Listen I have nothing against ants – rubber tree plants, veracity, etc – but put enough of them together and I get nervous. Radiate them? You get the big ass ones in Them! (1954). Delve into cosmic circumstance and you have the smarty pants overlords of Phase IV (1974). Throw a bunch on the television, make them poisonous and you end up with The Love Boat meets The Towering Inferno goofiness of Robert Scheerer’s It Happened at Lakewood Manor (1977), a pretty silly and damn entertaining TV flick.
AKA Ants! upon rebroadcasting and future home video release, It Happ – screw it; let’s just call it Ants! okay? It’s a more fun and less pretentious title (which this thing is anything but), and to the point. Okay, Ants! originally aired December 2nd as part of The ABC Friday Night Movie, and it’s competition was The Incredible Hulk on CBS, while NBC trotted out their big guns The Rockford Files and Quincy, M.E. (If you were under 30 you were probably going green, over 30 you were taking your vitamins with the private dick and the doctor.) But if you needed a silly Nature Gone Wild flick, ABC had you covered. (They did most weeks, actually.)
Let’s kick some hills, open our faux TV GUIDE and see what crawls out:
IT HAPP – DAMMIT, ANTS! (Friday, 9pm, ABC)
New construction at the prestigious Lakewood Manor unleashes an army of ferocious and deadly insects upon the guests and staff. Robert Foxworth, Lynda Day George star.
Welcome to Lakewood Manor, where guests sun by the pool and the staff is littered with veterans of the big and small screen: Ethel (Myrna Loy - The Thin Man) owns the joint, her daughter Valerie (Lynda Day George – Pieces) runs it, and Valerie’s boyfriend Mike (Damien: Omen II) is in charge of the construction going on at the resort. When two workers from Mike’s team are found dead in an off limits ditch, it’s discovered that an ancient pipeline connected to the hotel is housing a nest of pesticide poisoned ants.
By the time the local health authority workers played by Steve Franken (The Party) and Anita Gillette (Moonstruck) concur that it’s the critters and not a virus, the resort is overrun with ants, trapping several employees and guests inside, including real estate developer Tony Fleming (Gerald Gordon – Hell Up in Harlem) and his assistant Gloria (Suzanne Somers – Three’s Company), pool guy Richard (Barry Van Dyke – Diagnosis Murder), his brand new gal Linda (Karen Lamm – The Unseen), and of course the crippled Ethel, Valerie, and Mike. Will the fire brigade, led by Brian Dennehy (all the movies, ever) and the most gratuitous use of a megaphone ever committed to film be able to rescue the poor souls trapped in Lakewood Manor? Stay tuned!
I usually never advise a viewer to “turn off their brains” to watch and enjoy a movie; I find it condescending to the people who toil hard to make any art, no matter how frivolous it may seem. But Ants! could be the closest I’ve come to uttering the phrase, as the script by Guerdon Trueblood (Terror Out of the Sky) goes out of its way to offer up hilarious exposition by Lab Guy Tom (Bruce French – Christine) harking back to the glory days of ‘50s zipper suits and dames in distress, and at every juncture the characters make bone headed decisions that practically has you begging the Ants! to kill them all. Having said that, Trueblood wrote a lot of the ‘70s TV Bug Craze; besides Terror, he also penned The Savage Bees and Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo – perhaps he grew up with this type of film, knew them inside and out, and was paying loving tribute? I think I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt here.
In this context then, Ants! plays a hell of a lot better; fun horror can often thrive on stupid choices, even wallow in it; not only that, but it allows a lot of solid talent (and I haven’t even mentioned Bernie Casey as Mike’s foreman!) a chance to flaunt their best poker faces, with the exception of Lynda Day George, who is always as the kids would say, “extra”. (I love you, Lynda. Truly.)
So what we have then is a slow to start, quick to finish programmer filled with fire, flailing, Chrissy Snow in various stages of undress, helicopter mishaps, fire rescue ladder mishaps, real estate assholes, hitchhikin’ hotties, Son of Van Dyke, and ants, ants, Ants! If you need a quick bug fix, grab a room at Lakewood Manor. Just make sure you ask for clean sheets.Next: Class of 88: It Came From The Tube: I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1988)