by Gary Meyer
I wonder if there is a cinema entomologist around specializing in insects and arachnids on the silver screen.
Today, we’ll pretend to be a movie-loving myrmecologist (and I thought they’d be called “antomologists”). Them! is the giant ant science fiction classic. Contrary to the usual dumb giant bug movies of the 1950s, this one creates genuine suspense, despite its trailer filled with cliché adjectives. Definitely a fun choice.
Them ! is the most remembered movie of the ant genre, but there have been numerous others.
A loving spoof of man and insect genetic splicing was part of Joe Dante’s homage to William Castle, Matinee, which was written by Charlie Haas (who penned a piece on Castle in these pages).
Only parts of the mini horror film are seen in Matinee, but we bring you the entire 20-minute Mant! and its trailer:
For those not afraid watch the complete Mant!:
The great graphic designer Saul Bass is famous for his posters and title sequences, especially for Alfred Hitchcock. But he also made an intriguing and underrated science fiction thriller, Phase IV, where scientists learn that ants are responsible for building unusual structures in the desert. Not a great screenplay, but a visually stunning movie.
The Naked Jungle, based on Carl Stephenson’s short story “Leiningen Versus the Ants,” is an adventure film, and one of the few ant films that is not science fiction or horror. Charlton Heston and Eleanor Parker battle legions of army ants—the Marabunta—to save a South America cocoa plantation.
The Oscar-winning documentary The Hellstrom Chronicle is presented as a science fiction warning that insects were here before man and could be the dominant species in the future.
Microcosmos, another award-winning insect documentary, features a fascinating sequence observing an incredible army of worker ants racing to stock their larder … while trying to avoid becoming a feisty pheasant’s dinner.
H.G. Wells would be embarrassed to see the adaptation of his Empire of the Ants. This hilariously bad movie starring Joan Collins is worth watching with human friends while in an altered state. Or just leave it at the trailer:
Even worse are numerous low-budget losers, including Glass Trap, Legion of Fire: Killer Ants (aka Marabunta), The Hive, and The Bone Snatcher.
Not to be outdone by the big screen, television has provided two classic Outer Limits episodes with ant-like creatures. From the original series is “The Zanti Misfits,” with a very young Bruce Dern.
The Outer Limits blog “We Are Controlling Your Transmission” goes into depth in three articles.
The two-part “New” Outer Limits episode “Sand Kings,” based on a novelette by George R.R. Martin, speculates on what happens when a Martian breed of ant is brought to earth.
The Transmission team weighs in here.
The Simpsons got into the act with “Deep Space Homer” (season 5, episode 15), where our hero accidentally smashes the ant farm on board the rocket and causes panic back on Earth.
It Happened at Lakewood Manor aka Ants was a 1977 TV movie with a B-level cast (Robert Foxworth, Suzanne Somers, Bernie Casey, Lynda Day George, Barry Van Dyke, Brian Dennehy, and Myrna Loy [!]) that almost outnumbers the poisonous ants invading a lakeside motel.The Family Ant
A recent popular Danish series beat Ant-Man to the screen with Antboy and its sequel Antboy: Revenge of the Red Fury, where a 12-year-old is bitten by an ant and develops superpowers. Aided by comic book nerd Wilhelm, he creates a secret identity as a superhero. He must battle super-villain The Flea:
A lot of animated family films have featured ants:
- Antz (Woody Allen and Sharon Stone are ants!)
- A Bug’s Life
- Ant Bully
- Miniscule : Valley of the Lost Ants
- An Ant’s Life
A major theme of Ant-Man is miniaturization.
We have seen this idea explored in many films, from the very good to the ridiculous, including The Devil Doll (1936), Dr. Cyclops (1940), many versions of Alice in Wonderland, Fantastic Voyage, Innerspace, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Phantom Planet, and Attack of the Puppet People.
But for my money, none of them come close to The Incredible Shrinking Man. In Richard Matheson’s story, a man is mysteriously shrinking and must battle the real world, including insects that now tower over him. There is a link with Ant-Man: The heroes in both films are named Scott. One has to believe that the original Marvel writers had this in mind.
The current issue of Cinefex discusses the history of the shrinking genre. Here is a preview.
Combining insects and man is superbly explored in the original Vincent Price chiller The Fly (1958), it’s sequel The Return of the Fly and David Cronenberg’s creepy The Fly (1986) remake.
Have you ever seen the end of the 1958 version?
Of course, there have been dozens of movies about these creepy crawlers, be they killers, gigantic, nightmares or (more rarely) rarely benign: spiders, praying mantis, scorpions, snails, worms, cockroaches, wasps, bees and even slugs.
While we will not delve into that vast list now, I do want to mention that Mothra is my favorite of the Toho monster films. There have been various remakes, and this music video is a kick, with some fun footage from them:
Want more ideas? Check here. Yummy Ants
As I am writing this, there is a story on NPR about insects as a drought-friendly alternative to other foods that provide nutrition and protein. I have eaten fried crickets in Oaxaca, and they are a good alternative to chips. As a kid I remember Cost Plus selling Chocolate-Covered Ants, and there are still several brands on the market.
In his The Straight Dope column, Cecil Adams answers the question, “Do people really eat chocolate-covered ants?”:
“Some people say it’s because they’re less filling. Others say it’s because they taste great. But yeah, people eat ’em, and not necessarily disguised with chocolate, either. Doug Yanega, head of the entomology branch of the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board, says, “I eat them straight. Honeypot ants (Myrmecocystus) are the tastiest, but most have a hint of something citruslike.” Insects are a daily staple in many corners of the world, no doubt partly out of necessity. But some think “entomophagy” (bug eating) of selected “microlivestock”—you gotta love the terminology—could be the coming thing in developed countries, too. I’m told that certain restaurants in D.C. offer stir-fried mealworms and other tempting bug-based treats. All I know is, if I find a bug in my soup, I’m still sending it back.”
You can make chocolate-covered ants yourself if you have patience. Here are two recipes, one possibly more tongue-in-cheek than the other.
In 1998, Napa-based photojournalists Faith D’Aluisio and Peter Menzel published an account of their adventures sampling insects in cultures all over the world, titled Man Eating Bugs.
Want to raise your own, as either a future meal or as pets? Uncle Milton still makes those Ant Farms.
The versatile author Stephen Manes contributed his children’s book Chocolate Covered Ants to the literature.
Megan Cartwright at Slate speculates that it should have really been Ant-Woman, and her scientifically-based reasons make sense.
But there is an ant super-heroine, Ant. Hannah Washington is an African-American girl who becomes Ant in the series of the same name created by artist Mario Gully, first published by Arcana Studios in 2004.
Gwen Pearson decided to “nerd out” about ants for Wired before seeing the Ant-Man.Read about Oakland’s real-life Ant Man Eddie Dunbar in this week’s edition of EatDrinkFilms!
Gary Meyer started his first theater in the family barn when he was twelve-years-old. He directed a monster movie there and wanted to show it on the set. It became The Above-the-Ground Theatre where over 250 films were screened along with live productions, workshops and the publication of a literary/arts/satire zine, “Nort!” and a film newsletter, “Ciné.” After film school at SFSU he calls his first job as a booker for United Artists Theatres “grad school” that prepared him to co-found Landmark Theatres in 1975. It was the first national arthouse chain in the U.S. focused on creative marketing strategies to build loyal audiences for non-Hollywood fare. After selling Landmark, he consulted on many projects including Sundance Cinemas and the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Rose Cinemas, created the Dockers Classically Independent Film Festival and Tube Film Festival for the X Games, and resurrected the 1926 Balboa Theatre in San Francisco. Meyer joined the Telluride Film Festival in 1998, becoming a Festival Co-Director in 2007-2014. He founded the online magazine, EatDrinkFilms.com in April 2014, and is preparing the EatDrinkFilms Festival for Summer, 2016 with a national tour to follow. A day of food films will be presented as part of Food Day on October 24 in San Francisco.