What better film to follow up Them on a double bill than with another bunch of crazed, demented six legged psychopathic ant nut jobs, the 1974 film Phase IV. This feature is filled with visually luscious images and gorgeous landscape design, it’s quite the wonder to look at. But please be forewarned that you spend the runtime scratching like a shaggy dog. Oh my fur was twitching and an itching like crazy right through this creepy crawly movie. Even the eerie music gets under the skin. Essential item to have with you whilst watching is a personal back scratcher or two, down a bit, ooo to left a bit ooo that’s it, that’s the spot. A big thanks goes out to Lieutenant’s Nina Barry and Gay Ellis from UFO in helping me with my itching, you did a grand job….
Right onto the plot! Did I say it’s got a load of ants in it? Tons of the pesky critters.
Well these guys get a rather big dose of cosmic rays when some planets align and the Sun shines through making them super intelligent. They then go all thug like and smash up the local area and build themselves a manor, a strange looking future council estate.
Tagline – “Ravenous Invaders Controlled by a Terror Out in Space Commanded to Annihilate the World!”
Then arrive our two scientists Dr. Ernest D. Hubbs (Nigel Davenport) and James R. Lesko (Michael Murphy). Having set up a dome and begin to perform all manner of tests and experiments on the ants whilst they get attacked from all angles by these enhanced six legged looneys. Throw in a few kamikaze ants, a bunch of analogue synths, beeping and buzzing computers, scientist tension and a stray young girl, Kendra Eldridge (Lynne Frederick) and you get yourself all the key ingredients for a mad 80 minutes of fun.
Now the film ends on a pretty wacky note but what appeared some years later was a 5 minute cutscene which is one helluva trip-festing mind gravy moment. Check the Youtube video down the page to see the original cut ending.
Tagline – “The Day The Earth Was Turned Into A Cemetery!”
The greatest thing about this film is that it is director Saul Bass first and only full length film and that as it didn’t do too well at the box office I assume he called it quits and went running straight back to the day job. Now that day job, of being a graphic designer, will blow your mind if you didn’t know who he was because you have seen his work and influence everywhere. Just check the poster work for some of the greatest films ever made. (17 Coolest Saul Bass Posters) but you can tick off Psycho, The Man with the Golden Arm, North By Northwest, Ocean’s 11, The Shining just to note a few.To add that he helped on many great film opening title scenes. Awesome guy.
Here’s one of my favorites.
It’s quite upsetting that Phase IV maybe not doing too well seemed to put Saul Bass off doing another full movie. I’m sure he had a wealth of cool ideas which could have spawned a load of exciting, risk taking films. Unfortunately we will never know but Phase IV has become a Cult Classic and very rightly so.
A extra few things…
- The amazing close up insect sequences were filmed by wildlife photographer Ken Middleham who had worked on an almost test run for Phase IV with the 1971 film The Hellstrom Chronicle. A quasi-documentary film mixing microscopic close up imagines of insects running amok. Apparently it helped inspire science fiction writer Frank Herbert’s novel Hellstrom’s Hive.
- Nigel Davenport and Lynne Frederick had worked together on another science-fiction film. The totally nuts, post-apocalyptic Cornel Wilde directed No Blade Of Grass. (Which I loved by the way)
- One last note, the electronic soundtrack is exquisite and performed by pianist and composer Brian Gascoigne.
Here’s the trailer.
Here’s the LOST, cut, tripped out original ending
Links For Further Reading