Gramps Johnson And Giant Ants
After smelling formic acid, this little girl remembers THEM! — Courtesy of Warner Bros.
The same day, when the officers visit Gramps Johnson’s general store to see if he saw the family, the store seems to have suffered a similar fate as the trailer. Except this time, Gramps Johnson is found dead and his shotgun has been bent backwards. Again, there is evidence of sugar being stolen, and all the money is still there.
It turns out that the trailer belongs to an FBI agent, so the case quickly turns into a joint effort with the police and the FBI. Special Agent Robert Graham (James Arness; The Thing From Another World, Gunsmoke) is sent from Washington to investigate. Not much happens until the mysterious animal print is seen by two myrmecologists from the Department of Agriculture. The investigative team receives a telegraph from Drs. Medford, and Agent Graham and Sgt. Peterson go to meet these doctors.
The two doctors end up being a father/daughter team who seem to know a whole lot about..something that they won’t tell the rest of the investigative team. The elder Dr. Medford (Edmund Gwenn, who most famously plays Santa in Miracle on 34th Street ) feels hesitant in making the hypothesis he has formed known to rest of the group until he is absolutely certain that he is correct. His daughter, Dr. Patricia Medford (Joan Weldon; Home Before Dark) assures Agent Graham and Sgt. Peterson that everything is on the up and up.
Eventually the group encounters exactly what Dr. Medford feared, a giant ant. It turns out that one of these had also killed Trooper Blackburn as well. One almost kills Pat (which Dr. Medford tells Robert Graham to call her because he seems so baffled that a LADY DOCTOR is in his midst, but remember it was the 50’s) as well. Dr. Medford instructs the men to shoot at the ants antennae to render them useless.
This incident results in an attempt to locate and exterminate the nest. While at first, their attempt seems successful, it turns out the queen ant had escaped. The queen ants have wings and soon enough, the ants are in several places far from Alamogordo, even so far as the city of Los Angeles, California.
Them! — Courtesy of Warner Bros.
The hoops that the team has to go through to eradicate the ants are very impressive. The script is almost a cross of a police procedural and a National Geographic program, and despite the fact that we’re talking about giant ants, the entire thing seems entirely believable in the world the film creates. It’s a very intelligent film, which not every “Creature Feature” is, as any horror or sci-fi fan knows all too well.
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I can’t end this article without mentioning the awesome sound design. The sounds that the ants make whenever they’re close will stick with you for the rest of your life. The use of this sound while being somewhat economical with the presence of the actual monsters was a smart choice, because while the script makes the ants seem horrifying, it’s hard to be a somewhat jaded 35-year-old who’s seen thousands of movies and be scared by their physical presence. The sound effects are very–effective in creating a sense of anxiety.
Overall, THEM! is a classic and while it could very well be disturbed as a sci-fi movie, I feel there is definitely a horror element to it. Just as (David Cronenberg’s more especially) The Fly is a sci-fi movie, it is also absolutely horrifying. So although, it is technically sci-fi, this isn’t Star Trek is basically what I’m trying to say, even though Leonard Nimoy does have a blink-and-you-miss-it role in the film.
Lastly I’d like to leave you with the final words of THEM!, which really sum up the entire point quite nicely:
Agent Graham: Man if these monsters got started as a result of the first atomic bomb in 1945, what about all the others that have exploded since then?
Dr. P. Medford: I don’t know.
Dr. Medford: Nobody knows, Robert. When man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What we eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.
I think this speech is still and will always be relevant in a world where new innovations happen all the time, to sometimes not the best results.
Thank you for reading this edition of
Horror Through The Decades
. I’ll be back soon with another 50’s gem. Only 3 more 50’s films to go, so feel free to comment with what you’d like me to cover. Who knows, maybe you’ll mention a film I’ve never seen!
Love old school “Big Bug” flicks? Fan of Them!? Let the other creepy creatures know what you think in the comment section below.