Guest Blog By Thomas S. Flowers
The most foreboding title among
the horror and science fiction lexicon, besides perhaps IT or They (which is
just a cheap knockoff of the more impressive film we’re about to discuss), is
the 1954 masterpiece known as Them! Among the many different creature features,
be it swamp critters or critters from space or super mutant hybrids, bugs freak
me out the most. As defined by the omnipotent Wikipedia, “Entomophobia
(also known as insectophobia) is a specific phobia characterized by an
excessive or unrealistic fear of one or more classes of insect and classified
as a phobia by the DSM-5. More specific cases included apiphobia (fear of bees)
and myrmecophobia (fear of ants).” Now, that being said…I think my
“fear” can be measured by mass. The smaller the insect, the less I
get “freaked out.” Hence, small little pests like flies and
mosquitoes are simply put…pests, easily swatted or shooed away. But on the
other spectrum, the bigger they get, the more I’m opted to run away screaming.
If someone were to make a monster movie with the intention of provoking the
mass amount of fear from yours truly, Them! would be the quintessential
experience of terror.
But it cannot be done in a silly
way. If you want a serious reaction, the movie will need to have a serious undertone.
Them! is a perfect example of this. As a fan of most dubbed
“classics,” basically timeless pieces of cinematic history, be it
1930s or 40s or 50s or 60s or even those in the Silent Era, I took double
pleasure in the fact that this now 63-year-old movie can still capture that
tension, that wonderful feeling of dread so fantastically. Them!, not too sound
too fan-girlish, is utterly amazing. By modern standards, Them! easily tops
what producers consider to be blockbusters in not just storytelling and
characterization, but also special effects. It makes me curious what original
audiences thought when they first sat in their parked fin-tailed red and chrome
Chrysler’s at the local drive-in, WITHOUT having been desensitized by years of
modern computer-generated graphics.
Alas, those day’s are gone
All we can do now is cherish the
time we had.
For those who have not had the
pleasure, here is a quick synopsis of Them! from IMDb:
“The earliest atomic tests
in New Mexico cause common ants to mutate into giant man-eating monsters that
Boom. You don’t really need
anything more than that, do you? Needless to say, IMDb isn’t wrong. In a nut
shell, those are the stakes. A mutated strain of ants are multiplying in the
New Mexico desert and could very well threaten civilization. And not just any
mutated ant species, but a mutation of the Cataglyphis genus, better known as
Desert Ants. These sand dwellers are among the most aggressive of ant. The
perfect bugs to supersize for a horror/science fiction movie, right?
One of the fun aspects of Them!
is how the movie starts off and is treated more or less throughout the entirety
as a “detective” story. The movie opens with a patrol car doing their
normal patrol and pickup a little girl, no more than six years old, strolling
through the desert alone dressed in a nightgown and cradling a broken doll.
They try talking to her but she is catatonic, speechless, staring blankly out
at the brown sand. That feeling of dread we talked about begins to weave slowly
into the movie and as the policemen investigate a nearby trailer, finding it
mostly destroyed, pulled apart from the outside (they deduce) the tension
builds even further.
The next scene certainly adds to
not only the mystery but also the horror when police sergeant Ben Peterson’s
(played by the very awesome James Whitmore) partner “disappears” off
screen investigating a strange sound. He get’s off a couple of shots and then
screams, that kind of scream that sends chills down your spine. The sound the
officer investigates permeates throughout the entire movie. A familiar nature
melody for anyone living in suburbia or out in the country. The sound of cicada
or crickets singing in trees or in tall grass. Come summer, that sound is still
quite pleasant to me, despite this film’s attempt to ruin it. Though, there is
a lingering feeling of “what’s really making that sound? Are they, Them!
And I love how, despite the
excellent movie art on the poster,
knowing there will be giant ants in this movie, the story stalls the BIG
reveal, forgive the pun, until the absolute right moment. And that moment, much
how the newly brought on character, FBI agent, Robert Graham (played by man’s
man James Arness), to its frustrating conclusion through the “comic
relief” of sorts Professor Harold Medford (played by Santa himself Edmund
Gwenn) and his “if a boy can do it a girl can do it too” daughter Dr.
Patrica Medford (Joan Weldon). The Dr. Medord’s are not really that comedic,
the old man is sort of how we might think brilliant old men are, a tad absent
minded to every day tasks, but a genius in their preferred fields of study. And
the female Dr. Medford, despite her strong grace of femininity, wasn’t
overpowering or preachy. She was meek but smart and willing to go places most
men wouldn’t dare go. In a decade before feminism really took off in America,
it’s hard to place the purpose of her character. Regardless, I was and am very
pleased with her performance, second to her father perhaps, how she was not the
ditsy romance how most other movies place actresses. Harold may have been love
struck, but everyone else called her Pat, a genderless name, and I prefer it
The reveal was perfect, as I
said. A sandstorm kicks up and everyone’s goggled and stumbling around for
clues. Somehow Pat get’s separated from the group. That chilling buzzing,
ringing, clicking cicada sound starts again, getting louder and louder, and
everyone is looking around wondering what that noice is and where it’s coming
from. Above Pat on a dune, emerges a large black head with giant orb eyes long
furry antenna and large sharp looking mandibles. She screams, alerting the
others who begin opening fire, destroying the ant’s antenna (to the suggestion
of Dr. Medford). The ant is killed and while the others are staring at this
impossible horror, Dr. Medford makes a statement, the inspiration and message
of the entire movie, I think. He says, “We may be witnesses to a Biblical
prophecy come true – ‘And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon
creation, and the beasts shall reign over the earth.'” He says something
very similar towards the end of the movie, stating, “When Man entered the
atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What we’ll eventually find in
that new world, nobody can predict.”
Full of sparking large logos and
flashy gadgets and a new generation of fast food and drive-in theaters and
modern jazz and rock-in-roll, but this was also an era of uncertainty.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki awakened something in humanity. Something more than just
awes and dread. Something darker and more pious than religion. The Atomic Age
was this new fear of the bomb. Uncertainty over world powers, the growth of the
Cold War, and a horizon in modern science to which many did not understand. Not
knowing is the greatest fear of all, at least according to H.P. Lovecraft. The
Atomic Age also gave birth to this very feature we find ourselves enjoying
(hopefully), the birth of unnatural monsters such as Godzilla and Them! Better
known as Creature Features.
Them! acts as a cautionary tale.
Be warned, what will await us on the other side of the door. Will science bring
upon us destruction and darkness? Will man’s ignorance? Them! isn’t about the
dangers of real giant bugs, it’s about consequences. That in everything we do
or strive to bring about, for every action there is an equal and opposite
reaction, as Newton had once said. Its a message every new generation hears,
right? Cautionary warnings from the old folks rocking on the porch, talking
about how things used to be.
The rest of Them! takes on that
similar detective story we were introduced to in the beginning. They hunt down
the hive and destroy the giant ants with poison, only to discover a few queens
had escaped prior. Now the once localized investigation turns into a global
event. Hush hush, of course, to avoid widespread panic, the team with the added
benefit of the military and select government officials quickly work to destroy
Them! But the movie doesn’t end like some monster movies with the creatures
being destroyed…there is a feeling of uncertainty, astute given the era, and
we are left wondering if perhaps there are more giant mutated ants out in the
desert thanks to atomic weaponry. And as Dr. Wedford said, “nobody can
Thomas S. Flowers
Genre: Historical Fiction/Horror
Publisher: Darker Worlds Publishing
Date of Publication: Aug 10, 2018
Number of pages: 277 (Kindle)
Cover Artist: Michael Bray
Tagline: They thought vampires were fantasy. They were wrong.
In the year 2044, reporters from the Public Relations Ministry gather at the home of Benjamin Harker, the last surviving member of the Harlem Hellfighters. At the age of 144, he is the oldest recorded man alive. Hidden among them, Clyde Bruner is looking for a different kind of story. Across the United States, despite the Great Walls and patrol drones built to keep America secure, something has found its way in. And now towns are vanishing during the night. Entire populations, gone. Only to return after the sun sets, changed, unholy, and lethal. And whatever this evil is, its spreading west.
According to a bedtime story Bruner’s grandfather told him when he was a boy, Benjamin Harker has seen this before. He’s faced this scourge. Fought this evil. Survived them. Killed them. From the trenches of the Great War to the jungles of Vietnam to the sands of Iraq, Harker will search his past to save our future.
But as each city light extinguishes across the country, is there no time left to stop what’s coming?
Who doesn’t love a good story? Thomas’s favorite books include All Quiet on the Western Front, Salem’s Lot, and Hell House.
In his own writings, he aspires to create fantastic worlds with memorable characters and haunted places. His stories range from Shakespearean gore, classic monster tales, and even stories that hurt him the most to write about, haunted soldiers and PTSD. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, Thomas’s debut novel, Reinheit, was eventually published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, FEAST, Beautiful Ugly, and Planet of the Dead.
His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, filled with werewolves, Frankenstein-inspired monsters, cults, alter-dimensional insects, witches, and the undead are published with Limitless Publishing.
In 2008, Thomas was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He is the senior editor at Machine Mean, a site that reviews horribly awesome and vintage horror movies and books from guest contributors who obsess over a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics.
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