Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Them! (1954)

This movie was supposedly the first to ignite the giant bug subgenre, the first of the nuclear monster movies, the age of atomic monsters . Being released in the same year as the epic Japanese 'Godzilla' you could say this was the western/American equivalent of that iconic movie. Now, of course, the big question is which movie inspired the other? or did that even happen? The plots are virtually the same accept for the main creature/s dishing out the destruction, coincidence? Maybe it was just the simple coincidence of people both east and west suffering from the fear of nuclear technology, America with the Cold War era and Japan with WWII.

The plot is pretty predictable to anyone with basic movie knowledge. In the New Mexico desert people have been found dead (or just not found at all) and their property destroyed, the only clues being some mysterious tracks in the sand. In time various specialists are brought in to try and figure out what's going on, eventually it is revealed that giant ants are nesting in the area as a result of the recent atomic bomb tests. The clock is ticking as the plucky team of specialists (and a beat cop) try to destroy the nest before more ants hatch and any Queens escape, unfortunately they are unable to prevent this which leads us to a climatic battle against the ants as they infest LA.

Right! effects, how good are they? well, considering this was the first giant bug movie and it was 1954, they aren't too bad, but not great methinks. Big mechanical puppets were created of the ants that moved ever so slightly, on one hand this worked because it gave a good degree of scope and perspective to the horror facing the humans. On the other hand it obviously looked kinda hokey because the big fuzzy ants didn't look too scary and didn't move too well. Compare these ants to the giant Mantis in that giant Mantis movie, and honesty the ants are nowhere near as creepy if you ask me. One big issue was the eyes, again (like 'The Black Scorpion') for some reason they give the ants big humanoid-ish eyes which gave the bugs emotion (sort of), something you don't really wanna see. The reason why the giant Mantis worked so well was because it was a very faithful recreation of a real Mantis, these ants are along those lines but the eyes spoilt it, plus the large antennas and body hair looked silly (something that couldn't be helped I guess).

As per usual there are all the predictable stereotypes galore here, but we must remember that this was the first time using them...kinda. So, what do I mean by that anyway, well the lead is a handsome bloke, his sidekick is an attractive female, there are of course a few other males leads, military types and such, and lastly we have the good old crusty scientist gent. The type of character that looks and sounds like he's just stepped off a Hammer Horror set. All of which put in solid performances, nothing outstanding, but solid, although you can tell Edmund Gwenn, as the crusty old scientist, had troubles with his lines, you can see he's possibly reading them off a cue card, or just really straining to remember them, bless. One surprise was the small role played a child actress at the start. She barely does much other than scream and act stunned...but she does it bloody well!

One thing I did find quite amusing was the character of Sgt. Peterson, the cop who first discovers the mutilated devastation left by the ants in the desert. Now this guy is just a cop right, OK he's a Sarge, but simply a State trooper. So can someone explain to me why and how he manages to accompany everybody from the military to the FBI, on all missions and confidential discussions? I mean yeah sure he witnessed an attack and found the original carnage but why the hell is he still involved by the end of the movie. At one point he's descending down into the ant nest, then he's firing a flippin' bazooka at it! he's just a cop! why would he be doing any of this??!! Its also amazing how despite what is unraveling, its the same handful of people that deal with everything, surely there would be tonnes of top ranking people, officials, military units etc...all involved trying to save LA, not just this trio of a cop, a woman and an FBI agent.

Speaking of the ants nest, do I detect an element that was highly inspirational for the James Cameron sci-fi thriller 'Aliens'? Its all very familiar its got to be said, the dark tunnels, the decaying ant bodies strewn around, the characters only lit up by torch light, flamethrowers, and then of course the discovery of the egg chamber, some hatched etc...The same could be said for the LA sewer tunnel sequences at the end too. Could be a long shot but it definitely seems possible that this movie might have influenced future sci-fi horrors. Said LA sewer sequence is also a bit anti-climatic in my opinion, it doesn't really have the eerie atmosphere of being out in the sticks somewhere, plus the ants don't really blend into those surroundings too well, they look too obvious as big puppets.

It also really amuses me how bullets, bombs and sometimes even rockets don't affect these creatures. OK they are huge bugs and we know many bugs have armour protection, but would they really be impervious to bullets?? Would a giant tarantula be unstoppable against bullets? would a giant ant be unstoppable? surely a bullet from a gun (especially a machine gun) would have a great deal of affect and cause death after time. Plus wouldn't the creatures eyes be an ideal target, you never see the characters shoot the bugs eyes no matter how big and obvious they are. Again surely that would down the bug instantly.

Anyway the movie is a great example of the subgenre and probably one of the best on offer. I still think 'Tarantula' is probably the epitome of the giant bug horror flicks with terrific effects and a genuinely scary giant arachnid. This movie is probably the acorn that major blockbusters grew out of over time though, the way the movie plays out, the scenarios, the way its shot, the action etc...definitely a one-off back in the 50's. Its just a shame the films title is so damn stupid and cheesy, although I liked the use of colour for the opening title sequence in bold red and blue, it almost looks 3D.

'When man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What we'll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.'