Empire of the Ants (1977) poster

Empire of the Ants (1977)


USA. 1977.


Director/Story/Producer/Visual Effects – Bert I. Gordon, Screenplay – Jack Turley, Based on the Short Story by H.G. Wells, Photography – Reginald Morris, Music – Dana Kaproff, Miniature Design – Erik Von Buelow, Special Effects – Roy Downey, Makeup Effects – Ellis Burman, Production Design – Charles Rosen. Production Company – AIP/Cinema 77.


Robert Lansing (Dan Stokely), Joan Collins (Marilyn Fryser), John David Carson (Joe Morrison), Pamela Shoop (Coreen Bradford), Jacqueline Scott (Margaret Ellis), Robert Pine (Larry Graham), Brooke Palance (Christine Graham), Albert Salmi (Sheriff Art Kincade), Harry Holcombe (Harry Thompson), Irene Tedrow (Velma Thompson), Jack Kosslyn (Thomas Lawson), Ilse Earl (Mary Lawson), Norman Franklin (Anson Parker)


Realtor Marilyn Fryser takes a group of investors on a tour of a property development in the Florida Keys. There the party is attacked by ants that have been grown to giant size by dumped atomic waste. They struggle through the bayous, fending off ant attacks, and arrive at the nearest township, only to find that the locals have been brainwashed by pheromones and made to work as drones to produce sugar for the ants.

In the 1950s, Bert I. Gordon became notorious for his atomic mutant and giant insect films – including The Cyclops (1957), Beginning of the End (1957), The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), Earth vs the Spider (1958), War of the Colossal Beast (1958) and Village of the Giants (1965). Due to his initials and his tendency to make films featuring giant-size creatures, Gordon was nicknamed Mr B.I.G. In the 1960s and 70s, Gordon found other exploitation genres – the psycho-thriller, the occult film, the sex film. However, the success of the Nature’s Revenge cycle that came about as a result of the likes of The Birds (1963) and Jaws (1975) then brought Mr B.I.G., like a criminal returning to the scene of the crime, back to familiar ground.

During the 1970s, Bert I. Gordon took H.G. Wells’s name in vain for both The Food of the Gods (1976) and Empire of the Ants, films whose finished product had no resemblance to the science-fiction grandmaster other than the theft of the titles. The sad truth about Bert I. Gordon – and the reason why Empire of the Ants and in particular The Food of the Gods are recognised as among the worst of the 1970s Nature’s Revenge cycle – is that Gordon had not changed since the 1950s. He was still making 1950s monster movies – Empire of the Ants was the only 1970s monster movie still using the hoary old notion of atomic waste as cause-all, for instance. While the rest of the films in the Nature’s Revenge cycle more than adequately used life-size insects and creatures, Bert I. Gordon was the only filmmaker still using the ultra-cheap effect of photographically enlarging insects, the results of which look exactly like enlarged insects milling about on screen and never conveys the slightest frisson.

Robert Lansing faces giant ants in Empire of the Ants (1977)
Robert Lansing faces giant ants

For Empire of the Ants, Bert I. Gordon has assembled a disaster movie type character line-up, although he is unable to afford any more big name stars other than Robert Lansing, who remains dour and unhappy throughout, and a pre-Dynasty (1980-9) Joan Collins, who delivers a performance that more than adds this film to the considerable pile of her camp classics.

The first half of the plot consists of a trek across the bayous menaced by insects. The initial real-estate scam plot is quickly forgotten (with Gordon in fact never even telling us whether it is a scam or not). The latter half becomes a potentially more interesting plot with the group entering a town where the insects keep the populace working for them as drones controlled by pheromones, although Gordon never has the skill to suggest any Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)-like edgy paranoia here. Empire of the Ants solidly and resolutely rests atop a pile of Z movie forgettability.

Bert I. Gordon’s other films are:– King Dinosaur (1955), The Cyclops (1957), Beginning of the End (1957), The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), Attack of the Puppet People (1958), Earth vs the Spider (1958), War of the Colossal Beast (1958), the fantasy adventure The Boy and the Pirates (1960), the ghost story Tormented (1960), the fantasy The Magic Sword (1962), Village of the Giants (1965), the psycho-thriller Picture Mommy Dead (1966), the occult film Necromancy (1972), The Mad Bomber (1973), The Food of the Gods (1976) and the witchcraft films The Coming/Burned at the Stake (1981) and Malediction/Satan’s Princess (1990), and Secrets of a Psychopath (2015).

Trailer here

Actors: , , , , , , ,
Themes: , , , , ,