Bug Me

by John J. Miller on February 1, 2010 · 20 comments

in Blog Posts

  • Sumo

There are too many movies about boring vampires and not nearly enough about gigantic bugs. On this, there can be no reasonable disagreement.

On Saturday, I watched Them!, the 1954 classic about mutant ants. To a modern watcher, the special effects are primitive. Yet they did their job: On Sunday morning, driving home from hockey practice, I received a short lecture from my eight-year-old on how he will protect our family in the event of a mutant-ant attack. His plan involves steak knives and targeting the antennae. He had spent some time thinking about this.

The film is full of stock characters and scenes–the handsome federal agent, the attractive female scientist, their argument about entering the ant lair. (“I’m coming with you!” “No, you’re not!” “Yes, I am!” “Oh, alright!”) Yet it reminded me a little of the old line about the guy who sees Hamlet for the first time and says he liked it except for all of the clichés. I’d wager that in 1954, Them! was inventing clichés as much as adopting them.

Them! is available for instant watching on Netflix.


  • Drew

    It has to be said.

    “And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords…”

  • You’re neglecting the plant invasion classics, such as “Day of the Triffids.”

    Killer plants get short shrift.

  • One of my favorites. Flamethrowers and Thompson SMGs against giant ants, plus a very young Leonard Nimoy.

    I love the first ten minutes. It’s like a Law and Order episode (the wife and I make “da-dun” noises between scenes). I’m sure you noticed, but James Cameron lifted the shocked little girl entire for Aliens.

  • Stuart Koehl

    I don’t suppose you recognized James Arness as the crazy guy in the psych ward whose window overlooked the Los Angeles River?

  • Bob

    I cannot visit Los Angeles, even today, without giving the large drainage canals a close look. Keep watching the drains.

  • mojo

    Arness was the FBI guy. Oscar Blanke was the alkie.

  • Larry Farr

    He’s thinking Fess Parker – the pilot who saw the flying giant ants. This really is a fabulous movie. The effects are indeed “special” almost hilarious -so is the idea that we’d let them destroy us in six months, but that’s neither here nor there. It was a well-done thriller. I second the shout-out to Day of the Triffids too. When we lived in Wyoming we had to pull out some sort of plant (can’t think of what it actually is) but it had an unbelievable root system that you almost had to burn out – we of course called them Triffids.

    Thanks for the memory of the movie.

  • Doug

    I can’t hear an old car with a loose power steering belt without thinking of this movie (same sound the ants made).

  • Jules Aimé

    Not to mention that Van Morrison’s first band were named for this movie.

    On the downside, if you actually scaled ants up until they were the size they are in this movie they’d collapse under the weight of their own bodies and therefore not be a threat to anybody but themselves.

  • Anon

    Well, if you’re worried about an attack of giant ants, an old classic by Cinemaware, “It Came From the Desert,” seems like a good ‘interactive training program’ for how to deal with the problem.

  • jesme

    One of the few ’50s sci-fi flicks that holds up wonderfully well, because of crisp, intelligent writing and a superb cast, including Edmund Gwenn as the dotty old scientist. I watched it myself last year and was delighted at how good it still is.

    It’s right up there with another of my favorites, the original The Thing. Purists rightly object that this movie has little to do with its source material, the short story “Who Goes There?” But it’s just a marvelous flick in its own right, with the lively pacing of a screwball comedy (it was produced, and probably actually directed, by the great Howard Hawks). But I also love the way the residents of the isolated Arctic base handle the alien threat with and a stalwart all-American sense of tough competence. There’s not a trace of post-modern angst on display here. Just wit and grit. Loads of fun.

  • Norm Nav

    I saw Them with my sister and two of our friends while our parents when to see Gone With the Wind. We sat through at least two showings. I had nightmares about the ants that night.

  • Scott in NY

    A shout out for Them! Still one of my “watch it whenever it’s on” films.

    And a shout out for the original The Thing. Another “watch it whenever it’s on” film. And it’s a plant-based menace, I will note.

    But what I need to know is, am I the only person who thinks the original version of The Thing is better than the John Carpenter remake?

  • Scott

    Them! is a great 50s SciFi flick but The Thing is THE 50s SciFi movie. And I agree with the Scott from NY that it’s better than the re-make. Though I will admit that they are 2 very different kinds of movies and both entertaining in their own way.

    But Them! is definitely the Godfather of giant bug movies.

  • Jim

    I watch “Them!” about yearly, because it’s internally concsist and the writing and acting were good. The effects were pretty good, if you keep in mind that Boris Karloff’s primitive makeup had lots of kids in fear of the Baron’s creation. You could probably stop the ants on a limited basis by “The Giant Mantis.” That movie gave me nightmares when I was young.

    I notice no one chimed in yet about The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, the original dinosaur vs city movie, based on the excellent Bradbury short story.

  • dfranklin

    Yes, I loved both Them and the The Thing. If I remember correctly, it was, again, James Arness who played the very ill- tempered vegetable in The Thing; another unheralded but seminal role in the history of the US cinema – it wasn’t easy being green. And, I agree that the remake of the Thing, with the reliable Kurt Russel, while scary, was infected with the hopeless nihilism of its time, rather than the manly can-do ethos of 1940’s and 50’s America.

    Let’s hope that, in a few years, post-the-One, we may return to that ethos again and make some more unapologetic “kick the monster’s ass with an axe and a Jerry can of gasoline” movies. Until then, keep watching Them, The Thing, and, don’t forget, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Sleep well.

  • eCurmudgeon

    “Phase IV”, anybody?

  • Mark T

    Actually Olin Howland was Jensen, the alkie at the window who saw the ants in the river (and sang, “Make me a sergeant and gimme the booze”); Oscar Blanke was the guy in the next bed who moaned, “Please! My nerves!”

    This is one of my favorite movies, too–some of the lines are great–“Spit’s all that’s holding me together” is just one.

    In (mild) defense of The Day of the Triffids, be sure to watch the DVD–while it is public domain and not great quality, it is complete and makes more sense than the version that was shown on TV in years past.

    From what I’ve read, it was a deeply troubled production–Howard Keel apparently claimed that he had to write almost all his dialogue because the script was so bad, and the picture was too short so the scenes of Kieron Moore and his wife in the lighthouse were shot later and folded in.

    The BBC miniseries from 1981 was generally faithful to the original novel and was pretty good–I don’t know anything about the 2009 version.

  • Them did what Steven Spielberg became famous for twenty years later – built suspense. You don’t even see the ants until halfway through the movie. You just have crazy girl yelling “them”.

  • Bob

    Memo to James Whitmore: when fighting giant bugs, do not wear a little bowtie. It annoys them. So they kill you.

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