THEM!

She screams in pronouns
★★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1954
Director: 
Gordon Douglas
Starring: 
James Whitmore, Edmund Glenn, Joan Weldon, James Arness
The Setup: 
Giant ants attack in New Mexico, then later in L.A.
Discussion: 

This was apparently the very first of this kind of classic monster movie, and is still one of the best. It's actually quite good! We open in the desert of New Mexico with a plane and police car responding to call for help from the desert. They find a girl wandering in a stupor, and a few minutes later, find a mobile home, the whole back ripped out. And there on the counter—sugar cubes! They soon hear an eerie keening out in the desert. The two cops here are Ed—soon to be ant food, despite his notable lack of sugar—and Ben, played by James Whitmore. I was like "This is the classic, upstanding 50s American cop." Then I was like "He's so amazing looking—he looks like he's craved out of wood." Then a bit late I was like "My God is he handsome." Then a bit later I was like "Holy shit is he hot." So yeah, now I have a new movie boyfriend, who looks damn stunning in a snug police uniform, quite nicely plays the heroic cop of yore, and can act.

Soon Robert Graham of the FBI is brought in. He's a typical 50s blond [and bland] handsome dude with shoulders about a yard across. They soon meet elderly ant expert and his glamorous scientist daughter Pat. They have some formic acid on hand, which they put in front of the catatonic little girl's nose and she snaps to life, screaming "Them!" If you think about it, this is kind of a funny thing to scream… you would probably scream "Ants!" or "The thingies!" or "The monsters!", you know, NOUNS. Not too many people scream pronouns—you don't see women in Friday the 13th movies screaming "He!" But who knows, I guess this girl is just very linguistically advanced.

They all head out to the desert where they hear the eerie keening and smell some nasty smell. Kate is soon confronted by a big 'ol nasty giant killer ant [no slow reveal for the creatures here]! These are real giant ant puppets that were made, so there's none of that filming small ants and trying to pretend they're big crap. I like how the ant attacks, and they shoot it, until it finally bellows and collapses like a big real beast. Well, now they know what they're dealing with. This scene bugged me because they're all standing out in the middle of a sandstorm, but they're all talking without making any effort to cover their mouths.

So soon they find this hole where the ants are living, and they bomb it. They go in [pleasantly surprising proto-feminist Pat puts up quite an impassioned defense about why she should accompany them] find a few living bugs among all the dead ones, and a whole bunch of creepy giant eggs, some of them hatched. In here we discover that giant ants and their eggs are actually quite flammable. All this makes Dr. Medford quite upset, because the two hatched eggs were of queens [No, ANT queens, silly] and those ones have wings, and could be anywhere by now. We also get to watch a short film that delivers exposition on ants and their life stages and such.

They soon discover that the ants have headed off to L.A. [to become STARS!] and have taken up in the elaborate drainage system there. This leads to a lot of relatively suspenseful running around in the drains. Interestingly, the government comes out and announces to the public of L.A. what the danger is and what they're going to do—kind of amazing, as since I've been alive it's all been about the government covering pretty much everything up. The announcement leads to some fairly creepy footage as people on the street see the news on TVs in store windows, then turn silently to watch as army trucks and tanks roll through town. Anyway, soo it's all over, but who's to say it couldn't happen again? "When we entered the atomic age, we opened the door to a new world," Dr. Medford says. "What we'll eventually find in that world, no one can predict." Like a tangy new steak sauce, say? What if we found that?

Amazingly, it's still pretty good. I mean in terms of actual quality, and as an added bonus you do get giant fake ants, ant attacks, scientific mumbo-jumbo, and everything else you could ever want from a 50s B movie. You could definitely do much worse than to watch this, and it'll help fill in your film knowledge.

One of the big surprises is the massive influence this film obviously had on James Cameron's Aliens. As I said, the little catatonic girl IS a prototype of Newt, she even looks remarkably similar, and, as in Aliens, she watched both of her parents be killed [see another proto-Newt in Day of the Animals]. We also have our heroes going through narrow tunnels with flamethrowers—at one point they even talk about how the walls are mushed together with ant saliva—and the discovery of a large chamber where the ant eggs lie. And subsequent burning of those eggs. The climax in the sewers is also very reminiscent of Aliens. So that's just kind of by way of additional interest.

Anyway, a fairly fun, still somewhat potent, well-made and acted 50s B monster movie that was terribly influential. Not something you have to see right away, but it can't hurt to drizzle this little confection over your brain at some point.

Should you watch it: 

Sure! Especially if you like B monster movies—and hello, who doesn't?—or if you're a huge fan of Aliens.