This Warner Brothers film is one of the first “nuclear monster” films and is the prototype for the creature feature flicks that follow. The best way to sum up the film is by describing it as “the giant ant movie” as Youtuber Steve Shives puts it. While the film is fun an campy in its premise the tone in which it is presented is anything but campy. The story revolves around themes of human arrogance, the unforeseen consequences of unknown sciences, and atomic paranoia (very 1950’s.) Dr. Harold Medford sums up the film’s themes quite nicely when he says,”[That] 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.”
Sixty-four years later and those themes remain relevant in our discussions about science and technology. Unforeseen consequences come up when debating the ethicality of genetically modified organisms in our food and human gene editing. In modern times scientists are now working on creating cannibal mosquitoes with the intention of bringing an end to malaria (no way that can turn horribly wrong.)
Dr. Harold Medford:
We may be witnesses to a Biblical prophecy come true – ‘And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon creation, and the beasts shall reign over the earth.’
In the desert of New Mexico, a young girl  is found by two state troopers as she wanders aimlessly in shock. When the troopers investigate they find that the trailer that she and her family had been living in had been destroyed. They also find out that the trailer belonged to an FBI Agent named Ellinson. The only clue left at the crime scene is a mysterious print. Later, they discover that local store owner Gramps Johnson was brutally murdered with the walls of the store partially torn out similarly to the young girl’s family’s trailer.
The print is sent to the FBI for identification and after analyzing the print Dr. Medford  and his daughter Dr. Pat Medford myrmecologists from the Department of Agriculture are sent New Mexico to assist in the investigation. Their first stop is to visit the young Ellinson girl still stuck in a catatonic state. Dr. Medford has her smell a strange substance to free her from this trance. She becomes instantly terrified, backing into a corner and screaming the word one word. “THEM!!!”
The Ellinson Girl:
AHHH! THEM! THEM! THEM!
We quickly learn that the print belongs to a species of giant ants! After the first atomic bomb test in New Mexico back in 1945, these common pests grew into monstrously gigantic creatures “ranging in size from nine to twelve feet in length!” To make matters worse these creatures have built a nest and are continuing to reproduce. Our heroes must act fast before these creatures begin to spread an populate the earth. Can they destroy the nest before any other ants can escape and destroy the world as we know it?
THEM ANTS THOUGH!!!
The special effects for the ants don’t hold up under scrutiny. It is quite clear to the audience that these ‘creatures’ are giant puppets espically once you catch a glimps of their strings. According to IMDB Director Gordon Douglas asked editor Thomas Reilly during post-production “How does it look?….Does it look honest?” “As honest as twelve-foot ants can look,” replied Reilly.
While the giant ants appear completely artificial it doesn’t subtract from the viewing experience. In fact, the goofy and unconvincing ants actual made the film more enjoyable because the film doesn’t take itself too seriously. The laughability of the ant puppets is muted by the performance of the cast. The straight delivery and urgent tone in which each actor delivers their lines allow the audience to feel the suspense and dread.
No matter how you feel about this film it will certainly be a memorable viewing experience. This classic creature feature will definitely give you something to talk about.So I encourage you to find these lethal monsters, their nests and where they have hatched.