Bobby Deerfield (1977)

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Bobby Deerfield
Dir. Sidney Pollack
Premiered September 29, 1977

Al Pacino might have been one of the biggest stars of the 1970s, but his filmography from the period is surprisingly sparse. Today, big name actors typically appear in three movies in a year, but in 1977, Pacino hadn’t been in a movie in two years, and wouldn’t be in one for two more. Needless to say, he was a big get for Bobby Deerfield, but God knows what he saw in it.

Based on Erich Maria Remarque’s 1961 novel Heaven Has No Favorites, the film stars Pacino as the titular race car driver Deerfield who, during a race, witnesses a horrific crash that kills one of his teammates and seriously injures a colleague (Stephen Meldegg). It is visiting this colleague in Switzerland that brings Deerfield into the orbit of Lillian Morelli (Marthe Keller), a flighty, unpredictable Florentine with an unexplained fixation with hot air balloons who, unbeknownst to Deerfield, is dying from an unnamed and apparently symptomless disease.

Lillian catches a ride to Italy with Deerfield, and while they initially can’t stand each other– though maybe Deerfield, already alienated from his family and girlfriend (Annie Duperey) is merely put off by Lillian’s random weirdness masquerading as a lust for life– they eventually enter a supposedly touching romance; all the while Deerfield investigates a mechanical failure he believes to have caused the crash.

Although Bobby Deerfield is by no means aggressively obnoxious, and veteran director Sidney Pollack does fine visual work with what he has, there is nothing appealing about the film. Meandering lazily from one scene to the next with an absence of rhythm amplified by a typically sleepy, awkward Dave Grusin score, the film is so unfocused that one can’t tell what the film is about until at least halfway through, around the same time that the crash investigation plot thread, and any reference to auto racing, are suddenly abandoned.

Although marketed as an acting showcase for Pacino, the character of Deerfield is dead-eyed and taciturn, a passive protagonist; and Marthe Keller as Lillian never warms to Pacino or the audience the way she’s supposed to– though even the script refrains from truly kindling their romance until the movie is nearly over. A romantic melodrama with little romance or drama, Bobby Deerfield is dull and pointless, with far too little character to serve as either the bittersweet tragedy or populist slice of life that the filmmakers clearly believe it to be.

Signs This Was Made in 1977
“Homo” is used so nonchalantly as to appear to be the standard term for a gay man. Not necessarily in a judgmental fashion, either.

How Did It Do?
Bobby Deerfield grossed $9.3 million against an unknown budget. Critics trashed it as an inane embarrassment on the part of Pollack, Pacino, and screenwriter Alvin Sargent earning a 20% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes.

Next Time: Citizens’ Band

Soldier of Orange (1977)

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Soldier of Orange
Soldaat van Oranje
Dir. Paul Verhoeven
Premiered September 22, 1977

Before the proper review, I need to make a public service announcement: this shouldn’t have been as hard to get ahold of as it was.

Sometimes, even very recent films are unavailable on any legal streaming service– for example, I had to get New York, New York and the Los Angeles Public Library. But on occasion, even the library is inadequate. My next review was supposed to be You Light Up My Life, and I had a whole angle for it, but couldn’t find it anywhere. That movie is by all accounts terrible, but Soldier of Orange, likewise unavailable via streaming, Netflix DVD, or the library, is a goddamn classic and in no way should be this hard to find.

Of all the World War II movies of 1977 so far, Soldier of Orange is the most visceral and lived-in, for two reasons. First, it’s based on the memoirs of a real Dutch Resistance fighter. Second, for director Paul Verhoeven, the war was his childhood, and neutrality was not an option. The Netherlands had more traitors per capita than any other country under German occupation and more resistance heroes, and in Soldier of Orange he gives the proceedings a sense of immediacy and currency that doesn’t so much recall A Bridge Too Far as last year’s Moonlight.

In 1938, Leiden University freshman Erik (Rutger Hauer) is injured in an excessively violent hazing by fraternity chairman Guus (Jeroen Krabbé). Despite this, Guus apologizes to Erik and they become fast friends and roommates. When the Second World War breaks out a year later, nobody is too concerned, as the Netherlands was neutral in the first war. Then the Germans invade. Erik and Guus join the resistance, but face trouble when their Jewish associate Jan (Huib Rooymans) is captured and killed and radio confidant Robby (Eddie Habbema) is blackmailed into spying for the Nazis.

Later on, Erik and Guus escape to England, initially tailing a man they believe to be a traitor, but eventually are welcomed by the British and the Dutch Queen living in exile there (Andrea Domburg), only to return to greater danger and the discovery that one of their circle of friends (Derek de Lint) has become a decorated officer of the SS.

It’s a testament to Paul Verhoeven’s skill as a filmmaker that I was able to watch this without subtitles and had no trouble understanding what was going on. The movie was also a breakout role for Rutger Hauer, who has “movie star” written all over him, bringing an uncommon emotional complexity to such an unquestioningly upright character, and a near-native command of English when the script calls for it. But don’t think the film is simple-minded; Soldier of Orange is an uncompromising epic, perhaps lacking in big action setpieces, but overflowing with heart and conviction.

Additional Notes
Confirming a Dutch stereotype, every major character in the film appears to understand and speak perfect English, to the point that it is taken for granted.

Soldier of Orange may be especially disturbing to American audiences unaccustomed to foreign occupation or wars on the home front, in the same way some American audiences were disturbed by Steven Spielberg’s Munich. The resistance characters have no compunction about summarily executing traitors, often people they know– which is true to events. Even if they may not like doing it, they’d never question their actions. I am not the least bothered by this.

 

How Did It Do?
Soldier of Orange had a ƒ5 million budget, but grosses are unavailable. Oddly, the movie wasn’t released outside the Netherlands until 1979, but its reputation was hardly damaged by it, earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Film, winning Best Foreign Film from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and a 100% Fresh Rating on RottenTomatoes. The 1999 Netherlands Film Festival voted it the second best Dutch film ever made, after another Verhoeven film, Turkish Delight, and in 2010 it was adapted into a high-concept musical.

Verhoeven immediately became an international star, and though he courted controversy with his 1980 follow-up Spetters, weathered the storm and became one of the 1980’s most beloved sci-fi auteurs. Then he made a bunch of high-profile crap in the ‘90s, went back to the Netherlands, made another true-story Dutch resistance movie, and is now back to respectability.

Next Time: Bobby Deerfield

The Duellists (1977)

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The Duellists
Dir. Ridley Scott
Premiered August 31, 1977

What makes a Ridley Scott film a Ridley Scott film? I asked this of a friend once before. It was a troubling question. Scott has made so many films that it’s easy to find commonalities: throwbacks to midcentury epics, strong woman protagonists, a penchant for respectful ambiguity that drives studios insane. But these are all cherry-picked.

Yet can’t be denied that there’s…something…in almost all of his films. A monumental visual element that is at home in most of his works, making even the smallest stories feel operatic. And that can be seen in his very first feature film, The Duellists.

The Duellists is based on a short story by Joseph Conrad, itself a thinly veiled retelling of actual events. The year is 1800. Napoleon Bonaparte has taken power in France, but has yet to crown himself Emperor. His country is almost constantly at war with its neighbors, and requires a massive army in which order is the only way to survive. It is here that we find the insatiable Lieutenant Feraud (Harvey Keitel) under arrest for nearly killing the son of the mayor of Strasbourg in a duel of honor. Critically upset over having been arrested in the home of a friend, Feraud demands satisfaction from the fellow officer who arrested him, Lieutenant D’Hubert (Keith Carradine).

The ensuing duel is inconclusive; when D’Hubert is prevented from killing Feraud, and much as he may not want to, D’Hubert is honor-bound to defend himself the next time they meet in peacetime. Occasionally, the Napoleonic Wars do take a break, and almost every time D’Hubert irritatingly finds himself in Feraud’s presence. Accusations of unpatriotism fly, wars come and go, regimes rise and fall, and both men get older. Yet they always continue.

The weakest link in the film is Carradine. Like many of the actors in the previously-covered Cross of Iron, Carradine’s California shag is a preposterous giveaway of the 1970s in what is otherwise a thoroughly realized and uncommonly grim portrait of the Napoleonic Era. And that more than makes up for it: The Duellists is one of the most visually sumptuous movies of the year, its cinematically atypical style evoking art from its period setting, such as the paintings of J.M.W. Turner. The production design is similarly deliberate, and the action scenes are as sharp as those of films like Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy. Altogether, the viewer is witness to the most visually unique period piece one might have made at the time (comparisons to Barry Lyndon by critics are myriad, and partly valid).

How Did It Do?
Box office receipts are undocumented for The Duellists, but at a deceptively low $900,000 budget, the likelihood of a profit is very high. It won Best Debut Film at the Cannes Film Festival (for which reason I should’ve reviewed it back around A Special Day) and deservedly so. Critics adored it, earning a 91% fresh rating on RT. Having long worked in British television and advertising, then-39-year-old Ridley Scott was a late bloomer. But The Duellists was just the beginning.

Next Time: Soldier of Orange

That Obscure Object of Desire (1977)

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That Obscure Object of Desire
Cet Obscure Objet du Desir
Dir. Luis Buñuel
Premiered August 17, 1977

In the final scene of Luis Buñuel’s last directorial effort, a radio announcer proclaims that an assortment of terrorist groups, who have overrun the oddly placid version of contemporary France and Spain here depicted and made random violence as common as ordering pizza, have suddenly all joined forces. That this should happen is incredibly strange, as the insurgents range from Communists to Anarchists to hardline Catholics. But all have a common interest in changing your mind, and so too does Conchita, the film’s unpredictable titular object of desire.

The film opens in Seville, as wealthy French widower Mathieu (Fernando Rey) cleans up the remains of a violent affair in his hotel. Hoping to return to Paris as quickly as possible, he is disappointed to discover he must change trains in Madrid. Nevertheless, all of the other passengers in his compartment are also headed to Paris, and are intrigued to hear what led him to dump a bucket of cold water on a mysterious woman on the platform. Mathieu assures his captive audience that they will soon understand his actions, but I’m not so certain.

Conchita, comes into Mathieu’s life as his maid. Mathieu immediately takes an erotic interest in her. He claims only to be interested in sex with a woman he truly loves, but Conchita strongly doubts him, and sets out to test whether he truly loves her. So begins an endlessly repeated cat-and-mouse game whereby Mathieu unexpectedly meets Conchita, attempts to woo her, Conchita refuses to have sex with him (but will do anything else), but then angrily leaves him whenever he pushes the issue; over and over from one day to the next, and one country to another. Accordingly, Mathieu, a wealthy man of influence who seems never to have faced rejection, is driven to madness by Conchita’s actions, driving his obsession further.

Adding brilliantly to the confusion is that Conchita is played by two different actresses. At times, the role is performed by Carole Bouquet, at others she is more aggressively inhabited by Angela Molina. That Obscure Object of Desire is one of several adaptations (and amazingly the last to date) of the 1898 novel The Girl and the Puppet, a cautionary tale about the danger of falling into a trap of only wanting what you can’t have. Leave it to Buñuel to take it to an extreme.

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Signs This Was Made in 1977
The terrorist content is a particular feature. Nearly every sequence is accompanied by an act of terror. Jokes are made about the ubiquity of airplane hijackings. The trial of a terrorist group is a major plot point.

How Did It Do?
That Obscure Object of Desire was a hit with critics then and now, earning a 100% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes. The decision to cast two actresses as Conchita was particularly praised, impressively for a gimmick born from the adversity of working with the unknown actress who was first hired to play her, and has found its place in the work of filmmakers from B.P. Paquette, to Todd Haynes, to (ugh) Todd Solondz, to me.

Luis Buñuel never made another film, passing away in 1983. His 48-year directorial career was never forgotten.

Next Time: The Duellists

The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)

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The Kentucky Fried Movie
Dir. John Landis
Premiered August 10, 1977

Watching The Kentucky Fried Movie is one of the strangest viewing experiences I’ve ever had. Like many of the films reviewed in this series, it’s regarded as a classic, and I found it to be overrated. Not wholly overrated, but overrated enough. But while the likes of Stroszek or Iphigenia may lay claim to some aesthetic truth, technical achievement, or spark of creative genius, The Kentucky Fried Movie aims merely to make as many jokes as possible, which somehow makes me feel guiltier than usual for not falling in love with it.

The film is a compendium of sketches ranging in length from one to thirty minutes; there’s no particular order to them– the longest and best, a kung fu parody called “A Fistful of Yen,” is right in the middle– and are extremely hit-and-miss. Sometimes they suggest the great work to come from its creators, the writing team of Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker and director John Landis, but just as often they resemble the campfire skits of a mediocre Boy Scout troop.

Both the film’s strengths and weaknesses originate with its intimate connection to the time in which it was made. If topical humor can transcend its context, it’s for the ages: see a trailer for a fake blaxploitation movie called Cleopatra Schwartz, or a ridiculous play on the type of “instructional films” that were shown in theaters before the legalization of pornography. Horribly dated are a parody of a then-current beer commercial featuring the then-apparent plague of Hare Krishnas, or an embarrassingly obvious plagiarism of Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin’s famous “Point/Counterpoint” sketch on Saturday Night Live. Perhaps a younger person might enjoy the overarching absurdity, but The Kentucky Fried Movie is extremely hit-and-miss.

How Did It Do?
The Kentucky Fried Movie earned $7.1 million against a $650,000 budget, a modest success that barely hints at the impact it had, not only as a cult phenomenon within Hollywood itself and among comedy nerds, but as a jumping-off point for the 1980s-defining careers of Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker and John Landis.

Critical acclaim for the movie was widespread at the time, but even with an RT score of 80%, its star has somewhat faded, with many critics today calling the film out on its scattershot approach.

Next Time: That Obscure Object of Desire

House (1977)

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House
Hausu
Dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi
Premiered July 30, 1977

One way that makes reviewing movies hard is that you can’t always get the full picture by seeing something just once. Hopes, expectations, novelty, and memorability are all huge factors. Hence critics in 1998 were so-so on The Big Lebowski, and in 1999 gave a general thumbs-up to The Phantom Menace just for the pleasure of having any new Star Wars movie, only to spend the following decade largely reassessing both. By the same token, I first saw 1977’s House during a “bad movie night” with drinking and riffing and laughed at it like everyone else. No more.

Distraught by her father’s impending marriage to a woman she doesn’t like, teenage Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) travels to the countryside with her heavily stereotypical circle of friends (Mieko Sato, Miki Jimbo, Ai Matubara, Kumiko Oba, Eriko Tanaka, and Masayo Miyako) to visit her elder aunt, a reclusive spinster (Yoko Minamida) and her adorable but eccentric and often creepy-eyed cat Blanche. But not everything is as it seems, as Auntie is in fact either a witch or a ghost who is haunting the house and drawing power from the youthful bodies in her house. Or maybe Gorgeous is losing her mind, as the earliest scenes appear to hint.

Cue floating severed body parts, rapist mattresses, carnivorous pianos, rivers of blood, and furtive lesbianism– pretty much what you’d imagine if Hiyao Miyazaki and David Lynch collaborated to remake The Shiningthough that movie hadn’t yet come out in 1977.

With its bizarre edits, pointedly phony sets, crude backdrops, random noises, melodramatic overlighting, and animated visual effects, House continually straddles the line between high art and kitsch. The cinematography and production is at all times both unequivocally gorgeous and totally unconvincing. There’s no evidence to support this, but Anna Biller has to be a fan of this movie.

More curious still is House’s relationship to movies themselves. The main character’s father is a film composer– who’s just come home after working with Sergio Leone. Just as in Annie Hall, the main character invites her friends to watch a family memory in the form of a partially damaged silent film. At various points, the girls imagine themselves in movies, and at one point ambiguously acknowledge that they’re in one. So House ends up as this bizarre Schrödinger’s cat of a movie. Put it all together and none of it works. And yet all of it also works perfectly.

Signs This Was Made in 1977
The Second World War features prominently in the aunt’s backstory. Between Eraserhead, Three Women, and this, 1977 has given us three major motion pictures that are surreal dreamscapes. Was this a thing?

How Did It Do?
House’s budget is not publicly available– or at least not easily found– but it was probably high by Japanese standards, utilizing Toho’s biggest set and a multitude of canny visual effects. Prospective directors found screenwriter Nobuhiko Obayashi’s script– based on an idea by his young daughter– so incomprehensible that Obayashi had no choice but to direct it himself. And although it did well enough with domestic audiences, Japanese critics were largely unimpressed.

Not so with American critics, who mostly enjoyed then, and have only grown to love it more now, earning an 89% rating on RottenTomatoes and a place in the Criterion Collection.

Next Time: The Kentucky Fried Movie

The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

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The Hills Have Eyes
Dir. Wes Craven
Premiered July 22, 1977

The last time I was in the Mojave desert was last year, shooting an Italian motorcycle commercial that quickly turned into a Fellinian bacchanal– you put attractive young people and weird neon lighting into the middle of the desert with no air conditioning and see what happens. It wasn’t my first time out there by any means, but it was my first time off the main roads, on one of the dozens of clandestine movie sets hidden among the Joshua trees, and anyone who has been out there in the wild has had the same thought: I could die out here and nobody would find me.

Wes Craven got this. And while he never wanted to be just a horror director, the genre called to him because of the kind of intuitive terror that brought us The Hills Have Eyes.

On their way to California, a retired police detective (Russ Grieve) stops for gas in the desert near an air force base, his wife (Virginia Vincent), daughters (Susan Lanier, Dee Wallace, Robert Houston), son-in-law (Martin Speer) and infant granddaughter (Brenda Marinoff) in tow. His goal for the day is to go searching for silver in an abandoned mine for his 25th wedding anniversary, but the ancient gas attendant (John Steadman) pleads with the family to keep going to Los Angeles, later revealing a terrifying story: he once had a gigantic, violent son who he released into the wild after trying to kill him in self-defense. Now, his son (James Whitworth) is leader of a feral band of cave-dwellers on the brink of starvation, and they will stop at nothing to eat.

Watching The Hills Have Eyes brings up a lot of different thoughts. As the plot kicked in, I began wonder if this qualified as a western. It’s worth remembering that the earliest days of Hollywood were also the last days of the Wild West, when Apache and Comanche insurgents were still shooting to kill. The Hills Have Eyes recall the terror that might have captured our great-grandparents as they crossed the desert themselves. And rather than being misunderstood people infringed upon by the white man, the hill people– based in part on a legendary family of incestuous Scottish cannibals– are something of our own making.

Secondly, its pacing is a wondrous improvement over the avalanche of B-movies from this period that seemed to think being padded and overlong qualified as making their movie good. On the other hand, I wish it had been a little slower; we barely get to know either of the two families in question, and it would have been better all around to get a better sense of these characters. Likewise, I was frustrated by the suddenness of the film’s ending. Wes Craven was long interested by the dehumanizing effects of violence, and it’s put to great effect here, but then it just ends. I left the movie with my heart racing– surely the sign of a good film, but equally a symptom of the general lack of closure. Either way, it’s still a classic of horror.

Signs This Was Made in 1977
Son-in-law Doug has a CB radio. Of course it doesn’t work. The old man settled in the desert in 1929. There’s a torn poster of Jaws in the family trailer, which kicked off a long series of horror filmmakers putting each others’ posters in their movies as a bit of friendly competition.

How Did It Do?
The Hills Have Eyes grossed $25 million against a $230,000 budget. Wes Craven had made a big splash with his Manson family-inspired 1972 outing The Last House on the Left, but it was a drop in the bucket compared to this sophomore success. The film was generally well-received by critics, most of whom praised its unflinching descent into violence while also expressing discomfort with its unflinching descent into violence. It’s complicated, I know.

Craven became a mainstay of horror cinema throughout the 1970s and 80s, flourishing throughout the slasher era. Craven himself wasn’t fully comfortable with this, but even if he was pigeonholed, he did some great work. Unfortunately, The Hills Have Eyes, like many classic horror films, got a bad remake in 2006.

Next Time: House

Orca (1977)

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Orca
Dir. Michael Anderson
Premiered July 15, 1977

Orca is the last of the Jaws clones. And while not the worst of them– a low bar indeed– it’s still quite awful.

At a university in Newfoundland, a fisherman named Nolan (Richard Harris) has begun sitting in on marine biology classes held by Rachel (Charlotte Rampling), as he is intrigued by the supposed superintelligence of the Orca whale. Nolan and Rachel become quite close during her class– no need to show us this, though; Rampling merely narrates everything to spare the film any kind of heavy lifting. Anyway, Rachel’s lectures give Nolan the idea to capture and sell an Orca in order to pay off the mortgage on his boat. But it all goes wrong: rather than capture the male, he injures the pregnant female, who attempts suicide by propeller, miscarries, and eventually dies.

And that’s when this movie goes fucking crazy, because the surviving male orca vows revenge. Obviously he doesn’t talk, but “vow” is absolutely the right word, as he is shown to be capable of plotting revenge, sabotaging buildings, and holding the fishing village hostage until Nolan returns to sea for a fair fight, which he eventually does, taking Rachel, his crew, and the town’s token Native (Will Sampson) on a chase leading all the way to the Arctic.

Orca is basically Jaws: the Revenge meets Free Willy, but not as compellingly ridiculous as that sounds– though it makes Jaws: the Revenge all the worse for coming out ten years later. This is an oddly subdued film. And the theme song at the end, written by Ennio Moriccone of all people, is atrocious.

How Did It Do?
Orca grossed $14.7 million against a $6 million budget. Critics hated it. 15%. Compared it to Jaws. Yadda yadda yadda. Can I watch something interesting?

Next Time: The Hills Have Eyes

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

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The Spy Who Loved Me
Dir. Lewis Gilbert
Premiered July 7, 1977

I have a confession to make: I’m not a big fan of James Bond movies. I only saw them as an adult, and watched them all at once at that, so most of them are blurred together. If I had to pick favorites, I’d probably say From Russia With Love and Casino Royale, and my favorite of Roger More, the Bond of 1977, is For Your Eyes Only. My interest in espionage is strictly of the hardboiled John Le Carré variety.

My biggest problem, I think, is the series’ fundamentalist approach to the formula established in 1964’s Goldfinger– flirting with Moneypenny, a brief from M, gadgets from Q, two countries visited, two girls bonked, the first one dies, etc. It’s weird, right? No other successful film franchise does this, and if they did, people would endlessly complain about it. I can’t always speak to the quality of the movies that break from this template, but the usual adherence has always kept me at arm’s length, even when it comes to what is generally regarded as “the other good Roger Moore movie.”

Britain and the Soviet Union both lose a nuclear submarine so that independent villain Stromberg (Curd Jürgens) can start World War III and rebuild global society in his own image. James Bond (Roger Moore) is put on the case for the British Navy and ends up in Cairo, where he faces against his Soviet counterpart, Agent XXX (Barbara Bach). While they both want the same thing, their relationship is emphatically non-cooperative. But when they’re faced down by iron-toothed, super-strong henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel), and more importantly the Stromberg mission brings the KGB and MI6 together, 007 and XXX fall for each other. Little does XXX know that Bond is the man responsible for her lover’s death during a routine ski chase.

So yeah, I’d agree that it’s the other good Roger Moore movie. In many ways, it’s a cleaner, less convoluted take on the formula established by Goldfinger. It does most of the tropes, but does them well: good action, good gadgets, a respectfully subdued but mercifully present sense of humor. There’s not much else to say; halfway through 1977, it’s in my top 10. Just don’t expect it to stay there.

Signs This Was Made in 1977
Bond says “you’re on Candid Camera.” However, Allen Funt never comes boogieing on out. Detente is namedropped, and is the entire subtext of the movie. The score is all lush Marvin Hamlisch piano pieces, including the theme by Carly Simon, with the one exception of the Bond theme’s disco remix. Eat your heart out, Meco!

Next Time: Orca

Empire of the Ants (1977)

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Empire of the Ants
Dir. Bert I. Gordon
Premiered June 29, 1977

What’s stupider than Jaws with an octopus? Jaws with ants! Produced by drive-in b-movie stalwart American Independent Pictures, and based on and having nothing to do with the H.G. Wells story of the same name, Empire of the Ants is a glorious first: the first so-bad-it’s-good flick of 1977.

The film opens simply enough, with the first of several long, lingering shots of slow-moving boats. This particular boat is off the coast of Florida, where some people– it just occurred to me that we never know who they are– dumping radioactive waste into the sea. One drum of waste floats onto the beach, leaks, and attracts ants.

The same day, a con artist (Joan Collins) has arranged for a party of speculators to check out her beachfront property with the promise of turning it into a small community. The land is worthless, but bigger problems arise when the irradiated ants grow to tremendous size and begin killing the party off one by one. With the help of the group’s boat captain (Robert Lansing), they escape to a town. Unfortunately, the local population has already been enslaved by the ants through the power of pheromones.

Let’s be clear: none of that makes sense. Radioactive waste doesn’t float, for one. Nor are ants telepathic, as shown here, occasionally screaming like human women. And there’s no way they could show up on the beach and take over a town miles away instantaneously. Far weirder is Empire of the Ants’ habit of having its characters constantly reference conversations that weren’t in the movie, but logically should have been, although said conversations still wouldn’t make sense in context, making it seem like there was no script. Each character is such a stereotype that you can tell the order in which they’ll be killed off.

But you’re not here for story; you’re here for effects, and you won’t be disappointed. The ant effects come in several different flavors. Sometimes the actors are placed in a split-screen with blown-up footage of real ants, albeit in visibly grainier film stock. At other times, live ants are placed on models, where they appear way larger than in any other form. Then there’s the puppets, which are lovingly detailed but can barely move, forcing the actors to stand patiently still in order to be slowly, gingerly gored. The most sublimely ridiculous gimmick, though, is when the ants appear to be drawn onto the film itself with black Sharpie.

At the very least, however, the film leaves plenty of dialogue-free moments to riff on. Mystery Science Theater 3000 take note!

Signs This Was Made in 1977
The men and women all wear variations on the same respective outfits, and they are disco-tastic.

How Did It Do?
Empire of the Ants grossed $2.5 million against an unknown budget– unknown, but probably tiny considering its shoddy effects and reckless production. It also earned an impressive-for-all-the-wrong-reasons 0% rating on RottenTomatoes.

Next Time: The Spy Who Loved Me