Thursday, June 2, 2016

Pre-Dynasty Joan Collins Fights Some Giant Radioactive Ants, or Thoughts on Empire of The Ants

It’s hard to make ants scary.  Even fire ants or the ones that swarm and eat people in Indiana Jones and The Crystal Skull (2008), which just looked like a CGI mess.  Ants are a nuisance and threaten picnics and it’s difficult to accept the premise of giant killer ants, even with the magic of radioactive waste washing up on the beach, as happens in Empire of the Ants (1977).
Joan Collins plays Marilyn, a sassy 70’s real estate developer looking to unload some beachfront property on a group of leisure suits and bell-bottoms.  There’s a quick tour of the island to introduce the assortment of divorcees and nice retired couples before the ants arrive and the fun begins.
The ant effects are a combination of big puppet animatronics and a primitive green-screen effect with tiny actual ants projected onto exterior backgrounds.  The movie has a 50’s monster movie vibe, though updated with social issues like divorce and sexual harassment, and now in color.  The actors do their darndest, but when the only direction is “pretend you’re fighting a giant ant” it’s difficult to build any semblance of real emotion and terror.
It’s important to note that Joan Collins wasn’t Joan Collins, the Diva, at the time of release.  Dynasty started in 1981, which would turn her into a Hollywood Legend, but she was already a fixture on American TV and had guest starred in numerous, now classic shows including Batman, Star Trek (The City on the Edge of Forever), Starsky and Hutch, Baretta, Space:1999, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Love Boat and the UK horror anthologies Tales From the Crypt (1972) and Tales That Witness Madness (1973).
Director Bert Gordon is most remembered for The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and Attack of the Puppet People (1958), and was no stranger to the giant/tiny horror movie dynamic.  The blockbuster Jaws was released 1975, which featured a giant shark, so why not giant ants?  It made enough sense to the producers, and the movie may have enjoyed a bit more success if not for its timing.
Empire of the Ants came out the same summer as Star Wars, and it’s easy to imagine that the only people who were seeing this were the ones who couldn’t get into to see Luke, Han and Chewie.  The juxtaposition of these old-school effects against George Lucas’ overwhelming vision must have been mind-blowing in 1977, especially considering how well A New Hope has held up over the decades.  But then again, Adam Ant of Adam of the Ants released Dirk Wears Black Socks in 1979, so maybe Empire of the Ants was actually ahead of its time.

This review is a guest-post for my twitter friend Barry P’s Nature’s Fury Blogathon on

my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.