Ants had two strikes against it going in. First, it had run afoul of the Screamin' Law of Multiple Movie Titles. The flick, originally a made for television jobber called It Happened at Lakewood Manor a.k.a. Panic at Lakewood Manor, now slinks around under it's Pilipino release title, like some beneficiary of a government relocation program meant to protect B-grade horror flicks from the complete financial murder they would suffer if they showed up on store racks under their real names.
Second, it is one of the eco-horror flicks in which mankind, or some stand-in subset of second tier celebrity, receives its violent comeuppance for our environmentally unbalanced ways at the hands of some insect or angry whale or pissed-off wallaby or whatever. Though there's many a fan of this once (back in the 1970s) mighty subgenre, even the most exemplary specimens of this sort of flick have left me a bit confused. Presumably the lesson we're supposed to take home from these flicks is "Mother Nature deserves respect and treating her like poop means that horrible animal armies will descend upon our homes and vacation areas, making us big-time miserable." In practice, though, the films always play out as a humans-versus-nature battle royal, with Mother Nature playing the villain. You can spout all the canned speeches you want about the dangers of mechanized farms and the importance of a sound nation-wide policy towards global warming – but when it comes down to a fight between Joe Character and savage swarm of killer insects, you can't expect Joe to be selected against without a fight. As Montgomery Burns once said: "Oh, so Mother Nature needs a favor? Well, maybe she should have thought of that when she was besetting us with droughts and floods and poison monkeys. Nature started the fight for survival and now she wants to quit because she's losing? Well, I say 'Hard cheese'!"
Naming and ideological concerns aside, Ants is a moderately enjoyable popcorn flick that manages to score some genuine squirms from the directors decision to, on several occasions, dump live ants on his actors. All the CGI in the world cannot make you cringe like the image of actual ants crawling across some dude's mug.
Like all good disaster/horror flicks, Ants starts with the obligatory gathering of the minor celebrity herd. In this case, the flock gathers at Lakewood Manor, a seaside California resort run by late-career Myrna Loy. In the interest of full disclosure, Ants made it into the DVD player because I once, in the heat of a schoolboy-like crush, added everything the incomparable Myrna was in to my Netflix queue. Seeing Nora Charles in what must rank as one of the worst wigs in cinema history certainly counts as one of the scariest things in this flick. Other cast members include the Thigh Master herself, Suzanne Somers; Falcon Crest soaper Robert Foxworth; Day of the Animals alumni and go-to animal attack victim Lynda Day; and Bernie Casey, who I most fondly remember as the cat who allows the geek protagonists of Revenge of the Nerds to join the Tri-Lamdb frat.
Things go fairly well at first, until a couple of construction workers disturb an outsized nest of ants. As luck would have it, these ants are not only ticked off – they've been made dangerously poisonous as a reaction to the stew of pesticides and whatnot that humans – foolish humans – have exposed them to. After dispatching the construction workers, the ants make some minor forays into the hotel, offing a cook and a young vacationer. Foxworth, who plays the foreman of the infested construction site, is certain the ants are causing the fatal and near fatal incidents that are suddenly plaguing the hotel. The health inspectors, however, are not convinced. To prove his point, Foxworth decides to drive his bulldozer into the ant colony, getting the ants so angry they march out in force. Sure, this dooms nearly everybody still in the hotel and leads to the unnecessary deaths of several characters – but it'll be the last damn time some egghead from the Board of Health tells this construction worker that he doesn't know a colony of poisonous killer ants when he sees one! Once the ants go to war, the movie kicks into full disaster mode. To sweeten the pot, Brian Dennehy shows up as the fire chief who comes to the embattled heroes' aid.
Ants isn't without its charms. There is an unintentional camp factor that is hard to resist and the story, while hardly original, moves along at a nice pace. This is the sort of thing that was made to kill some time on a lazy afternoon, though expecting much more than that will leave you disappointed. Using the ever-popular Infamous Forest Fires Film Rating System, I'm going to give Ants a slim, but not completely regrettable, 1871 Peshtigo Fire. Sure it was overshadowed by the Chicago Fire, which happened on the same day, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a blaze worth noting in its own way.