Monday, December 19, 2011

Movie Monday: Ants!

This week's movie is the 1977 horror TV movie Ants!

Also known as It Happened At Lakewood Manor and Panic at Lakewood Manor (and Laverne & Lakewood Manor, for all I know), Ants! was a TV movie that I remember seeing...maybe not when it first aired, but definitely on TV when I was a youngin', and it left quite an impression on me. Years later, when I toiled at Movies Unlimited (R.I.P.), I was ecstatic to see we had it on VHS. I put it on the store's closed circuit TV system more than once.

The plot is pretty basic: a real estate mogul named Tony Fleming (Gerald Gordon) is developing a large chunk of land next door to a placid resort hotel, and all the activity stirs up the local ant population. We can see that these are no ordinary ants, though--they swarm over a construction worker, and when another dives into a pit to help him, they are killed when a steam shovel accidentally covers them in tons of dirt.

We are then introduced to the cast of characters--along with the mogul is his cute assistant Gloria (Suzanne Somers, pictured on the VHS box), head of construction Mike Carr (Robert Foxworth, looking a lot like Jeff Lynne), his right hand man Vince (Bernie Casey), his girlfriend Valerie (Lynda Day George), and Valerie's wealthy mother Ethel (played by one of my favorites, the legendary Myrna Loy--who, frankly, should have known better):
After a quick trip through the manor where we get to meet everyone (including some other characters like a young boy and his mother, and some teens), the ants start making their way into the place. At first of course it seems harmless enough, if kinda icky, like when they pop up through the drain of Lakewood's kitchen:
Mike and Vince find the wounded construction workers, and take them to the hospital where one of them dies. The doctor is at a loss to explain what's wrong with the men, exactly, and tells Carr to investigate the site for clues (I guess there are no police in wherever this is, so investigating mysterious deaths are outsourced to local construction crews).

The young boy gets some ants on him playing around, which sends him into a panic. He runs into the swimming pool, even though he can't swim. Mike fishes him out, and the boy is carted off to the hospital.

The real estate mogul wants to buy Lakewood from Ethel, who owns it, but she's reluctant to sell. Fleming lays it on thick, and both Ethel and Valerie seem to fall for it. But we've already seen Fleming is a total jerk (he makes sleazy plays Gloria, abuses some of Lakewood's help), so of course we're all rooting for him to be covered in ants before long.

Mike and Vince dig around, and Vince is bit by some ants, which temporarily paralyze him! After that, word starts to get out about the strange goings-on--the cook is found dead, meaning the lunch buffet is going to be a little late. Mike tries to convince a local government agent that its ants--"Little damn ants, buddy!"
Unfortunately for Mike, when they go and check out the kitchen, the ants have antscrayed, and are nowhere to be found. The government official thinks a local water pipe has been ruptured, leading to the soil being poisoned. Mike doesn't buy it, so he goes looking for evidence.

A local scientist, investigating the soil, doesn't necessarily think that the ants being the culprits is such a ridiculous idea either, and we get to see some footage of real-life killer ants attacking other bugs. Kinda grisly, really.

Despite all this hubbub, Tony and Gloria spend the night together. Tony gets up and Gloria goes back to sleep, not knowing the ants are in her room!
At this point all hell breaks loose--Lakewood is surrounded by ants. The government stooge refuses to believe it (even though you can just look out the window see them), and runs outside, only to be killed by the ants within moments. Ah, where's the private sector when you need it?

They consult the scientist on what to do, and while they wait for him to arrive, Mike, Tony, and some of the others move everyone upstairs, including the wheelchair-bound Ethel. I love the giant bug prop in the scientist's office:
"Yes, I'm single. Why?"

Finally some cops arrive, led by the chief, played by Brian Dennehy! Using a fire truck, they extend a ladder over the ants, carrying a few of the people out and to safety.

The scientist arrives and explains that the ants have been soaking up all the poisons we damn humans have been putting into the ground for decades, and have now become, truly, killer ants. The poor actor playing the scientist (Bruce French) has to lay a lot of pipe about the ants, in between cutaway shots of Myrna Loy being carried up yet another floor of the hotel.

A rescue chopper comes by to rescue Ethel, but the wind kicked up by the blades send the ants into the air, all over the slack-jawed crowd!
Luckily(?), the threat of mass ant attack is erased when the crowd is hosed down. Sadly, this is endemic of most of the scenes of Ants!: just when something really exciting or even a little gruesome might be happen, the film puts a stop to it and cuts back to more people yakking.

A trench is dug, filled with gas and set on fire, keeping the ants from going any further. But of course they're still swarming Lakewood Manor, which means Mike, Valerie, and Tony are in real trouble.

The scientist tells them that if they stay perfectly still, then even if the ants crawl on them they might not get bit. Left with no other options, Mike grabs hunks of wallpaper to use as breathing tubes so they can try it:
However, Tony is not frosty in the clutch, and starts freaking out when the ants swarm all over him (understandable). He jumps up and runs around the room, comically flailing his arms while Mike and Valerie sit still, covered in ants. It sort of undercuts the drama.

Anyway, Tony runs onto the balcony, and tries to jump into the swimming pool below. Sadly Tony, in his ant-addled state, isn't going to make the Swimming Pool Jumping Semi-Finals:

Mike and Valerie are rescued by the local authorities, who come in wearing special suits and committing mass anticide:

The ants are all killed (?), Ethel's moving to Florida, Tony is dead, all is well! The End.

The end credits feature stills from the movie (a feature long since erased on TV, now that all credits run as plankton-sized type at high-speed, underneath the next show's opening credits), and this one was my favorite:
Gaaah, the ants! THE ANTS!!!

Of course, Ants! is pretty weak as a horror/thriller: since it was made for TV, there just couldn't be too much Good Stuff. The closest we get to anything remotely icky is the sight of (partly) nude Suzanne Somers being covered in ants (a scene of course highlighted on the VHS box), and even that scene is over way too quickly. In between its all talk talk talk, and the sad sight (to me) of the great Myrna Loy--Nora Charles herself!--wasting her time in piffle like this.

Ants! is one of those movies that exists better as a hazy childhood memory. As a kid, you tend to remember the movies and TV you saw as being really, really cool or scary or funny or whatever; then you see as an adult and you're like "Really? That's it?"

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