Release Date(s)1977 (July 5, 2022)
Studio(s)Alan Landsburg Productions (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B+
1977 was a splendid year for ecological horror with films likes Empire of the Ants, Day of the Animals, and Kingdom of the Spiders. Meanwhile, Alan Landsburg Productions was taking up duties on the small screen with Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo and Ants!, the latter of which was initially released to television as It Happened at Lakewood Manor. Taking the Irwin Allen route of casting a number of familiar faces and putting them into a situation where they’re forced to go up against the horrors of mother nature, Ants! remains a particular favorite of the genre.
While construction is underway outside the old Lakewood Hotel, two workers find an unearthed den of aggressive and deadly ants, dying in the process. Initially, nobody can make heads or tails of what’s happening, especially when other people in and around the hotel are also killed. Mike (Robert Foxworth) becomes convinced that it’s the ants when his co-worker Vince (Bernie Casey) is attacked as well. The hotel’s owner, Mrs. Adams (Myrna Loy), is hoping to sell the property to Mr. Fleming (Gerald Gordon) and his partner Gloria (Suzanne Somers), while her devoted daughter, Valerie (Lynda Day George), is making plans to be with Mike. Everybody’s personalities clash when they find themselves trapped inside the hotel, holding out hope that the authorities will somehow find a way to get them out before the ants get to them first. Also in the cast are Brian Dennehy, Barry Van Dyke, Anita Gillette, Steve Franken, Bruce French, and Stacy Keach Sr.
Ants! has many of the quirks contained within a number of made-for-TV horror films, meaning that it was shot quickly and cheaply. It’s evident by the film’s special effects, especially the shots of the ants swarming the hotel, which are basically still pictures of black smudges (not to mention the multiple piles of black rice standing in for the titular insects). It doesn’t really matter though as these types of effects are charming in their own way. The earnest performances are also genuinely laughable at times, but again, it’s part and parcel as to why these types of films are so much fun. They take themselves incredibly seriously, which in turn, make them all the more smile-inducing when certain elements are askew. Even so, Ants! is well-shot and well-executed for its time, and still as much fun as it was when it premiered on ABC in December of 1977.
Ants! was shot by cinematographer Bernie Abramson on 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and presented at the 1.33:1 aspect ratio on television in the US and at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio theatrically elsewhere in the world. The Kino Lorber Studio Classics Blu-ray release of the film contains a new 2K master (likely from an interpositive) supplied by Fremantle Media and presented in both aspect ratios on the same disc. Unfortunately, bit rates suffer, rarely making it out of the teens, causing the picture to appear a little soft with light artifacts. Of the two aspect ratios, the 1.33:1 is more natural as the 1.85:1 is way too tight, despite the fact that the 1.33:1 sometimes has too much head space. Despite its deficiencies, the transfer is a definite improvement over the previous DVD release, but it’s far from perfect. Grain levels range from moderate to heavy to absent in some scenes, while zoomed in shots offer much more grain than others. As such, a little excess digital clean-up may have been applied. Detail is improved but color and contrast are uneven. Many shots appear too hot with hues that are on the dull side, while others have decent saturation. Blacks appear gray and too bright for the most part. The image is mostly stable, while damage is limited to scratches, lines running through the frame, and speckling. It’s a step up, but it’s clear that including only one aspect ratio with a higher encode would have been the correct way to go. Regardless, many will find it more than watchable.
Audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English. It’s a bit quiet, but a quick volume adjustment fixes that. Minor hiss pops up on this narrow track, but dialogue exchanges are clear and discernible.
Ants! on Blu-ray sits in a blue amaray case featuring reversible artwork: new artwork by Vince Evans on the front and the New Line Cinema poster art on the reverse (which was also used for some of the film’s VHS releases). Everything is housed within a slipcover featuring the same new artwork. The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with Lee Gambin
- Audio Interview with Barbara Brownell (38:50)
- Audio Interview with Barry Van Dyke (40:09)
- Audio Interview with Anita Gillette (32:19)
- Audio Interview with Moosie Drier (33:14)
- Audio Interview with Valerie Landsburg (45:22)
All of the extras on this release have been created by author and film historian Lee Gambin. A massive fan of television shows and movies, he lends his expertise to an audio commentary. He breathlessly delves into the ecological horror genre, including the made-for-TV films of the 1970s, as well as the careers of those involved and what they bring to the table. He also examines the climate in which these films were made and who made them, particularly producer Alan Landsburg. As usual with his commentaries, it’s a very informative and entertaining track that’s packed with added value (his commentary track for the Blu-ray release of Night of the Lepus is another prime example of this). The rest of the extras consist of a series of Zoom/Skype and phone interviews, all audio-only. They include actress Barbara Brownell, actor Barry Van Dyke, actress Anita Gillette, actor Moosie Drier, and production assistant and daughter of producer Alan Landsburg, Valerie Landsburg. Lee Gambin returns to conduct these interviews personally, eagerly asking his guests questions about their careers and their involvement with the film.
The video portion of the Kino Lorber Blu-ray release of Ants! leaves a little to be desired, but it’s still a decent upgrade for a film that’s had bargain-basement transfers in the past. With Lee Gambin’s great extras in tow, it still makes for a fine release.
- Tim Salmons