Comfortable and Furious

Phase IV (1974)

Directed by: Saul Bass
Written by: Mayo Simon
With: Michael Murphy as James R. Lesko
Nigel Davenport as Dr. Ernest D. Hubbs
Lynne Frederick as Kendra Eldridge (token girl)

When I was young and foolish I would allow myself to be dragged off to picnics in semi-rural areas far from the comfort of home to be subjected to the salubrious outdoors in the name of fresh air and sunshine (I burn easily). For some reason fried chicken was usually the featured entrée, just what one wants when dealing with the insect population; a sheen of grease on the face and hands.  There was also the possibility of an encounter with a tuna fish or deviled egg sandwich, just the ticket to food poisoning in sunny, hot So Cal. 

 Nor could any solace be found in liquid refreshment.  No Tom Collins or gin and tonic. Just soft drinks and domestic beer, yuk. If an arial assault by flies were repelled with cans of flit (bug spray), there remained the infantry in the form of ants.  Nasty shock troops with no fear of death. “Holy Jesus, these bastards are on everything!”

“Thank-you for ruining another nice time,” said the senior female in charge. Which brings us to ants, the antagonist/protagonist of Phase IV.

Phase I

An unnamed cosmic event has a curious and unpleasant effect on our tiny ant friends here on Mother Earth.  Different ant species no longer make war on one another and are working in cooperation.  What’s more, they are attacking livestock, driving out desert track housing developments, making crop circles and building twenty foot tall symmetrical  towers.

This gets the attention of a government snooze-patrol that sends ant specialist Dr. Ernest D. Hubbs, a scientist in the mold of Dr. Edward O. Wilson, along with his tech assistant to man a geodesic dome like sealed lab, placed smack dab in ant land, Az. Ants ignore them.

Phase II

Dr. Hubbs has the bright idea of rattling their cage.  Using a grenade launcher, every biology lab is so equipped, he destroys the ant towers.  This is unwise in so many ways, although it has the desired effect.  “Oh yeah, two can play at that game!”

The ants open frontal assault and Dr Hubbs gleefully opens the valves and rains a torrent of ant spray down on them, also killing a local farmer and his wife. Collateral damage. Their comely granddaughter is saved to join the men in their domed deathtrap.

The ants adapt and overcome the deadly spray.  You know they would.  They up the ante. They build reflective services to focus the sun’s rays on the dome and send a special forces unit in and short out the AC compressor.  It gets hot.  Still, Lesko is able to use their 8-bit minicomputer to decipher the ant lingo and is able to communicate with them.  A lot of grumbling and hot language on the ant farm.

Phase III

Dr Hubbs left forearm has suffered multiple bites and has swelled up to the size of Popeye’s or Steve Garvey’s.  He decides enough is enough and takes a large can of flit outside with the intention of killing the ant queen (what else was there to do?).  The ants are onto that play and trap him in a pit where they invite him to dinner, as the main course.

In due time Lesko and the cutie-pie are captured by the ants, and they have the impression the ants have big plans for them along with the rest of humanity.  Some horseshit about a next stage in evolution.  (Note to Tarantino fans:  evolution does not mean progress, certainly not in stages, it means the species that adapts survives.)

Phase IV

Awaiting instructions from the ants. (Resistance is futile)

I am one of the few people who actually saw this movie in a theater in 1974.  I was impressed with the photography of the ants in their subterrain tunnels.  It is almost like they are taking direction.  The human actors do the best they can with a lackluster script, inspired by the H.G. Wells story The Empire of the Ants.

Director Saul Bass was a graphs designer responsible for the title sequences of Psycho, North by Northwest, Vertigo as well as many other films.  His name as director is the reason I made an effort to see it.  He was not able to rise above the material.  A pity.



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One response to “Phase IV (1974)”

  1. Goat Avatar

    Readers, also check out the magnificent short story by Carl Stephenson, Leiningen vs. the Ants. You can find it free to read on the internet. Also, the 1954 Thriller Horror movie “Them” is the granddaddy of all the giant killer ant movies.

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