Victory over VHS oblivion! After 25 weeks among CineSchlock-O-Rama's Most Wanted, the unyielding vigilance of all CineSchlockers has been rewarded with another capture! This one's especially sweet as unruly critter flicks are a personal obsession of yours truly. With Them! (1954, 92 minutes) being at the radioactive epicenter of 'em all. Dread of the atomic bomb and its staggering devastative power spawned the gigantic creature features of the '50s and '60s, which would later be parroted and slightly mutated during the early environmental movement when pollution was the new catalyst of Mama Nature's tyranny. Yet, the resilient genre all boils down to the same gloriously grim stakes, as the alternate title to a certain toothy sequel so eloquently states: Jaws 3, People 0.
The movie: Marshal Dillon (James Arness) rassles ordinary desert ants who got themselves value-sized and bloodthirsty after repeated exposures to atomic blasts. One-by-one folks start turning up MISSING as the buggers scavenge for, gulp, people food. Well, sugar actually, but hapless humans keep standing precariously close to the stuff. Joan Weldon and Edmund Gwenn are the father-daughter bug docs who go nosing around where they shouldn't and upon discovering the critters' hideout Ed howls the immortal, unintentionally riotous line, "GET THE AN-TENNIE! GET THE AN-TENNIE!!!" And a Tommy-gun toting James Whitmore kindly obliges this cogent advice. Despite the additional introduction of about a half-dozen or so bazooka rounds, these incredulous critters miraculously manage to scurry from the desert into the Los Angeles sewage system to freak out hobos and nab some kiddos most CineSchlockers will wish they'd go ahead and eat. Sadly, director Gordon Douglas steered clear of creature features from "them" on. However, decades later, he did stray into blaxpolitation with Slaughter's Big Rip-Off and, curiously, Viva Knievel! turned out to be his 1977 swan song.
Notables: No breasts. Nine corpses. Bow-tied cops. Machine gun attack. Drunken babbling. Flame throwing. Sugar pilfering. Bazooka attack.
Quotables: Call him Doctor Sunshine, "We may be witnesses to a Biblical prophecy come true: 'And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon creation. And the beasts shall reign over the Earth.' " and "We haven't seen the end of them. We've only had a close view of the beginning of what may be the end of us!" Arness interjects some levity, "Well, if I can still raise an arm after we get out of this place, I'm gonna show you just how well saturated I can get." As does a frustrated officer, "Myrmecologist?! You see, that's what I mean! Why don't we all talk English!"
Time codes: Chilling critter calls are first heard (8:43). Mr. Arness joins the picture (17:09). Catatonic little girl goes bonkers when forced to remember "THEM!" (23:30). First gigundous ant sighting (28:10). Fire-bomb attack on the mountainous mound (37:50). G-men watch an ant documentary (49:15). Davey Crockett seen him some flyin' saucers (55:20). Western great Olin Howlin plays a loveable drunkard (1:08:40). Cautionary, climatic speech about the atomic age (1:31:41).
Audio/Video: Although some swear its supposed to be 1.66:1, Warner presents a fullframe transfer with down-right spectacular image quality during the first reel. From there things become more consistent with a picture of its age. Dust and scratches aren't really an issue, but pronounced grain is especially evident in the subterranean scenes. Solid mono track throughout.
Extras: About three minutes of raw behind-the-scenes footage that reveals a bit about how the creatures were operated. Gallery of photos and posters. Theatrical trailer that clearly harkens back to a golden age of movie promotion. Menus involve viewers in a bit of somewhat amusing hunting and pecking to make selections.
Final thought: The king daddy of radioactive creature features. An absolute must-have for any self-respecting CineSchlocker. Collectors Series.
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.