Phase IV (1974)

PhaseIVPosterAnts are our most fearsome and deadly bug and understandably so. With their eight big hairy legs, eight nasty eyes and sometimes being the size of a dinner plate, I wouldn’t want to wake up finding myself staring at their gigantic fangs which are just itching to inject some kill juice into me! Throw in the business where they spin webs, and wrap their prey into cocoons so they can suck the blood clean out of them and you have yourself the Terminator of creepy crawlies!

Wait, those are spiders, not ants. Ants are those little black or red things that are always trying to climb in the potato salad at your picnic. They don’t spin webs, have hairy legs or tons of beady eyes either. But, if you supersized them, there would be all kinds of trouble! Trouble that I wouldn’t want any part of!

They’d be running around stampeding cars and buildings while crunching hapless people in their massive and powerful mandibles before retiring to their secret lair in the Los Angeles sewers! And this isn’t even something that’s theoretical! It’s happened! We saw it dramatized in Them! And then we saw them take on one of our most legendary nighttime soap stars in Empire Of The Ants! Big ants equals big danger!

Wait, the ants in Phase IV are regular, dinky sized ants? And they’re just milling around in the remote desert terrorizing two stupid scientists and an even stupider local girl? So why don’t they just bust out the desert-sized can of raid that their research station surely came equipped with? Because, these ants are freaking geniuses!

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Due to a cosmic event vaguely referenced in the opening portions of the film, the ants got really smart! Great. So we’ve exchanged scenes of hero scientists jumping on the backs of ants and stabbing them in the head to save their comely assistants for scenes of wimp scientists trying to figure out what message the ants are trying to send them with their strange geometric drawings. God, I think I’ll just open my mouth and let all these smarty ants crawl in and put me out of my misery.

Phase IV manages to bore on every level. The film’s obsession with detailing these ants and their weird activities means we sit through endless minutes of watching these little freaks crawling around in tunnels, eating spiders and mice, and worst of all, extreme close ups of their queen laying eggs. At least I hope that’s what she was doing.

There was a pretty nifty scene where after the humans attack their anthills with high pitched sound, the ants lay out their dead in rows, just like we do during mass casualty events. Still, if I wanted to see something like that, I would have just gone out and bought a dang ant farm. I’m here to see the local sheriff kick one of these mothers right in the thorax!

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And if it’s slam-bang action you want, well, you should wait until this movie is over! As is befitting the worst of 1970s sci-fi, Phase IV is one of those thought-provoking pieces. I’ll even agree with all the Phase IV supporters out there. It is thought-provoking. Like, it provoked me into thinking that somehow, Phase IV made the take over of our planet by super-intelligent ants as captivating as watching the regular ants that live in my back yard trying not to get eaten by sparrows.

In addition to all these silly scenes of ants scurrying here and there, even worse were the silly scenes of the scientists scurrying here and there in the research station.

One of them is the kind of scientist who refuses to call for help once a local woman takes refuge at the station because figuring out what the ants are up to is so important. The other scientist is more human and actually cares about other people, but somewhere along the way he seems to forget that he needs to escape the research station and spends his time trying to decode the ants’ message.

Yes, this is one of those movies that requires its supposedly smart characters to behave like boobs to keep the story moving along. Throughout the movie, the ants take increasingly aggressive action against the research station and the scientists’ reactions involve all sorts of stuff that have nothing to do with just leaving.

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Yes, the ants ate their communication device or whatever and they blew up their truck, but once that happens you may as well try to escape! Really, what’s the point of staying? Things are only going to get more dire the longer you stay. The station has plenty of supplies. Pack as much as you can carry or drag and haul ass back to civilization!

In addition to the sheer boredom of watching guys sitting in a geodesic dome farting around with tiny ants, Phase IV also was as enjoyable as a roach in your ear from a story standpoint. The effect of the cosmic event on the ants seemed to be whatever the plot demanded. It made all the different types of ants get along. It allowed them to give complex orders to one another. It allowed them to build structures precisely designed and positioned to attack humans. It gave them intimate knowledge of computers and electrical gear so that they could recognize and destroy important elements of each. It enabled them to adapt to poison over night. It made their bite super-powered. And it even gave them some mind-expanding agenda for the future of planet Earth!

So what is it that these ants are up to exactly? If you’re wondering that, you’re obviously new to thought-provoking 70s sci-fi movies. The ants are up to a psychedelic montage at the end of the movie that expects the viewer to do all the work on puzzling out what everything was all about. Forget it. I signed up for an ant invasion, not a philosophy class. Deadly dull in execution and nauseatingly nonsensical in concept. Just bring on the anteaters already.

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