Phase IV (1974) Movie Review

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I love killer (insert most unlikeliest of animal foe imaginable here) movies. Spiders, bunny rabbits, slugs (my personal fave – not the movie, just the idea). I don’t care if it’s radiation, medical experiment, or an out of control government trying to make super soldiers. The idea that an everyday common animal or insect can be changed to become a major threat to humanity is awesome to behold. Sometimes.

Phase IV is such a movie. Phase I begins with a space event. After some kind of eclipse,  the ants of Earth have been the only creatures affected. Hubbs, a British scientist, has noticed. Different species of ants, normally always fighting, have begun working together, communicating, organizing. And now all the usual ant predators have disappeared.

DUN DUN DUUUUUNNNNNNN.

Hubbs contacts an American data specialist, Lesko. These two set up an experimental station in Arizona so they can study the ants’ behavior. If their population gets out of control, humans are in deep kimchi.

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From here it looks like I can squish them whole in my pincers. NOM NOM NOM!

Phase II is to evacuate the local townies, for their own protection of course. Once done, Hubbs and Lesko set up the station and start experimenting. When the ants don’t appear on command (the hell you say), Hubbs does something drastic to get their attention. He destroys column-like structures the ants have built (yeah, they’re frickin’ sweet) and it works a little too well.

The ants begin to attack anyone left behind in the town, including our two heroes locked in the station. Hubbs goes a bit cray after being bitten but stays on point – we must study study study. Until, that is, the ants figure out how to sabotage the cooling system and bake the computers, and the scientists, into submission.

Phase III is to go on the offensive. Hubbs realizes the Queen ant is organizing all the species. Think The Borg but with less cuddly machinery and more egg sacs. Hubbs and Lesko come up with a plan but can they kill the bitch before it’s too late? Can you guess what Phase IV is?

Since this was from 1974, I expected it to be a crap fest monster movie. I was pleasantly surprised, though. The one and only movie from Saul Bass actually presents some deeper themes here. Sure they’re buried in some psychedelic hippy dippy idealism but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. From what I read about this film, there was also an extra scene at the end, a bad acid trip that Paramount cut thinking it would help sales, that was supposed to help explain the big reveal. It was not in the version I saw but I’m intrigued and would love to see if any film company today would front the money to re-release the full version.

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“…raise your hands like you just don’t care.” Woop woop!

The two main actors, Nigel Davenport and Michael Murphy, carry 90% of the film. Their acting is pretty decent though the character of Hubbs is a bit too single minded and gets a bit irksome. Lesko is supposed to be a bit more passionate about the human factor in all this but he’s not always believable. It did sound like a lot of dialogue was dubbed over so maybe that had something to do with it. The rest of the characters were worn out wallpaper background. Not really good for much.

There are problems with the movie, of course. It’s got a bit of a slow pace. There’s a 1-2 minute scene of the scientists just flipping switches and buttons, trying to show off 1970s high technology. Some character actions seem ridiculous or just written as a stepping stone for death or shock. And there is a SHIT TON of ant footage. Like someone had too much film from some documentary that never got used so in order to justify the expense, they built a horror movie around a nature special.

The ant-cam was pretty sweet and there were a few moments of absolute ewewewewewewewewew creepy crawly ants attacking people and animals. I’m clenching even now just thinking about it. I liked the story; I enjoyed most of the acting; and the overall feel of the movie is unsettling and you realize why when you get to the pay off. I hope to be able to see the full version some day but in the meantime, I think this is a decently made intelligent bug movie.

6 Hatchets (out of 10)

6 thoughts on “Phase IV (1974) Movie Review

  1. I love the James Whitmore movie Them! about the giant ants in the Los Angeles’ sewer system. If the movie could recapture some of that black-and-white creature-feature movie magic, I’d be all for it. Is this movie on YouTube? Or is it a bug-hunt to find a copy?

  2. I notice that it co-stars Lynne Frederick. For the uninitiated, she was Peter Sellers’s final wife. She was widely seen as a gold-digger. After Sellers died, she got most of his estate, with his children and former wives each getting the equivalent of $2,000 (if “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers” is any indication, Sellers was a REAL jerk). Frederick died in 1994, and her daughter (not fathered by Sellers) inherited everything. That means that most of Peter Sellers’s estate has gone to someone to whom he is not related and never met. FTW

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