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Ants aka It Happened at Lakewood Manor
From the glory days of the made-for-TV movie, 1977 to be exact, comes Ants!, a delightful little time-waster I had the great fortune to catch, maybe on its second go-round on the television, in the late '70s. (It was first telecast on December 2nd, 1977 as It Happened At Lakewood Manor, later re-titled Panic At Lakewood Manor and for its video release again re-titled Ants for those who lack imagination. One can chose to determine on their own whether the exclamation point appendage on the cover is yet a third naming.) Something of a nature-run-amok, ecological-disaster-cum-monster movie, Ants' blend of TV-episodic drama and creepy-crawliness, making its Blu-ray debut here, unless I miss my guess, should go down real easy with a glass of lemonade on a hot Summer night.
So, Lakewood Manor is run by the widower Ethel (Myrna Loy, The Thin Man) from her wheelchair, and she's family-proud of the place even though it might be getting to be a bit too much for her. Things are even more hectic than usual as a new resort hotel is breaking ground next door (like RIGHT next door, about 15-feet from the hotel pool) and investors such as sleazebag Anthony Fleming (Gerald Gordon) are sniffing around too. Luckily, Ethel has her daughter Valerie (Lynda Day George) around to run point, even if Valerie is also somewhat secretly dating the next-door construction foreman Mike (Robert Foxworth). Whatever the case, it makes for a cozy, if not chaotic scene, until enraged ants start streaming from the construction site with a hive-mind to kill, kill, kill!
Ants enjoys somewhat languid, episodic TV movie pacing, dropping an ant-attack here and there while establishing surface-level relationships for a little oomph, including the presence of Suzanne Somers as Fleming's business-partner/love-interest, and Karen Lamm as Linda, who drops on in to sidle up to Richard (Barry Van Dyke), while Vince (Bernie Casey) Mike's construction colleague, keeps his cool even with ants in his pants. There's something comforting about such plot construction, you're even tempted to hop up for some more ice-cream during the advertisement breaks, while anticipating the trauma to come.
Even before things get cranking, there's no denying the power of these tiny antagonists. That's right, they're not giant ants at all! They're not much bigger than sugar ants, but I guarantee you will be scratching yourself all over within about 20 minutes. Though there is faking going on, and some really dodgy special effects that look horrendous in high definition, there are also countless scenes of people with real, live ants crawling all over their exposed flesh; lots and lots of ants, and lots of Suzanne Somers' flesh in one VHS-cover-worthy instance. These scenes are accompanied by plenty of plucky, squirmy stringed-instrument music, practically ensuring you'll be itching all night.
As rescue attempts commence, and Brian Dennehy makes an appearance, the movie pivots to small-scale Irwin Allen territory, and a crowd of onlookers gets sprayed with fire-hoses. For a Saturday night TV event movie, in 1977 you couldn't ask for too much more! Bolstered by respectable performances all around, old-fashioned pacing that gives way to a good deal of tension, and plenty of skin-crawling insect terror, Ants is both a nostalgia trip for those of a certain age, and a great representation of a bygone art form. If the above all sounds good to you, this quirky genre effort with a nice little selection of extras is Recommended.
Ants is presented in both its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and a 1.85:1 ratio that fits your modern TV screen but loses visual information from the top and bottom of the picture. For this purist, the 4x3 ratio is the one to watch, as the framing isn't as tight, and the brand new 2k master is pretty good. Colors are solid and the movie, originally shot on 35mm film, presents good detail levels, especially in those agonizing ant close-ups. A little bit of speckling and film damage appears from time to time, if you're looking for it, but otherwise things are pretty OK. Had there not been the two aspect ratio versions of the movie on the disc, details might have been a bit more robust, but that's my only real complaint.
Originally recorded in Mono, this movie enjoys a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that works well for the most part, with those '70s strings and horns from the detective-show-style score enjoying a decent dynamic range, and dialog for the most part being clean and clear. There's one odd scene in a bathroom that feels like it was sourced from room sound as it's muffled and full of echoes, (I actually lost a few lines of dialog to this) but this singular instance is the only, albeit very-noticeable, problem.
Ants gets a few chunky, yet somewhat static extras. A Commentary Track from Author and Film Historian Lee Gambin ranges wide and is consistently entertaining, Lee is extremely knowledgeable concerning genre movies and television. You also get four Audio Interviews, ranging from 32 to 45 minutes in length, all moderated by Gambin, who takes his subjects on extensive journeys regarding Ants and their respective careers. Interviewees include Barbara Brownell, Barry Van Dyke, Anita Gillette and Moosie Drier, but notably don't include Suzanne Somers, who called the movie a low-point in her career. The interviews are all audio-only, with a static image on the screen. English Subtitles round out the package.
Ants tells the tale of a resort hotel beset by enraged critters. How they got so potent and why they're enraged is best left to your late-20th-century poli-sci class, but they'll make you squirm all the same as they terrorize a solid 1977 cast. For a Saturday night TV event movie, you couldn't ask for too much more! Bolstered by respectable performances all around, old-fashioned pacing that gives way to a good deal of tension, and plenty of skin-crawling insect terror, Ants is both a nostalgia trip for those of a certain age, and a great representation of a bygone art form. If the above all sounds good to you, this quirky genre effort with a nice little selection of extras is Recommended.