The creature feature was responsible for an entire generation getting interested in things that plant their roots in the genre spectrum, I count myself among them. Being such a slave to trends as it is, the horror world has almost completely neglected the creature feature for decades instead spending time on the likes of haunted houses, zombies and post-slashers, consigning the creature feature to the history books. That is if you discount the films distributed on a seemingly perpetual loop by outlets like Syfy and the horror channel, unfortunately those films have very little respect among the wider fandom and their quality leaves much to be desired. The reason I bring this up when discussing Frightfest presents’ latest, Giant Killer Ants (A.K.A. Dead Ant to give it the original and much less generic moniker) shares some common traits.
In Ron Carlson’s comedy horror treatment, he adopts the idea of a rock band vs giant ants which has given the film press comparisons to comedy masterpiece, this is spinal tap. The band here is Sonic Grave – a one-hit wonder glam rock band from the 1980s. In hopes of kick starting a comeback with their career they head to the rock festival no-chella, “it is the sundance of music festivals” apparently, “and so much better than Coachella“. As a plan to get some inspiration they decide to go on a collective peyote trip in Joshua Tree, the bad luck for them is this is no ordinary peyote as if they disrespect any part of nature the natural world will strike back with furious vengeance. Being the cartoon 1980s rockers that they are, one of the members instantly ignores all that advice and pees on an ant, killing it. What follows is wave after wave of carnivorous ant out to kill Sonic Grave and anyone else present. Them! this is not.
To return to this reviews set up, there are consistencies between Giant Killer Ants and those films distributed by SyFy and the biggest is the terrible CG. This isn’t a case of chastising a film for not including practical effects, as they are present albeit very cheap looking, if this film exclusive operated with in-camera effects it would also be the most expensive films ever made. So, producing the film using CG was the only option, nonetheless, the computer effects are completely without weight or presence. CG has evolved and has the potential to be excellent. Giant Killer Ants, sadly, has all the technological clout of something circa 2007, when technology evolves at the pace it does you may as well knock back that 2007 to the the late nineties. The effects date the film instantly.
For a comedy horror the comedy is almost entirely annoying, save for one song. The rock band stereotype the script centres around is dead, as the idea of a glam rock band in 2017 (when this film was released) is irrelevant. Yes, that is the gag on some level, nonetheless, with it being 20 years since any and all embers of glam rock where rubbed out (save the darkness) it feels like the film is at least a decade too late with its parody. The jokes don’t fare much better. Tom Arnold is the band’s (Sean Astin, Jake Busey, Rhys Coiro and Leisha Hailey) manager and for the first half he is the voice of relative reason, then, half way in he becomes a vehicle for a constant stream of unfunny one-liners and the context for each gag saddles him with a sociopathic disassociation with what is going on. Undercutting every single thing with an awful joke kills the comedy, stone dead.
As bad as it is, it Giant Killer Ants isn’t beyond saving. Yes, the effects are bad, the jokes hackneyed and the central character conceit is about a decade too late; still, I had fun with it. To explain I have to return to the statement I opened this review with. Creature Features are one of my fondest pleasures growing up and coming to love all things genre, from Godzilla to Tremors and back again, yet in the modern world the creature feature doesn’t exist. Ron Carlson has made a creature feature that hits all the big beats with the more approachable and sily tools of exploitation cinema. For a film that debuted on the late night film festival scene, isn’t that all you need?
GIANT KILLER ANTS IS OUT NOW FROM FRIGHTFEST PRESENTS