A young girl is found wandering the vastness of the New Mexico desert. Her family has vanished, left with nothing but the howling winds of the desolate land. Where did they go and what took them? Suddenly from the distance a screeching sound can be heard. Something approaches, something menacing and large. Will mankind survive the menace festering within the desert or will this merciless army defeat us all?
This throwback to the Silver age of horror brings us Them! The 1954 sci-fi classic about giant killer ants created because of nuclear testing. Yes, nuclear power is dangerous. Thanks for the heads up. Seriously, the entire 50’s sci-fi horror monsters are because of nuclear testing. You would think nuclear bombs are bad or something.
Historically, Them! is not the first “giant monster” movie. King Kong made his appearance in 1933. Kong being the first actual giant monster and gaining notoriety as one of the greatest movies of all time. Beast From 20000 Fathoms would make it’s appearance in 1954, rightfully launching the 50’s giant monster trend. However Them! is the very first big aggressive bug film that would start the massive “big bug” trend. Inspiring other great films like the 1955’s Tarantula.
It even inspired the brutally awesome Mars Attacks literature and trading cards. Although Mars Attacks was before my time, it was one of the first novels I ever read. Martian Deathtrap is a violently harsh novel featuring killer aliens that use their Martian technology to enlarge bugs! I read this like I was a Goonie with a treasure map and thanks to Them! it was made possible.
Even in modern times, Them! would inspire other giant bug films like Eight Legged Freaks and the largely misunderstood but totally booberific 1997’s Starship Troopers film about a socialist/fascist culture going to war against huge bugs on another planet.
Making A Bug Movie
Although I prefer the giant monster films like Beast From 20000 Fathoms or The Blob, giant bug films have a better sense of realism to them. All giant bug movies have the same ingredients:
Strange Locations – It seems that these movies always take place in the American desert which makes sense. New Mexico was home to many nuclear testing grounds and we all know that animals mutating because of nuclear bombs is realistic. Hey, it’s better than surviving a nuclear blast by stowing away in a refrigerator! The desert is a desolate landscape that stirs fascination and fear. Often the giant bugs emerge from these locations due to human involvement. A good metaphor for nature punishing mankind for it’s actions, blah blah blah blah.
Mysterious Clues – Every movie starts by not showing the creatures. That would be stupid to give away your costly prop so soon. These movies were all about suspense to the first reveal. So clues or signs to the creatures were important. Footprints, scales, vomit, teeth marks and sounds are all important gateways into what we’ll soon see. These things give us a sense of lingering dread so that when we do see the monster or creatures, we put all the pieces together and the reveal is magnified.
Gordon J. Heroic – The hero to these movies is always the regular guy. He’s not a scientific mind and he doesn’t know why giant ants are attacking people. He’s just the one that knows how to get the job done. His face is always fascinated during the scene where the Super Genius explains the situation via video real and boring dialogue. Heroes in bug movies are tough, sincere and probably passionate lovers. They always get the good looking girl and survive in the end. 50’s sci-fi/horror is loaded with these guys.
Super Genius – Every movie has this super scientist. This guy has every single answer and everyone obeys his commands. Often he’s at odds with the military and proves them wrong by their own error. His profession is always in relation to the situation. You have giant bugs, then you have the entomologist. Killer plants, then get the botanist. You have killer testicles, then get the Urologist.
Throw these things together and you have your typical 1950’s sci-fi/horror movie.
Originally Them! was meant to be a 3D film and shot in color. But due to malfunctions both the color and 3D effects were never shot. At least not shot entirely. It would be nice to see if there is some lost footage out there where we can see the ants in their full glory. The ants were actually painted a purplish green so we never got a chance to actually to see this. Talk about a lot of hard work not being paid off! This might explain why the title of this film is in color yet the rest of the film is black and white.
The ants themselves were huge props with mechanical devices inside that made them operational. It’s not like Tarantula or The Giant Gila Monster where an actual animal is used with effects. It may be a little funny to see this but personally I think it’s wonderful and true craftsmanship. The ants look realistic, at least for the time they did. Later giant ant movies would use actual ants and large props for more close up encounters.
Them! is a great film with that great 50’s sci-fi tone and traditions. Eerie music with the emphasis on the Timpani drums set the stage for terror. The scenes with the ants are epic and it’s so much fun to watch. Edmund Gwenn plays Dr. Harold Medford, our super genius. You may know him from that scary movie called Miracle on 34th Street. It’s about this crazy old man that thinks he’s Santa Claus and tricks people into believing him. He manipulates himself into peoples homes with his charm. Working hard to make their kids cynical little shits and future school shooters by breaking their spirits in believing a nice old man could be Santa. Pure evil!
I love this movie and see it as the best of all the giant bug horror films. It will forever remain a classic film for people to appreciate. That’s why Them! is proudly represented in Horror Movie Marathon 2018!