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Phase IV, Ants!, Empire of the Ants, Ants on a Plane, Legion of Fire: Killer Ants, and Triangle
Horror Bulletin Weekly Newsletter #254
We have a fun collection for you this week, with “Killer Ant Week.” We'll take a look at 1974’s “Phase IV,” and 1977’s “Empire of the Ants.” Then we’ll visit Lakewood Manor in “Ants!” and go for a trip with “Ants on a Plane.”
In addition, exclusive to our weekly email newsletter, we also reviewed:
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“Legion of Fire: Killer Ants” aka “Marabunta” (1998)
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Here. We. Go!
Phase IV (1974)
Directed by Saul Bass
Written by Mayo Simon
Stars Nigel Davenport, Michael Murphy, Lynn Frederick, Alan Gifford
Run Time: 1 Hour, 24 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
This has a lot of ants-in-action photography, scientific-sounding science, and weird visuals. The characters are almost the least interesting thing, but the rest of it makes up for it. It’s strange and atmospheric, heavily in the science fiction realm with horror elements. We’d recommend it.
“That spring, we were all watching space and wondering what the final effect would be. Astronomers and engineers got excited. Mystics predicted the end of life as we knew it. When the effect came, it was almost unnoticed because it affected such a small and insignificant form of life.”
We’re told that Dr. Hubbs noticed and started investigating while our narrator, James Lesko, was busy number-crunching. “Ordinary ants of different species were meeting, communicating, and apparently making decisions.” As we hear all this, we watch footage of ants in their tunnels. Many, many, shots of ants in their tunnels silently communicating.
We cut to Dr. Hubbs writing a letter about biological imbalance in Arizona. He reports that all insects and other predators who prey on ants have suddenly vanished. We watch the ants eating a spider. He proposes a biological research station to study and potentially eliminate the problem. The station is built way out in the Arizona desert, and Hubbs and Lesko are assigned to it. As soon as they arrive, we see that the ants are observing them.
Lesko is a crypto-linguist who worked on trying to “talk” to whales in the past. They find a series of strange towers that have been built by the ants. These are new, never-before-seen structures. They check out a farm where there’s a huge, circular “bare spot” in the middle of a field with a perfect square inside it and dead animals scattered around, each covered in tiny bites.
The farmer, Mr. Eldridge, says that they have dug “moats” and filled them with gasoline to keep the ants out of his crops. He also explains that his neighbors have been pulling out for the past few weeks. The crops died, and even one farmhouse mysteriously collapsed. Hubbs says the Eldridges need to leave for a few days as they experiment. They aren’t happy, but they understand the necessity.
The facility is near some mysterious towers. They settle in, and the research begins. Lesko gets all his computers set up and Hubbs works on other things. They have a lot of 1970’s computers.
Twelve days later, Hubbs’s boss complains that nothing has happened yet, but they can’t make the ants perform on command. To speed things along, Hubbs shoots the towers with rockets, blowing them up. He shouts, “Let’s see some activity!” Finally, Lesko is able to hear the ants making sounds.
That night, back at the Eldridge place, we see the ants crossing the moats on floating leaves and attacking the horses. They light the gasoline in the moat. The old farmer ends up shooting his horse. Then the house collapses. They all get into the truck and drive away. The traumatized old woman sees an ant on her husband’s head and beats him until the truck crashes.
Lesko explains his process to Hubbs as he watches the “ant signals” decoded by his computer. As he explains, their truck outside, which was acting as a generator, explodes. In response, Hubbs shoots yellow ant poison out of the sprinklers outside, drenching the Eldridges outside looking for help. Oops!
In the morning, the two men go outside in gas masks and protective suits and find the farmer and his wife dead out there. Hubbs is more fascinated by the fact that the ants made his truck explode than he is that there are dead people on his doorstep. He says the yellow poison should keep the ants at bay for three or four days. The bodies have holes inside where ants have burrowed to hide from the poison.
The men find Kendra, the farmer’s granddaughter, hiding in a shelter and take her inside. Hubbs doesn’t want to call for someone to pick her up, as the authorities aren’t going to be happy about the casualties. Lesko wants to call the base, but Hubbs warns that that will end their mission.
Hubbs takes samples of the ants and starts experimenting on them. Kendra smashes the bottle, so they gas out the whole lab. Hubbs gets a venomous bite.
Outside, we see ants carrying samples of the yellow poison into the nest. One dies, and another takes over. A whole chain of ants sacrifices itself to get the poison to the queen, who adapts to breed new eggs that are immune to the poison. The eggs now come out yellow, and they’re poison-proof.
Hubbs talks to the base on the radio, and they warn him about a missing family. Hubbs pretends not to know anything about them.
Lesko continues to decode the ants’ movement language, and Hubbs hopes to predict their next move. Overnight, more than a dozen short towers spring up, built by the ants in a circle around the scientists’ base. They have a reflective surface, all at different angles that reflect light onto their dome, which starts to heat up.
Lesko talks to Kendra and shows her around, explaining what they do. Hubbs shows him the reflective towers and says the heat’s going to be a problem. He also sees that the ants are now resistant to their poison. Hubbs admits that he expected the ants to attack their truck; he left it out there as bait. Lesko figures out that Hubbs didn’t call for a helicopter. Lesko picks up the radio, and it explodes– the ants have destroyed it from the inside.
We see the ants crawling around inside the base’s air conditioning unit, chewing at the wires. Lesko figures out a sound that the towers outside seem to absorb. He beams it at a high frequency and volume out to the towers outside, causing them to crumble. The ants fight a praying mantis in the electrical system, and they manage to short out the air conditioning. Outside, the sound shatters the towers, which collapse. It’s a war!
The computers overheat, so Lesko can’t keep beaming the sounds out. About this time, Hubbs starts feeling ill, as his ant-bite has become infected. We see lots of ant-carnage inside the collapsed towers. Lesko doesn’t understand how the ants could know which single machine everything else depended upon.
Underground, black ants start carrying away the corpses of the dead yellow ants, laying them out in neat rows, like a big funeral.
The temperature in the base cools enough to turn the computers back on at night. Hubbs thinks they are being allowed that on purpose. It’s also mentioned that he thinks the ants are going to dominate, first taking towns and then cities. Lesko tries to send a message to the ants using what he’s learned. It’s a geometrical figure.
When the sun comes up, it starts getting hot inside again. Hubbs is delirious with fever and trashes the lab looking for ant “spies.”
Much of the inside of the base is now wrecked, Hubbs is still irrational, and they’re all still trapped in there. Hubbs rants about what would happen if the queen ant died. Lesko says the war is over, and their only hope is to get a message to the ants, convincing the ants that they’re worth keeping alive. They watch a rat outside and see how quickly the ants strip it to bones. They only have two suits to go outside.
The ants send Lesko another geographical figure as a message. He thinks it’s an intelligence test of some kind, but what does it mean? Do they want one of the people inside? Kendra goes outside, barefoot, to surrender herself to the ants, thinking they’re angry with her for breaking the sample container.
Hubbs says he’s finally located the queen’s location, inside a short tower. They’re all out of rocket grenades, so he needs to think of something else. He tries to put his boots on but can’t because his hand doesn’t work anymore. Lesko says that he’s figured out the ant’s message: they want Hubbs, who blew up their towers.
Hubbs then stomps outside, also barefoot, with a canister of poison, on his way to destroy the queen’s base. He falls into a pit, dug by the ants as a trap. The ants swarm over him and kill him.
Lesko, in an environmental suit, walks outside. He had hoped to communicate a truce with the ants but admits that it’ll never happen. He slides down into the huge tunnel into the queen’s lair. He watches as fingers rise up out of the sand; it’s Kendra, who’s not dead. “They wanted… us.”
“We knew then that we were being changed and made part of their world. We didn't know for what purpose, but we knew we would be told.” What is… Phase IV?
The opening shots, as the car drives to the research station, past all the abandoned houses and wreckage, make this feel like a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but it’s not really, it’s just the desert. The apocalypse part is yet to come, probably.
These aren’t giant ants, they’re just smarter than the usual variety, and all the species of ants have teamed up. There are many shots of ants doing various things, and they’re all really well done, with real ants, edited in such a way that we can see that they have a purpose. The characters are pretty bland, but the situation makes up for that.
I saw this not long after it came out, and as an eight-year-old, I was impressed with the seemingly realistic scientists and equipment. Today, the technology seems very dated, but a lot of it holds up, assuming you believe something in space could make ants smarter.
The photography on the ants is really good; the setting is weird and unearthly. The technology is interesting. It’s a weird one, but it’s very cool.
AKA “It Happened at Lakewood Manor”
Directed by Robert Scheerer
Written by Guerdon Trueblood
Stars Robert Foxworth, Lynda Day George, Gerald Gordon, Bernie Casey
Run Time: 1 Hour, 35 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
This was relatively small stakes with one site and one small group of people at risk, but we got to know them well enough to care a bit when bad things happen. It’s made for TV from the 70s, so it’s pretty tame, but it moves along well enough to be entertaining. Or at least interesting.
We open on a construction crew and bulldozers working next to a resort. A man in a hole screams for help, and another man runs in to see what’s wrong. The first man is being swarmed by ants, but no one can hear him screaming. A bulldozer then accidentally buries both men alive, but nobody notices. Credits roll.
Gloria and Tony are talking about investments and real estate in the back of their car. He wants a single room at the hotel, but she’s strictly business.
Inside Lakeview Manor, Ethel Adams, who owns the place, talks about her 32-year-old parrot. Outside, Linda flirts with Richard, one of the employees. Construction foreman Mike asks Vince if he’s seen Frank, the worker who was buried. We zoom into the hole the men are buried in, and a bunch of ants crawl out of a pipe. Tony arrives and wants to talk to Ethel about buying the place, but she’s not interested. She’s lived here all her life and doesn’t want to move out.
Ethel’s daughter, Valerie, tells Tony he can’t talk to her now. Valerie chews out Mike about him and his “apes” coming inside to use the restrooms, but then the two sneak into the bathroom to kiss.
The men figure out that Frank and the other man are buried in the hole. Mike goes with Frank to the hospital, and the doctor says he’s been poisoned somehow. Was there something different in that hole? Were there any snakes? We cut back to ants amassing ominously in that pipe and also in the kitchen drain in the hotel.
Tony continues to flatter Gloria at the poolside, and we see that Linda and Richard are there, too.
Mike and Vince return from the hospital, and Peggy from the State Department of Health is there waiting for him. She’s there to investigate the death. Mike says that the pit was off-limits and the men shouldn’t have been in there at all. He looks for snakes in the hole, but there’s nothing but worms and ants. Vince gets bitten by ants, and they soon figure out the problem.
Meanwhile, a kid falls into a dumpster and is attacked by ants. The kid jumps into the pool, where Richard and Mike have to rescue him. Tony uses this opportunity to weasel his way into Ethel and Valerie’s meeting. He says he’ll follow the traditions and take good care of the place, but he really wants to tear it down and build a casino.
Mike gathers a sample of the ants to take to Frank’s doctor, while at the same time, the chef in the kitchen is attacked and killed by them. Peggy quarantines the hotel and says all the guests need to leave. She thinks it’s a virus, but Mike says it’s ants. For some reason, there are no ants in the kitchen now. Mr. White, the health services guy, puts ants from Mike’s jar in his hand, but nothing happens.
Still, Peggy takes the ants to a scientist. She goes to see a scientist who shows her a video about killer ants that sound a lot like what we’ve seen already.
Angry, Mike goes outside and tears up the dangerous hole with a bulldozer. He really only manages to stir up the ants even more, and they all head straight for the hotel. It takes entirely too long for him to figure out that he’s done exactly the wrong thing.
Tony and Gloria have sex in their room, and they don’t see all the ants surrounding their bed. Ethel calls to tell them they need to evacuate. He says he’s willing to stay and talk business. He leaves for a meeting, and the ants crawl all over Gloria.
The guests are all ready to leave, but Valerie soon sees that the grounds are swarming with ants so that no one can go outside. Mr. White goes outside to yell at Mike, but the ants quickly kill him.
Mike tells Vince to use the bulldozer to dig a trench around the place and fill it with fuel. Tony runs back to Gloria’s room, but she’s dead too. All the main characters are soon trapped on the second floor of the resort.
The fire chief arrives, and Peggy fills him in on the situation. The firemen set up a ladder truck to evacuate the people, but they’re idiots and don’t extend the ladder all the way. They raise Linda way up in the sky before she’s finally able to climb down. That was too dangerous, so the ladder truck left.
The Coast Guard sends a helicopter to airlift the people out. Scientist Tom talks to the fire chief about poisons and evolution. The copter lowers a basket for wheelchair-bound Ethel, and that almost goes badly as Richard falls onto the ant-surrounded roof. Vince rescues him using a bulldozer. The helicopter lands, and the wind spreads ants all over the spectators, so they have to leave, too.
The fire chief reports that they’re sending for special suits to get Mike, Valerie, and Tony out, but it’s going to take more time than they have. Mike rolls up some wallpaper into breathing tubes, and the three people inside sit perfectly still and just try to wait it out. The ants crawl all over them, but as long as they don’t move, the ants won’t bite them.
Tony flips out, panics, and starts smacking at them. He jumps out the window, trying to hit the pool– and misses. Ouch!
Soon, the men in suits cover the room with insecticide and bring Mike and Valerie outside.
Ethel is going to retire to Florida. Mike and Valerie are getting married. Richard and Linda might too, someday. The hotel is probably going to be condemned.
This was a made-for-TV movie, and it’s full of familiar faces from the late 70s. There are some scenes where the actors are actually covered with ants and others where they’re just animated dots. The characters are all very generic “types,” so they aren’t that interesting.
I’m pretty sure that if you dug a shallow trench and poured a bunch of gas into it, it wouldn’t make a burning moat; it’d just soak into the sandy soil. Still, we see this trope in lots of movies.
It’s more of a disaster-style movie than a horror film, but it’s really pretty well done.
Short Film: Bugbear (2023)
Directed by Matt Smith
Written by Matt Smith
Stars Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson, Flora Squires
Run Time: 8:53
Tom is in desperate need of money to pay off a loan shark, but no one is cooperating with him. As he walks through the woods to a friend’s house, he finds a strange mask in the woods. Suddenly, Tom’s not himself anymore…
The black-and-white looks really good, and the camerawork is excellent. This is clearly a “no budget” short film, but it looks good and mostly makes sense… mostly. We don’t know why the mask does this, but it does, and that’s the story.
Empire of the Ants (1977)
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Written by H.G. Wells, Jack Turley, Bert I. Gordon
Stars Joan Collins, Robert Lansing, John David Carson, Albert Salmi
Run Time: 1 Hour, 29 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s a monster movie with ants the size of people, which is decent and at least unsettling, if not downright scary. Then, about 2/3 of the way through, there’s a major plot shift that we thought brings down the whole thing to just about silly.
We get narration telling us that ants may be the next dominant life form on our planet. We’re told about ant civilization and intelligence. He talks about a mind-bending substance that forces obedience called “pheromones.” Credits roll.
“Danger Radioactive Waste” is marked all over the steel drums that the ship dumps into the ocean. Naturally, some of the leaky barrels wash up on the beach in Florida.
Charlie, a man in the most 1970s suit ever, carries a box to a boat in the marina. He works for Marilyn, who sells beachfront real estate. Dan Stokely is the boat’s pilot, and he takes the group around for a boat tour of the properties. He’s surly, and she’s bitchy. We watch as various potential clients get out of their cars and board the boat. It looks like most of the “clients” are just here for the free boat ride with the promise of being wooed with food and drink.
Meanwhile, at the Dreamland Shores housing development project, two workers complain about how remote these new houses are. We see that barrel on the beach, and there are ants crawling around in the stuff. The passengers talk, scheme, and gossip; it’s like a bad episode of the “Love Boat.”
Larry is here to pick up girls, and he nearly assaults one of them. We see that something is watching from the bushes and making a high-pitched noise. Margaret talks to Dan about her future plans and wants the inside scoop on his opinion of his shady boss’s deals. He’s grumpy and doesn’t want to talk. He eventually says he’d never have anything to do with the land around here, and she volunteers to sew his shirts.
They all get onto a little bus and go on a tour of the bare lots. Something with many eyes is watching them from afar. There are signs “Future Tennis Courts,” “Future Pool Area,” and “Future Golf Course.” There’s nothing really here but little flags.
Thomas Lawson is a skeptic, and he pulls up the fake water pipes that aren’t attached to anything. This whole project is a fraud! Suddenly, he and his wife are surrounded by ants. GIANT ants! Mary runs through the woods as her husband is eaten. She’s soon caught and devoured as well.
The people on the tour hear the noise that the ants make, but they keep on going, even knowing that they left two people behind. Then they find one of the workers we saw earlier, and he’s been eaten. They all see it.
Joe and Coreen decide to walk back to find the Lawsons, but the rest drive on in the bus. The two soon spot some giant ants and run away screaming. Back on the docks, Dan, Marilyn, and everyone else sees the ants attacking their boat. Dan hacks at one on the boat with his ax, but his helper dies, setting the boat on fire in the process. Dan gets away, but the boat is destroyed.
Night falls, and everyone sits around a campfire in shock and denial. The old couple, the Thompsons, admits that they just came for the boat ride. Charlie tries to be friendly with Christine, but she’s in shock.
Dan and Marilyn argue about who’s in charge, and most people follow Dan. Marilyn orders Charlie to stay in the beach house with her, but everyone else leaves. There’s an ant inside, so they can’t stay there. Soon, everyone is fleeing through the woods, and most of them split up into pairs.
Larry’s wife falls down, and he’s too cowardly to help her up, so she’s killed as he runs away. Marilyn watches as Charlie is killed. The old couple hides in a shed and gets left behind. The six survivors eventually make it to a big rowboat, and Dan takes over.
They row down a river and hear ants all around them. They all whine about the situation as Dan rows. This goes on for a long time, and the ants are everywhere; it’s just a matter of time until they attack. The boat soon encounters a blockage in the river, and the ants attack there. Dan and Joe row furiously, and they all get away.
There’s a tree hanging overhead, and one of the ants jumps on Larry. Something happens to the boat, and everyone soon ends up in the water for some reason. Now, the five remaining people have to walk through the jungle.
Dan comes to the conclusion that the ants are herding them somewhere, like cattle. They all eventually come to a farmhouse, and the old farmer inside has his wife call the sheriff, who soon arrives. The farmer’s wife warns Coreen, “Whatever you do, don’t let them take you to the sugar refinery.”
The sheriff picks up the five people in his car and drives them toward town. They drive right past the sugar refinery. We see that the ants are watching.
Mr. Parker is the town mayor and owner of the motel and sugar refinery. He already knows where they’ve been. The sheriff leaves to go look for ants, and the survivors take rooms at the motel. Dan and Joe take a walk, and they hear a familiar sound– No, it’s a kid on a Big Wheel. The woman at the car rental place won’t let anyone rent one because they’ve all lost their IDs on the boat. The pay phones are all out for some sketchy reason. Dan sees the sheriff in town, not out looking for the ants. Something is very wrong in this town, and they all know it.
Dan hot-wires a car, and everyone goes with him. They soon come to a police roadblock, and the police shoot at them. The cops knock out Dan. Joe and Coreen run into a cornfield. Marilyn and Margaret can’t get away from the police and are taken to the sugar refinery.
At the refinery, we see people being delivered in cages. A whistle sounds, and the ants arrive, going inside to eat the sugar. The workers at the plant back off, and the ants don’t bother them. The sheriff insists that “There’s nothing to fear. We must obey. She makes us do it. At first, people don’t understand.” Then, the queen ant sprays the townspeople, one at a time, with pheromones, which lets the ants control them. The sheriff says that the townspeople have to be sprayed once a week.
Joe and Coreen run into ants in the cornfield. They’re captured and taken to the refinery with the others. They force Marilyn into the booth with the queen, and she gets the ant-gas. She then calms down and is on the ants’ side of things. “Don’t you see? We mustn’t disobey them, and we must help them.”
Dan goes in next, but he pulls out a road flare and injures the queen ant. The ants in the refinery get upset and turn on the human workers. Dan breaks out of the booth, and there’s a mass stampede.
Joe notices a big gas truck marked “flammable” and runs to it. He opens the valves and releases the fuel everywhere. The sheriff’s mind control starts to crack, and he shoots the queen, who falls on top of Marilyn. Joe drives the gas truck into the building and jumps out just before it explodes.
Dan, Margaret, Coreen make it to a boat on the river, and Joe runs up behind them, barely catching up. They boat off down the river with a seemingly unending jungle ahead of them…
The first half hour is the usual getting-to-know-the-character stuff, but it’s really melodramatic and cliched. The acting is fine, but all the characters are all “types” and are less than compelling. Still, the ants are always out there, and you can always hear them, and it leads to a good bit of suspense as the group rows toward an uncertain future.
Many of the ant shots are real ants crawling on miniatures; they look pretty good. When the ants attack someone close up, it’s not so realistic.
Films like this used to be shown on network TV all the time, and it’s fun to revisit them without all the bloody bits cut out. That said, there’s not much gore here, just people covered in blood as the ants bite them.
It was doing well until the group got to town. The mind-controlled townspeople are silly and stretch the imagination a little too far. You had me at giant ants; the mind-slave thing killed the goodwill that the first two-thirds built up.
It's half of a good film with an atrocious ending.
Ants on a Plane (2007)
AKA “Destination: Infestation”
Directed by George Mendeluk
Written by Mary Weinstein
Stars Jessalyn Gilsig, Antonio Sabato Jr., Serge Houde, Karen Holness
Run Time: 1 Hour, 29 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
Being trapped on a plane with killer ants makes for a mighty stressful way to travel. It’s a little contrived, but it was still pretty good in every way. There are multiple points that made us say things don’t really work like that, but we were entertained more than not.
A tour bus breaks down with a flat tire in the Colombian jungle, and the driver gets out to fix the problem. Dr. Carolyn Rose and her daughter Jamie are on the bus. She’s an insectologist, but her daughter would rather have gone to Maui.
Mr. Aubrey is getting checked out by his doctor; he thinks something in the water has made him sick. The doctor thinks it’s something more serious, some insect bite that caused anaphylactic shock. He can’t stay; he must leave on a plane in two hours.
We cut to a bunch of people getting ready for their flight to Atlanta. The pilots go through their usual checklist as the passengers board the plane. Mr. Aubrey is a needy, annoying passenger, and it’s clear that he’s getting worse. Carolyn and Jamie arrive at the very last minute because of the bus’s flat tire. Ethan Hart is in the seat behind them, listening to the mother and daughter argue about Carolyn being single and desperate. They eventually take off.
Mr. Aubrey pukes all over another passenger and then staggers down the aisle as a million ants burst out of his skin. They’ve eaten him from the inside out. Carolyn sees the ants and says it doesn’t make any sense. Everyone sees it, and very quickly, ants are crawling everywhere, including the area down in the hold. Ethan and Carolyn take charge and explain things to the captain. Ants shouldn’t be carnivorous; this just isn’t normal. “Maybe the ants felt so threatened they just hitched a ride on whatever they could. These ants could be extremely dangerous.” She then goes back to her seat and tells her daughter that there’s no danger.
Ethan tells Carolyn and Jamie that he’s an Air Marshall and he has questions about the ants, which she can answer. The pilot calls Miami with an in-flight emergency. He lets Carolyn tell the ATC how serious the problem of genetically different mutant ants is. The ATC guy doesn’t take anything seriously.
Meanwhile, the ants start chewing on the wires down below, and the lights start acting up. This is a good time for Jamie and Carolyn to talk about the dead father and Carolyn’s refusal to date.
The scientists on the ground discuss the ants and the likelihood of genetic upgrades in the ant community. Humans have wrecked the ants’ environment, so they’re migrating. The Director on the ground discusses not allowing the plane to land… at all, anywhere. The ants have no natural predators in America.
Back on the plane, the ants attack some people but are run off with a guy using a fire extinguisher. They talk about depressurizing the plane to kill the ants. The ants counterattack and mess up the captain very quickly; he’s in shock. Carolyn thinks the ants are intelligent enough to know exactly who they are attacking.
The ants are still chewing on the wiring, and they’ve started a fuel leak on top of the hydraulic and electrical problems. “We’ve gotta repair that fuel valve,” the copilot tells Ethan. Oh, yeah, there’s also a storm moving in.
Carolyn tells Ethan that he needs to look for the queen when he goes below to fix the fuel problem.
The annoying drunk, Paulie staggers to the bathroom, where he’s attacked. His friend stuffs him back inside the restroom to keep him from everyone else.
The ground calls and refuses them clearance to enter any US airspace. Cuba and Haiti also refuse them. Everyone knows about the ants, and no one wants to deal with that. The pilots decide to land on an old air base field that’s closed but probably also too small.
Carolyn figures out a way to use the stuff in the cargo hold to make boric acid, an insecticide. She bonds with Ethan in the cargo hold, and they talk about which of them is hiding from romance more seriously. Then, they walk through a giant puddle of fuel as they look for the queen. They find the queen in the main electrical box of the plane and zap it with a fire extinguisher.
Ethan has to splice some wires together for some reason, but they’re standing in fuel, so any spark would be really, really bad. They pour liquid insecticide all over the electrical panel, but nothing sparks. They get the valve problem fixed, so now they can worry about landing.
The director on the ground figures out where the plane is headed and calls the Pentagon. They send up a fighter to blow up the plane.
Suddenly, the power goes out, and it’s all very dark. Ethan rescues the dead drunk guy’s pet dog, which impresses Carolyn even more. He gives the dog to Jamie.
Up in the cockpit, the ants attack the pilot again, and the copilot prepares to land. Even though there are troops on the ground with anti-aircraft guns, the plane sets down anyway. Suddenly, the TV news crew arrives, which for some reason, scares the army guys away.
The passengers evacuate the plane, but the ants are getting off too. Carolyn shoots the leaking fuel and ignites the plane, killing the ants. Everyone goes into quarantine, but Jamie invites Ethan to come over for a visit afterward, and Carolyn doesn’t object at all.
As all the people leave, we see ants on the ground near the runway, including a queen…
That airplane needed more screaming babies; only having one was completely unrealistic. That’s the only unbelievable thing about this made-for-TV movie. Actually, it was fairly intense for a made-for-TV horror film.
It’s got a lot of stupid passengers and contrived situations, but it’s a decent concept that’s not badly done for the most part. It wasn’t outstanding, but we were entertained.
Legion of Fire: Killer Ants (1998)
Directed by Jim Charleston, George Manasse
Written by Linda Palmer, Wink Roberts
Stars Eric Lutes, Julia Campbell, Mitch Pileggi, Jeremy Foley
Run Time: 1 Hour, 35 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
Killer carnivorous ants from South America cause havoc for a town in Alaska because the volcanic activity underground provides them enough tropical heat to thrive. It’s television movie science that sounds feasible enough to work, and it’s a decent movie overall. Not great, but moderately entertaining with characters that you root for.
We’re told that killer insects exist that can strip an animal to the bone in minutes. We are told, ”This is not science fiction; this is science fact. What you are about to see could happen tomorrow.” Credits roll.
A newlywed couple are out in the woods, and he brings his camera. He wants her to sit on top of the big earthen mound they just found. She climbs up to the top. He has to run back to the bike for more film, and she starts screaming as something sucks her down into the mound. When he goes to help, he goes in too.
We cut to Dr. Jim Conrad, an insect expert working in his lab. He goes to the airport and flies to Alaska. He’s going fishing with his friend Bob on his helicopter. They notice an almost-active volcano. They go fishing in a spot that doesn’t have any fish, but Bob swears there were fish here last week.
They go for a walk and spot a dead, mostly-eaten moose. The hunters walk up, saying they just shot that moose two hours ago. What could have eaten the moose so quickly? They go to Murdock’s trading post, and Murdock’s not there– but there is some blood. Then, they find Murdock’s stripped-clean skeleton.
Sheriff Croy and Deputy Blount come to investigate. Laura stops in, and she knows the “famous entomologist,” Jim; she has all his books. Murdock’s brother is Greywolf, but he doesn’t know what happened either. Suddenly, there’s an earthquake; they’re getting more frequent, according to the police.
Jim’s staying in a cabin right next door to Laura. She invites him to dinner. She brags that she’s an excellent marksman. She asks about Murdock, and he says he would normally think it was insects, but the ground here is too cold for that. She says that the temperature underground has recently been rising due to the awakened volcano.
Croy goes home and talks to his young son, Chad; his wife died a few months ago, and they’re adjusting. Jim finds a piece of a dead ant on Murdock’s body, a Maribunta soldier ant that’s native to South America. He thinks that’s what ate the moose and Murdock.
Croy gets a call about a missing woman and gets there just in time for us to see ants carrying away her finger and ear. Chad and his friend Scott go riding bikes out in the woods, where Scott has found the dead newlyweds’ motorbike from earlier. They also find the huge anthill and climb on it. Scott gets swallowed by the hole, but Chad gets away to get help.
Croy is ready to call in the National Guard, but another earthquake brings down all the phone lines. Chad runs in and tells them about Scott and the hill. Everyone rushes out to the mysterious anthill for a look. Blount climbs the hill and yells for Scott.
Jim asks a million questions to narrow down where the ants came from. A ship from Brazil crashed nearby about ten years ago, and the queen could have been on wood in the cargo hold. Croy wants to evacuate the town, and he assigns Greywolf to manage that, and to take Chad along with him. We get an evacuation montage as people run for their cars and load up their animals.
While investigating, Bob gets covered in ants and crashes the helicopter, stranding Jim and Laura in the mountains. The ants immediately come after the pair, but Jim has a flamethrower, which doesn’t help as much as they hoped it would. They spot a canoe in the distance, so they run for that. They soon row away from the ants. They go down some rapids in their rickety old wooden canoe, which, unsurprisingly, breaks up.
Mr. Perth, the one old guy who won’t evacuate, causes problems for Deputy Blount. He’s drilled holes and poured gasoline and turpentine in them. They’ve eaten the old man’s prize milk cow. The ants chew through something, and the door to the barn collapses, trapping him and Blount inside.
Jim and Laura break into a place and steal the tiniest little child-size motorbike you ever saw and get away from the ants.
Old man Perth gets eaten, but Croy arrives in time to save his deputy. They don’t even make it to the car; Blount gets sucked into a hole, and he shoots his gun, igniting all the old farmer’s explosives.
Eventually, Jim, Laura, Croy, and Chad wind up at the school. There’s a standoff as Jim lays down bug spray, but they all eventually get away in the sheriff’s truck. They have twelve minutes to get out of town before Greywolf blows up the bridge out of town. They end up blowing up the bridge early, so our heroes are trapped on this side.
Jim says all the ants are converging at the new dam, so he wants to go there. Jim wants to blow up the dam to flood them out, but Croy thinks that’s crazy. Croy says Greywolf might have some explosives in the construction trailer; that’ll do the trick.
Jim, the bug guy, happens to also be an explosives expert, and he tells the others how and where to put their explosive charges. It’s all very tense, but the three light their fuses and run for the helicopter that conveniently lands next to them. There’s another sudden earthquake, and Jim rolls down the side of the dam, but the helicopter picks him up just in time as the explosives go off and destroy the dam.
The whole valley gets flooded, including all the ants and the town. Jim and Laura are probably going to get together, so it’s a happy ending.
We cut to ants scurrying around on the beach. They’ll be back!
It’s quite a coincidence that a big-shot bug expert just happened to be on the scene when all this happened.
This looks like a made-for-TV movie, as it’s even got fade-to-commercial breaks every so often. The CGI ants aren’t very good, but they’re not too awful. The story is fairly predictable, and you don’t want to think about any of it too much, but it moves quickly and doesn’t get boring. The acting is decent enough, with just the right number of characters to seem believable.
Directed by Christopher Smith
Written by Christopher Smith
Stars Melissa George, Liam Hemsworth, Michael Dorman, Rachael Carpani
Run Time: 1 Hour, 39 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
This was an excellent time-looping script. And when you think you might have it figured out, they add another layer to it. It’s good right up through the end, with a skilled cast and director who does a good job with it.
Jess hugs autistic Tommy, consoling him over a bad dream— credits roll.
Someone rings Jess’s doorbell, but there’s no one there when she looks. Neighbor Jack didn’t see anyone either.
We cut to the yacht “Triangle,” where Sally boards and hugs Greg. Sally’s husband Downey is there as well, and they’ve invited Heather, a friend, along to maybe get together with Greg. Jess shows up, and she looks exhausted. Greg says they don’t have to go today, but she wants to. They take the big sailboat out onto the open ocean with Victor, who runs the boat.
Jess takes a nap and dreams of being shipwrecked. Victor thinks Jess is weird since she claimed to have taken her son to school this morning– it’s Saturday. Sally thinks Jess is a gold digger out to get Greg, which is why she invited Heather. Jess works at a diner, and the others don’t approve of her.
Suddenly, the wind stops. A very strange-looking storm comes out of nowhere. Someone calls for help on the radio, but the Coast Guard says there are no storms in the area. The storm hits, and no one thinks to pull down the sails, so it gets really rough real fast. They also don’t seem to know about closing the hatch, so the boat floods and capsizes quickly.
The storm passes unnaturally quickly, and they’ve lost Hannah somewhere. Everyone else sits on the capsized boat. Out of nowhere, a huge CGI ship, the Aeolus, appears. They all climb up the stairs onto the seemingly empty cruise ship. The ship has electricity, and its engines are running, but there’s no one there. Somehow, it looks familiar to Jess.
Jess finds her car keys in the hallway. She lost those back on the yacht, and how did they get there? They find a ballroom with fresh fruit on the table. Everyone splits up, which is always a good idea, and Greg starts getting annoyed with Jess’s “weird feelings.” They find a message, “Go To Theater,” written in blood, but Greg thinks it’s all a prank by bored sailors.
Sally and Downey find a trail of blood, and she thinks it’s Heather. They wind up in the theater. Jess returns to the ballroom, where all the fruit has gone very bad; Victor comes in, all bloody, and tries to strangle her. She sticks a finger into a hole in the back of his head until he passes out. She then goes to the theater, where Greg is dead; Greg tells Sally that Jess shot him. Someone shoots Sally and Downey from the balcony.
Jess runs from the shooter, whom she hasn’t actually seen. She eventually runs into the shooter, who wears a mask. There’s some cat-and-mouse action, but eventually, the masked shooter clearly and obviously goes overboard.
Jess goes outside and sees her and all her friends screaming from the capsized yacht, still alive and awaiting rescue, but they can’t really make her out. She watches the group board the ship and starts searching the place. Every time the group hears or sees something odd, we now get that from “old” Jess’s perspective. She drops her keys by accident, and “new” Jess finds them.
Old Jess runs outside and sees Downey’s dead body floating in the water, being eaten by birds. She runs into Victor and tells him what she’s seen, but it makes no sense. Victor doesn’t understand how there are two of everyone. She accidentally pushes his head back into a coat hanger, putting a hole in the back of his head.
She starts hearing voices, “Jess, if they board, you’ve gotta kill them!” She then drops her necklace into a grate and sees a pile of them down there. Has she done this all before? She finds a shotgun and then runs into Victor again, who now sees both versions of her.
She encounters Victor and herself, and all three of them see each other; this is new. The Old Jess can’t shoot the new one, but Victor collapses from his brain wound anyway. There’s a gunshot, and old Jess goes to the theater, but this is all different. “We can change the pattern,” she tells herself.
At some point, old Jess gives Downey the shotgun, but then the masked killer shows up and pulls off her mask– it’s Jess 3 (I think). Jess 3 then stabs Downey and Sally. Sally gets away but is chased by Jess 1 (aka old Jess). Jess 1 gets on the radio and calls for help– it’s the other side of the distress call Greg picked up on the yacht earlier.
Jess 2 hears Sally scream and runs upstairs to find Sally crawling through a huge pile of… dead Sallys. Jess comforts Sally, saying, “It wasn’t me,” but Sally says otherwise. She then looks over the railing and watches Jess 1 fight with and throw Jess 3 overboard.
Sally dies, and then Jess 2 hears the yacht crew calling for help– it’s all starting over again. “It doesn’t restart until everyone’s dead,” she says out loud. Jess watches the Jesses of the past try to convince her friends of what’s been going on. She thinks she knows a way to make all this stop– by killing all of her friends. Then getting it right on the do-over.
Jess 2 finds Downey’s body and writes “Go To The Theater'' in blood on the mirror and throws his dead body overboard. She also disposes of the dead Gregs. She puts on a crew uniform and mask, “becoming” Jess 3. She then shoots Greg in the chest. Then she shoots Downey and Sally in the theater as Jess 1 runs away as before.
Jess 3 then chases Jess 1 with the shotgun, and we see the battle go as before. After a great deal of fighting, Jess 3 backs up to the side of the boat and tries to talk, but Jess 1 can’t understand her because of the mask. As before, Jess 3 goes overboard.
Jess 3 later wakes up on a beach, exactly like her dream earlier. She walks to a road and hitchhikes back to civilization. She goes home to find everything as it was in the morning. She looks in the window and sees Tommy and herself– she hasn’t left for the boat yet.
She watches her younger self yelling at Tommy, who makes a mess when Jess 3 startles him. Jess rants and yells at the boy after slapping him, so Jess 3 rings the doorbell to distract her. Jess 3 grabs a big hammer from the shed and goes in through the back door; she kills her younger self as Tommy watches.
She loads Dead Jess into the trunk and drops Tommy off at school. She hits a bird and stops to dispose of the body. We see dozens of dead birds down there. She’s done this many times. Tommy won’t stop screaming at the bird-blood on the windshield, and Jess crashes the car.
There’s a dead Jess, the one that Jess 3 hit with the hammer and hid in the trunk, and a dead Tommy on the side of the road, but Jess 3 is fine. She gets a ride to the harbor so she can meet up with Greg on the Triangle. She runs into Victor, who asks about Tommy. She says he’s at school.
So everything is going to repeat as Jess 3, who becomes Jess 1 again…
Where did Jess’s keys come from originally? Jess didn’t board the boat with them; they just sort of got dropped by “old” Jess after finding them as “new” Jess.
Way up during the opening credits, we see Jess put a bundle in the trunk of her car, and Victor says she was confused when he asked where Tommy was. I suspected from that point that she’d killed Tommy, but I wasn’t clear on how that all tied into the rest of the story. Still, the fact that she was crazy all along was a distinct possibility all along. My assumption at the end is that she did kill Tommy the first time around, but then Jess 3 changed things– sorta.
It’s very reminiscent of 2007’s “Timecrimes” which also features time loop shenanigans. This one, however, is a bit more complex, and it’s often hard to tell which Jess we’re looking at; you can mostly tell by what she’s wearing as to which one she is.
It’s really good if you like time-loop confusion.
Stay tuned for more regular and bonus reviews next week!
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