THEM! (1954)

One of the first giant monster movies, this film is well written and takes advantage of a decent budget. UK R2 DVD release.

The Film

The 1950s were good years for big monster movies, almost every species at some point becoming excessively large and terrorising a small desert town, but like most movie trends, there was a decent film that started it all off - in this case it was Them.
The mysterious destruction of a caravan and a general store; a little girl, the only survivor, terrified by the smell of formic acid - when the US Government send in a man from their Agricultural Department to look into the case, something must be up. Radiation from the US military atomic bomb tests in the 1940s has mutated a queen ant to giant proportions and she has laid eggs. They quickly track down the nest and destroy the colony inside, but two queen ants have taken to the skies. One of them finds her way to Los Angeles and sets up nest in the storm drain system leading to a final confrontation between the army and giant ants inside the storm drains.

While most of the big monster movies from the period look pretty terrible now, THEM actually holds up pretty well. Firstly, the creatures themselves look very good, far from the usual tactic of putting a regular sized animal on a model set; the massive ants in THEM were really there thanks to some very large scale mechanical model making. This means that the creatures and cast can appear at the same time without any obvious blue-screen work - including the ants grabbing humans; and that when the ants get torched (as several do later on) the scale of the flames does not look out of place as it often will with small scale models. A modern film using CGI would be hard pushed to have similar realism in its monsters.

The script is pretty smart as well, and avoids many of the genre clichés that were to come. We still get the absent minded older scientist with young, attractive scientist daughter, but we don't get any real distracting/padding romantic subplot. The 30 minute build-up to the ant's arrival works well, the police are not the bumbling sort and are seriously trying to work out what could have caused the damage seen. The choice of ants as the enlarged creatures also works well - living primarily underground during the day they are unlikely to have been seen, and the fact that queen ants take flight allows for a plausible shift in the film from small desert town to big city. Ants are also vicious creatures that would attack if prompted, and their large scale makes them deadly to humans. The film does have some very grim sequences, and is certainly not as fun as some of the later entries.
The direction is competent although nothing radical. The use black and white, the result of a sudden budget cut before filming started, is effective in making the film seem darker and fits the B-movie atmosphere well. The music is pretty average fare, not yet reaching the synthesiser scores that would appear in similar movies later on in the decade.
Overall a very good film that has aged pretty well. The best of the big monster movies from the period, and one of the best sci-fi films as well.

Interestingly this film does have a lot of parallels with Godzilla (1954) which was released in the same year, although not in the USA until two years later. Both concern creatures threats caused by nuclear tests, and both end with a very similar moral message. It is very indicative of the concerns of the era that two such similar films would come out, unconnected, in the same year.

In brief:

Anyone famous in it? No-one of note.
Directed by anyone interesting? Gordon Douglas, a relatively workman-like director, with no major films to his name.
Any violence? Several people get killed, and the ants do a lot of damage, nothing violent in modern terms.
Any sex? None
Is it scary? There are some tense scenes, and the ants can be quite menacing.
Who is it for?
Of general interest. Fans of 1950s B-movies, or big animal movies should certainly see this, as an example of how it could be done right.
Good soundtrack? A standard light orchestral B-movie score.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio  - 1.33:1. Black and White (just the title card is in colour).
Note: The film was matted to be shown in 1.66:1 in some cinemas.
The picture quality is amazing, not a scratch or flicker in sight, totally watchable throughout.
Audio Original English Dolby mono - sounds great, no hiss. Also includes German and Spanish dubs.
Subtitles English, English HOH, German, German HOH, Spanish, Finnish, French, Icelandic, Swedish, Czech, Greek, Polish, Turkish, Dutch - subtitles for movie only.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Original trailer, in good condition.
  • Still Gallery - short manually navigatable collection of images from the filming and poster art.
  • Outakes - 3 minute reel of footage from the filming, showing the ants being controlled.
      Packing Snapper case (may now be re-released in Amaray case)
      Region Region 2 - PAL
      Other regions? Identical R2 releases in Europe. American R1 edition also includes liner notes about the film. All versions uncut.
      Cuts? Fully uncut.



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      All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 8th December 2005.
      Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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