan Collins battling ants you say? Does it get any better? In a word, yes. Because these aren’t droves of tiny ants. No. These things are fucking enormous (yes, bigger than you) and once you get past 28 minutes and 4 seconds of inane ‘plot’, they attack with a ferocity and style that should please any creature feature freaks out there. Just like us.
Prolific b-director Bert I. Gordon’s story sees Joan Collins trying to sell real estate to a random bunch of freeloaders in the apparent tranquillity of Dreamland Shores. After half an hour of boring drivel, also known as ‘character development' (“They'd better up the ante!” - Jim), the giant ants strike upon characters as unsuspecting as they are dispensable. Then the ants run to the end of the pier, climb onto the boat which is then promptly blown up by the captain, leaving our sorry group of potential buyers to rough it through the rainy marshes, eventually reaching a town whose inhabitants are controlled by the ants’ pheromones. This is where everyone starts talking about sugar a lot and the few survivors are expected to submit to the ants’ spell.
Do you think they’re going to blow the refinery up after the big zoom to the ‘FLAMMABLE’ sign?” asked Rawhark after the big zoom to the ‘FLAMMABLE’ sign. He may be on to something. And you know what? Any movie with a title like Empire of the Ants should end with a big fire. It’s only right. That’ll teach them pesky small-town types to get off their heads on ant dope, referred to in the not-so-masterful script as a ”mind bending substance.”
Effects-wise, it’s as ropey as you might imagine, but Gordon uses rain and tight cutting wisely in an attempt to mask any shortcomings, and what we’re left with is good enough for me: a fantastically crap, entertaining b movie.
”Giant ants? That’s hard to believe.”
Jim Crap? Crap, you say? That's not what you said at the opening scene buddy, you actually said, "Look at those radiation suits, they're amazing!" And here's me thinking we were in for another Zombie Club classic.
I suppose we were of sorts too, but as Zomblee has rightly pointed out, after the radiation suit scene very little happens for about half an hour. This is always bad news because when a movie bores us, conversation tends to drift into the most unconventional of areas. For example, one scene had a piano score ("Where's the pianist?" - Rawshark), which prompted Zomblee to tell us a story of what a fucked up guy Liberace was. Then we had a weird debate as to whether or not Octopuses have tits. "We'll make it our mission to get octopus tits," said Rawshark, as straight-faced as can be, just as the guy that Rawshark said looked like Bruce Campbell uttered, "What is this, group therapy?" Quite, c'mon giant ants, where are you?
And then at 28.04 on the film counter it all goes ballistic. From there to the end of the film every other scene involves giant rubber ant attacks, which, surprisingly, are really quite good. First off a tour goes pear shaped ("And on my left, giant ants!" - Zomblee), then there's that big boat scene that Zomblee mentioned, before the cast escape down river for no apparent reason. "It's the longest river in the world and I don't even know why they've gone down this river!" cried Rawshark, while Zomblee was similarly confused as to the ground rules; "And can ants swim? I take it they can't?"
I don’t think so, but I don’t think it matters all that much. They don’t stay on the river that long, and the sugar refinery soon becomes the destination of choice. “It’s quite easy to make a sugar refinery,” offered Rawshark, as we tried to recall as many songs with ‘sugar’ in the title as humanly possible, before the place blows up.
All in all a great movie, then? Yeah, I think so, and the less said about the appeal of a 70s Joan Collins, the better.
“I wish I hadn’t seen Charlie die like that!”
Rawshark Yes, we will make it our mission to get octopus tits! My thinking was this; I’m pretty positive there aren’t many instances of those two words appearing together, so if I keep typing them in this article, I’m sure we’ll very soon become the top result for a Google search on ‘octopus tits’. Hence, “we’ll make it our mission to get octopus tits”. As soon as you finish this article, try it. See where we are. Admittedly, I have no idea who first said the words octopus tits, but it matters not. This is what happens when the first 28 minutes and 4 seconds of your film are dull and boring.
So, Empire of the Ants then. Yes it did start so promisingly, all three of us chanting in with the requisite ”Ants!” at the first appearance of the little critters and Jim excitedly yelling out ”Directed by Bert I.Gordon! He directed Spider!” during the credits. But then we head off to a party with Joan ‘Drone’ Collins and I lost interest, as I’d never really seen the attraction in her anyway. ”It’s in her voice” Jim informed me. ”And her eyes”. Hmm… ok. ”And it helps if you’ve seen The Bitch and The Stud.”
After that first half hour though, Empire does get quite fun with some great fight scenes and ridiculous looking rubber ant costumes that somehow manage to look both stylish and hilarious. And the script takes a neat curveball towards the end, when our surviving cast members think they have stumbled back into civilisation, only to find out that there are some bad things going down at the sugar refinery. Cue queen ant, pheromones, mind control, flammable trucks and a big explosion. The end.
Zomblee liked ”the Carpenter music” and the ”fairly flowery pants” and the sugar refinery gave Jim the excuse to start singing things like “Sugar sugar sugar pie”. Not a complete loss then.
“I want the shipment of sugar.”
Director Bert I. Gordon
Cast Joan Collins
John David Carson
Pamela Susan Shoop
Runtime 89 mins
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And so another night of Zombie Club ant-ics passes with two films that proved far from being an ant-iclimax after such a long wait (no more ant puns – promise).
Phase IV is a genuine masterpiece (well, at least Zomblee and myself think so), that is criminally unavailable on any form of legal disc format. Someone release this film now. I, for one, want to see this in its entire ‘100% Yellow’ wide-screen digital glory.
If, however, arty, philosophical eco-horror is not really your bag and you’re more into big rubber costumes, b-movie production and cheap effects, then you may well find Empire of the Ants to be the perfect ant-idote (couldn’t help it, sorry). Zombie Club – here to cater for all tastes. Octopus tits.
Next Week It’s going to be a big night, as we’re opening the Zombie Club doors to some very special guests who will be bringing some rather ripe gems of their own.
Soulmining and James Moran will also join us on the ZC sofa as Sean Hogan introduces us to the pinku genre with Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs, whilst Jay Slater treats the ZC crew to the unofficial European premiere of The Jail, the latest muddled masterpiece from ZC favourite Bruno Mattei.
Be here for The Jay and Sean Show in just seven short days time…
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