Friday, November 14, 2008

Ants (1977) (TV)

...aka: It Happened at Lakewood Manor
...aka: Panic at Lakewood Manor
...aka: Terror at Lakewood

Directed by:
Robert Scheerer

Nature runs amuck flicks were all the rage in the late 70s and we have JAWS (1975) to thank for that. Even though Spielberg's film was hardly the first of its type, it was such a huge hit that it single-handedly prompted hundreds (yes, hundreds) of similar killer animal films within the first five years of its release. By the end of that decade there were movies about killer cockroaches (1975's BUG), dogs (1976's THE PACK, 1977's SLAUGHTER), worms (1976's SQUIRM), bears (1976's GRIZZLY; 1977's CLAWS), spiders (1977's KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS and TARANTULAS: THE DEADLY CARGO), whales (1977's ORCA), piranha (1978's PIRANHA), octopus (1977's TENTACLES), crocs (1979's CROCODILE) and many other animal species. Some didn't even bother using a different animal and just replayed sharks again, such as MAKO: THE JAWS OF DEATH (1976), SHARK KILL (1976), TINTORERA (1977), BERMUDA: CAVE OF THE SHARK (1978) and - by my count - at least a dozen (!) more. Some went that extra mile by including multiple species of killer animal all in the same film, such as LONG WEEKEND (1976), THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976), DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977) and THE BEASTS ARE ON THE STREETS (1978). Fitting right in with the killer animal flicks were the killer bug flicks. The ever-popular killer bee prompted numerous films such as 1976's THE SAVAGE BEES and no less that three 1978 releases: the big budget, all-star-cast, critically ridiculed THE SWARM, the Mexican production THE BEES and the made-for-TV movie TERROR OUT OF THE SKY (a sequel [!] to The Savage Bees).

In case you haven't already guessed it, this TV movie involves (drum roll please...) killer ants. A first? Actually, no. Hell, it wasn't even the only killer ant movie of its year. EMPIRE OF THE ANTS, a cheese-fest about giant, super-intelligent ants starring Joan Collins, also debuted in 1977 (though it played in theaters, unlike this one). Ants! doesn't feature giant ants, just normal-sized ones... and yet it can't even claim to be the first to do that either. The vastly superior PHASE IV (1974) featured them as well, only three years earlier. And, of course, the killer ant movie to end all killer ant movies was THEM!, a still highly enjoyable gem from way back in 1954.

Things center around the large Lakewood Manor hotel and a construction site right across the street, where workers are preparing to build another hotel / resort. Two men, one in the process of getting attacked by something(s) tiny and black (wink), are accidentally buried when a bulldozer pushes a mound of dirt on top of them. When discovered, they're rushed off to the hospital, where the doctor informs crew boss Mike Carr (Robert Foxworth - 1979's mutant killer bear film PROPHECY) and his co-worker Vince (Bernie Casey) that both men have high levels of toxins in their systems. One of the men dies. Next up, a little boy digging through a dumpster for bottles to help his divorcee mother, gets coated in ants, panics and jumps in the pool. He manages to survive, but the hotel cook isn't so lucky when ants emerge from the kitchen drain and kill him. Mike puts two and two together and decides to warn the staff what's going on. Everyone thinks his theory about killer ants is ridiculous, Mike gets pissed off and decides to take his frustrations out on the ant mound by destroying the colony with a bulldozer, sending millions of pissed off ants toward the hotel, which "trap" the remaining inhabitants inside. One ant bite is relatively harmless, but dozens of nibbles disorient, paralyze and kill.

There's a Love Boat style cast of familiar faces to ensure this got plenty of TV play back in the day. Lynda Day George has the female lead as Mike's girlfriend Valerie, who helps run the hotel for her elderly, wheelchair-bound mother Ethel (guest star Myrna Loy). Valerie is trying to coerce mom into retiring and selling out to a scumbag developer (Gerald Gordon) so that she and her boyfriend can move to San Francisco together. They, along with a young handyman (Barry Van Dyke) in the midst of a new romance with a runaway (Karen Lamm), become stuck in the hotel and have to head up to the third floor as they await help. A crew of police, firemen (headed by Brian Dennehy) and the Coast Guard show up for one of the most problematic rescue attempts ever organized. They almost drop a panicking girl from a ladder, make a fire ditch surrounding the hotel to keep the ants inside and, in the most hilarious bit, accidentally coat a mob of nosy onlookers with ants while trying to land a helicopter. Casey comes to the rescue by spraying down the screaming, ant-covered crowd with a fire hose! The final scene, with the three remaining people sitting in a room breathing through tubes of rolled-up wallpaper while ants crawl over their bodies is odd to put it mildly.

Hokey as this all is, it does provide a little fun. No concrete explanation is ever given for the attacking buggers, aside from asides from a scientist and bug expert about how we pollute our environment and it shouldn't surprise us that another species use poison against us. The ant swarm is accomplished via lots of close-ups, black specks painted all over the walls and a few poorly dated visual effects.

Publicity for this film usually centered around ants crawling on co-star Suzanne Somers' (playing the developers business partner) bare back and cleavage. If just the thought of Somers getting ambushed by ants while lying in bed basking in post coital glory after giving in the advances of her slimy and much older co-worker makes you chuckle then you're probably the target audience for this one.

It was distributed in America by Live and U.S.A. Home Video on VHS. Fremantle Media handled the DVD release in 2006.


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