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Them! Giant Ants and Monstrous Entertainment

Just a few nights ago, while discussing on radio the matter of Point Pleasant, West Virginia’s Mothman, the issue of Mothman and other cryptozoological creatures in the movies popped up. I said that while I enjoyed the 2002 movie, The Mothman Prophecies – which starred Richard Gere and Laura Linney – I thought that all the other fictional productions on Mothman were pretty bad. Take, for example, 2010’s Mothman. It’s right up there (or, rather, it’s right down there) with another monster-themed movie, Chupacabra vs. the Alamo. Then, we went back to my early days. As in, my very early days.

As I said to the host, as a little kid I thought the 1970 movie The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes was great. It still is: I still watch it a couple of times a year or thereabouts. The combination of a Loch Ness Monster that wasn’t exactly what it appeared to be, and Holmes and Watson, made for an excellent movie. And Hammer Film Productions’ The Abominable Snowman, of 1957, is a highly-entertaining production that presents the Yetis of the Himalayas in a light that most film-makers have never even considered. I would say it’s a Yeti-themed movie that has not been surpassed. Definitely not one to miss. And, there is also Them!

Them! is a 1954 black-and-white science-fiction movie starring James Whitmore, James Arness and Joan Weldon. It tells the story of monstrous, truck-sized, radioactive ants that live deep under the deserts of New Mexico. Their main activity seemed to be slaughtering the inhabitants of a small town near Alamogordo. The movie begins with New Mexico State Police Sergeant Ben Peterson investigating the disappearance of a holidaying FBI Special Agent Ellison and his wife, after the discovery of their daughter, who is found wandering around in a distinct state of shock. The FBI sends in Ellison’s partner, Special Agent Robert Graham, to assist.

The Ellison’s trailer is found destroyed by…well…something. Unusual tracks are found on the desert floor. The tracks bring the case to the attention of Doctors Harold and Pat Medford. They are a father-daughter team of entomologists. The elder Doctor Medford arrives on the scene with a theory, but he won’t disclose it until he tries an experiment on the girl, which involves having her smell the contents of a vial of formic acid, which immediately releases her from her shocked state. She screams: “Them! Them!” Returning to the desert with Peterson, Graham and his daughter, Medford has his theory dramatically given its final proof when the group encounters a group of huge, rampaging ants.

The U.S. Army is quickly brought in, which locates the ants’ nest and wipes them out with poison gas, but not before two queen ants hatch and fly away to establish new nests. One ends up on board a freighter, which is overrun by the ants, then sunk by the military. The other sets up her nest in the Los Angeles sewer system, forcing the Army to take control of the situation. Peterson rescues two young boys trapped by the ants in a sewer tunnel, at the cost of his own life; while the queen-ant and her egg-chamber are destroyed with flamethrowers. Nevertheless, the movie ends on a bleak note, with Dr. Harold Medford issuing a grim warning that, as a result of the proliferation of atomic weapons, there may be worse things to come.

Of course, Them! is hokum of the absolute highest order. But, it’s also hugely entertaining hokum. And, I’m sure I’m not the only person who goes on expeditions to seek out the likes of Bigfoot, lake-monsters and so on, and who has good memories of Them! If, however, you haven’t seen it, stretch out on the couch, kick back with a couple of cold beers (I recommend Steel Reserve or Stack), forget that ants can’t really grow to the size of a truck (and never will!), and enjoy a monstrous blast from the past.

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Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.
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