Them! (1954)

DVD Cover (Warner Brother)
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Overall Rating 68%
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Ranked #3,286
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Nuclear tests in the desert result in the growth of gigantic mutant ants who menace cities in the American south-west as a team of investigators and the army search for a way to control their spread in this Cold War-era monster film. --IMDb
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Review by Crispy
Added: September 16, 2007
Some sort of bug or animal becomes radioactive, grows to a huge size and starts killing people. How many horror movies from back in the day can you think of that fits this formula? Well, Them! is one of, if not the first, movie to pull it off, telling the story of mutant ants in the New Mexican desert.

Said desert is currently being patrolled by the state police, investigating a strange report. Sergeant Ben Peterson and his partner, Ed Blackburn, are in a cruiser with their eye in the sky, Johnny, flying above them. Just as they are about to give up, they find a little girl wandering the desert in a catatonic state. A little more searching reveals the trailer where they came from. The entire side has been ripped out and the inside is a mess. It seems however that the culprit wasn't after their money, but its sugar. The two cops also find a strange track at the scene. With the local police now investigating the trailer, they're able to load the little girl into an ambulance. While doing this, a weird, trilling siren is heard in the distance. While everyone looks up in confusion, the little girl sits up with a look of pure terror on her face. Hoping to find more information, Peterson and Blackburn go to the general store only to find the same scene. The side of the wall has been ripped out, the place is completely totaled and the store's sugar supply has been completely ransacked. But the store has one important clue the trailer did not, the dead body of the store owner is found in the basement. Peterson leaves Blackburn to mind the store as he leaves to see if he can learn anything from the girl. Minutes after he leaves, Blackburn hears the same siren from the other sight. He goes out to investigate and is able to get off a few shots before whatever is out there makes quick work of him. Back at the station, Peterson sits grieving the loss of his friend, now determined to solve the case. The head of the family that was presumed dead from the trailer was actually an F.B.I. agent, and as such one of their own has been brought in on the case. Agent Bob Graham arrives and sends the cast made from the track to his headquarters, who respond by sending in Dr. Harold Medford and his daughter, Dr. Pat Medford. The two of them obviously have a theory as to what's doing the killing, but they remain tight lipped until they can prove it correct. As the evidence piles up, they slowly become more and more convinced they are right. Of course, the two were dead on and soon come face to face with both the large insects and even larger question of what to do about them.

I'm not sure if Them! was actually the first to do this type of movie, but it's definitely one of the better ones. I'm not sure how many other horror movies director Gordon Douglas has done, but I'm more than interested in hunting them down right now. At this point, everyone knows Them! is about giant ants but if you didn't, Douglas' movie would have that much more of a punch. The weird clues really don't add up to anything, and even when the Medfords are obviously onto something, they never let on. In fact, the first time you know exactly what's doing the killing is when one climbs out over the sand hill and actually attacks. There's something extra creepy when you have absolutely no idea what's going on. If I do find some more of Douglas's horror, I'm making damned sure I know next to nothing about it when I start watching.

In 1955, it was nominated for an Oscar for special effects. Fifty-two years later, I still say it was well deserving of this honor. The beauty lies in the fact that every ant in this movie was a large, animatronic puppet; and these puppets looked pretty damn good. Douglas also knew how to get around the downfalls of the large robots, further adding to the illusion. Most of the shots of the ants were close ups, which kept you from focusing on the ants as a whole, so the relatively low amount of mobility it was capable of wasn't an issue. Plus, since the movie was in black and white, some of its clarity was lost a bit, further dulling any "unreal" aspects of the ants' appearance. For monster movies like this, black and white is simply the best way to go in my humble opinion. Anyway, compared to the CGI bullshit used today and even to the stop motion animation used back then (an animation style I absolutely love by the way), I still think that using actual giant ants was the best way to go, especially when they looked that good.

Even the acting was all above par. James Whitmore and James Arness had a great chemistry as Ben Peterson and Bob Graham, respectively. In movies and TV, it's rare that the F.B.I. and local police actually cooperate with each other. In Them!, this different approach is even more apparent, given how well the two clicked. Edmund Gwen and Joan Weldon also did fine jobs in their roles as the Medfords. They were both able to be very convincing as the old scientist who's gotten into something bigger than he realizes and the daughter worried about her father's safety. Extra props to Joan Weldon for playing a role where the woman actually takes charge in a few scenes, which I'm fairly certain was a rarity in those days.

My only complaint comes in the form of the pacing of the movie. It can basically be divided into two sections. A)The New Mexico Nest which was excellent, and B) Searching for the Other Nests. Compared to how tight the first half was, the second part couldn't quite match the same level of tension. Because we already knew what we're up against, this half instead focused on trying to instill the importance on what would happen if the nests weren't found. Unfortunately, it's not able to sink in quite as deep as they would have wanted it to, and the second half does tend to drag a bit.

Bottom line: if you're a fan of giant monster movies, horror in general, or just someone tired of the same old over abundance of CGI in movies, give Them! a shot. Out of all the "large radioactive monster" movies that came out during this period, it's not only one of the first, but also one of the best. 8/10
bluemeanie #1: bluemeanie - added September 16, 2007 at 4:30pm
This is a true classic and I love every second -- "Oh my God, it's -- THEM!" This also inspired the parody of "Mant" from the film "Matinee", so I owe this film a lot in terms of entertainment value. 9/10.
Symx #2: Symx - added July 27, 2008 at 6:23pm
I remember watching this film when I was a kid on Halloween. It never scared me but I always thought it was really cool. 8/10
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