Dread of the atomic bomb and its staggering devastative power gave us the gigantic creature features of the '50s and '60s, which would later be parroted and slightly mutated during the early environmental movement. Pollution was the new catalyst of Mama Nature's tyranny. Toxic waste especially. B-filmmaker Bert I. Gordon (a.k.a. Mr. Big) made two such pictures back-to-back that were very loosely based on H.G. Wells stories. The first was Food of the Gods about a farmer who feeds yellow slime to his livestock who soon exhibit astonishing growth spurts with disastrous results. It's the better of the two and was the inaugural inductee to CineSchlock-O-Rama's Most Wanted. Mr. Big then followed that immortal classic with Empire of the Ants (1977, 90 minutes) that featured his trademark split-screen and scale-model effects on a slightly less ambitious scale. But here he's given a star as nasty as his value-sized Panamanian Bullet Ants: Joan Collins. Well, the 44-year-old actress wasn't quite the smoldering commodity she'd once been, but Joan bravely embraced B-pictures of all stripes -- and their accompanying paychecks -- before blasting back to fame as queen-bitch Alexis Carrington on "Dynasty."
The movie: In open ocean, a ship dumps barrel after brightly-colored barrel emblazoned with strongly-worded warnings of their toxic contents. One such bundle of death washes up on Dreamland Shores -- a stretch of beach-front swamp land being peddled by Marilyn Fryer (Collins). She's cajoled a rental yacht full of marks for yet another doomed three-hour tour complete with an elderly couple, two desperate damsels, a playboy, unhappy marrieds and a crusty skipper (Robert Lansing). After the boat ride, they're treated to cheap booze and finger sandwiches before piling onto a tram for a ride through the property. Marilyn is rattling their eardrums with her bullhorn spiel about the soon-to-be-completed golf course and clubhouse when the group makes a grisly discovery. Terrorized by the sight of a gnawed human corpse, they speed as fast as a tram can speed back to their sea-side camp just in time for Mr. Big's first major FX sequence. Ordinary ants who feasted upon the silver sludge oozing from the carelessly discarded barrel have rocketed to the size of Dodge Chargers and now teeter across the pier and chomp on a moored boat (also the castaways best means of escape) in a ghastly mix of mega-puppetry and magnified rear-projection techniques. Thus begins the run-like-heck portion of the flick as our puny humans flee on foot and later up river by rotting rowboat -- all the while with Marilyn's shrieking insistences that SHE knows how to evade humongous ants better than anyone else. Half the group is gobbled by the pursuing insects who make the shrill sound of female screams during their vicious -- OK, OK -- laughable attacks. CineSchlockers will remember our seafaring hero Mr. Lansing from his various tough-guy roles such as Control in the exceedingly kick-hiney TV series "The Equalizer." While fool-hearty retiree Mr. Thompson (Harry Holcombe) also played the horndog judge caught with his robe down in Foxy Brown.
Notables: No breasts. 14 corpses. Ant cam. Knee to the crotch. Exploding boat. Gratuitous slow mo. One Big Wheel. Amateur photography. Carjacking. Gun butt to the brainpan.
Quotables: Marilyn patronizes her part-time business assistant and full-time boy toy, "You're so terrific in the sack that it almost justifies the excessive salary I have to pay you." If someone's saying this, chances are it's too late, "There's nothing to worry about everybody!" Mr. Thompson has no aspirations of heroism, "Oh no, not ME! I'm an old man! We only came because it's free. We take these tours all the time, but nothing ever happened like THIS before!" Marilyn offers these parting words, "I don't care what the rest of you think! I'm going to go in THIS direction!" Coreen emotes, "OH MY GOD! THEY'RE HERDING US LIKE CATTLE!!!"
Time codes: Garden variety ants feast on paint, er, toxic waste (11:35). First look through the multiple eyes of the critters (17:20). Radioactive colony rises up against its human oppressors (28:00). Old folks foolishly wander away from the group (40:40). Ms. Shoop would surely be the winner of this wet T-shirt contest (57:42).
Audio/Video: Presented in a widescreen (1.85:1) print that's relatively clean and consistent throughout. The image quality gets sketchier during the effects shots, which is fairly typical of layered opticals in low-budget pictures. Utilitarian Dolby Digital mono track.
Extras: Woefully lacking here. Widescreen theatrical trailer. Static menus without audio. No printed insert or liner notes. However, the new cover artwork is a welcome companion to the theatrical poster reproduction (an original hangs in the lair of yours truly). The former is clearly an ode to the immortal Them!
Final thought: Gordon's stylish, FX-laden flicks are personal faves, especially those inspired by Mr. Wells. However, a Food of the Gods release this lean on extras would be a grave disappointment. Highly Recommended.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.