After a series of unexplained happenings in New Mexico - a traumatised girl in the desert, a raided general store and an acid-filled corpse - local uniformed Sergeant Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) and FBI operative Bob
Graham (James Arness) investigate. They bring in an aging professor (Edmund Gwenn) and his daughter (Joan Weldon), only to discover the government's atomic bomb testing has spawned an army of giant mutant ants. They call in the US Army and manage to destroy the nest, but not before two winged queens escape.
Review by Shannon J. Harvey:
When American tested the world's first atomic bomb on July 16, 1945 in New Mexico, it didn't just kick-start the nuclear age. Or the Cold War. It started what is arguably the only enjoyable thing about the nuclear age; B-grade science-fiction movies from the 1950s, where common earth-bound species rub up against nuclear fallout and mutate into ghastly giant killers. They would run amok, ruining wholesome small communities, and the army was usually brought into to stop the pest in its tracks - often unsuccessfully. Yet these black and white classics, including The Incredible Shrinking Man, Tarantula, The Deadly Mantis, It Came from Beneath the Sea and Attack of the Giant Leeches, had a much deeper meaning. They were a
reaction to the brave new nuclear world and the Cold War, and all the unknown fears that brought. They were fanciful representations of what might happen if man kept meddling in things outside his understanding, and 1954's Them! was just about the best of them. Like a monument to that fear-struck era, it's a thrilling landmark movie about giant radiation-mutated ants that gets better with age.
Presented in black-and-white full-screen transfer and scratchy mono sound, Them! is a simple DVD package that comes with tabloid-style animated menus. First is Behind the Scenes, billed extravagantly as "An Exclusive Video Expose!" It is, rather, two-and-a-half minutes of vault footage testing not-so-special-effects. Marvel at how the gigantic ants test their stuck-on pincers. Be stunned by their twitching malfunctions. See real ants scurry about in a sand pit. It's about as exciting as taking a magnifying glass to ants in your own backyard. Next is a photo gallery which consists of publicity, behind-the-scenes and production stills framed by the same tabloid newspaper print. Lastly is Captured on Film, the full-screen theatrical trailer, which features the obligatory hype, hysteria and schlock horror antics.
Those are appropraitely tacky extras for a cheesy B-grade horror, but after half a century Them! still remains the quintessential giant-bug picture. Who can forget its epic climactic battle, where the insect hordes are beaten in 700 miles of storm drains under Los Angeles? But they're not conquered, because they've spawned a generation of films about radioactive nasties since. Recently, Eight Legged Freaks was a disappointing ode to the genre. Only Starship Troopers has captured the genre's camp excesses in appropriately gory and goofy style.
Published October 2, 2003
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THEM!: DVD (PG)
(US) - 1954
CAST: James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Fess Parker, James Arness, Joan Weldon
DIRECTOR: Bill L Norton
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
PRESENTATION: 1:33:1, Dolby Digital 1.0 mono
SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind the Scenes, Photo Gallery, Captured on Film
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros
DVD RELEASE: October 8, 2003