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Film / Empire of the Ants

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A 1977 Sci-Fi Horror film written and directed by Bert I. Gordon and starring Joan Collins.

Shady real estate developer Marilyn Fryser (Collins) invites a boatload of potential clients to inspect the future site of "Dreamland Shores," a proposed island community in the Florida Everglades. Of course nothing's been built yet on this untamed marshland, and half the people on the trip are just there for a free boat ride and some lunch.

But that's not the horrible part. Unbeknownst to everyone, some even more shady outfit has been using this area as a dumping site for radioactive waste. The local ant population has mutated into giant flesh-eating monsters, who soon attack our protagonists and force them to flee deeper into the swamp, picking them off one by one as they go.

It gets even weirder from there.

One of the last films directed by monster movie legend Bert I. Gordon, and the last on which he personally oversaw the special effects.

Based very loosely on the H. G. Wells short story of the same name.

This film provides examples of:

  • Anyone Can Die: The old couple, the only genuinely nice people (except maybe Christine) to go on the tour, don't even make halfway through the movie.
  • Asshole Victim: Only a handful of the main characters are even remotely likeable, so several of the victims are this by default. But a particular standout is Larry, who assaults Coreen within minutes of getting to the island, and abandons his wife Christine when she falls and twists her ankle. Watching him get brutally chomped by giant ants is extremely satisfying.
  • Attack of the Killer Whatever: Oversized, flesh-eating mutant ants.
  • Attempted Rape: Larry forces himself upon Coreen the moment they're alone. Coreen's vicious Groin Attack and the timely arrival of witnesses put a stop to it.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Joe and Coreen are introduced as an embittered, entitled drunk and a man-hating bitch respectively, only to rather quickly open up to each other and ultimately prove to each be a Jerk with a Heart of Gold at the worst.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Late in the movie our protagonists steal a car to escape, and find some emergency flares in the glove compartment. Dan uses these to dispatch the Queen in the climax.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: The first 20 minutes of the movie is spent broadly sketching the characters and their reasons for being on this trip. Then the ants show up.
  • Establishing Character Moment: As part of the film's Developing Doomed Characters, we're first introduced to Larry snapping at his wife and ogling Coreen, Joe pre-gaming in the car, and Marilyn verbally abusing her staff.
  • Foreshadowing: The opening narration makes several points about ant behavior and biology that will be relevant later.
  • Genre Shift: The movie starts out as a straightforward Giant Monster movie, then takes a more esoteric Sci-Fi bent in the second half.
  • Hope Spot: There's two of them:
    • First, Dan manages to swim out to his boat and get it started. Just when it looks like he's going to be able to pick up the survivors and get away, the ants also manage to climb aboard and kill his crewman, forcing Dan to scuttle it as he has no way to drive them off.
    • Later, the old couple make it into a shed during the initial attack and step outside when they think the coast is clear...only to find the shed completely surrounded.
  • Hysterical Woman: Christine gets traumatized almost to the point of catatonia by the first ant attack.
  • It Can Think: The movie's opening narration points out that ants demonstrate highly coordinated behavior, and the giant ants are no different, implied to be herding the survivors to a specific location. The Queen they encounter later in the movie is intelligent enough to exert mind control over a town full of humans.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Joe is introduced as an embittered divorced drunk who's just on the trip for the free booze. But he turns out to be a decent guy at heart, hitting it off with Coreen despite a rocky start, and he steps up and becomes a useful member of the party when things start getting bad.
  • The Load: Larry and Marilyn. Once things start going sideways, all they manage to accomplish is getting their significant others killed.
  • Mind Control: the Queen ant uses pheromones to brainwash the small community on the island to feed and protect her colony.
  • Mutagenic Goo: A leaky barrel of silver slime causes the ants to mutate when they make contact with the stuff. It's not clear exactly how long it takes for the stuff to work, but the ants go from normal to about the size of a horse pretty fast.
  • Noisy Nature: The giant ants tend to shriek loudly when they attack.
  • Nuclear Mutant: Standard-issue Bert I. Gordon Trope of bugs mutated by radiation.
  • Playing the Victim Card: As the crisis intensifies and everyone instinctively looks to Dan to lead them to safety, Marilyn starts to unravel, claiming nobody's obeying her irrational commands because she's a woman.
  • Shady Real Estate Agent: Marilyn is trying to sell undeveloped swampland to a bunch of rubes with nothing but a free lunch and a pitch about a planned luxury community that currently consists of a dilapidated boathouse and some signs.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The survivors make it to the company town of the local sugar refinery, where everyone is unhelpful and a little "off" somehow. Because they've all been brainwashed by the Queen ant, who's taken up residence at the refinery and is forcing the humans to care for her colony.
  • Working-Class Hero: Dan is a gruff, cynical, blue-collar boat captain who only tolerates Marilyn and the other jerks because he's being paid to ferry them to and from the mainland. When the ants destroy the boat and the protagonists are forced to work together to survive, he falls into the role of natural leader very quickly.