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Them! – American Monster Movies in the 1950s

King Kong could be seen as a response to the Depression/war/gender changes and Gojira as a response to bomb tests. The American film Them! (1954) also blames bomb tests, but includes a Biblical prophecy this time.

The subgenre of giant insect films began with Them! Followed by Rodan (1956) The Fly (1958, 1986), The Black Scorpion (1957), The Deadly Mantis (1957), Tarantula (1955), The Beginning of the End (1957), Earth vs. the Spider (1958), Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959), The Wasp Woman (1959), Mothra (1961), First Men in the Moon (1964), The Swarm (1978), Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), Empire of the Ants (1977), Killer Bees (1974), Bug (1975), Empire of the Ants (1977), Arachnophobia, Tremors (1990), Ticks (1993), Mimic (1997), Starship Troopers (1997), Eight-Legged Freaks (2002), an affectionate sendup – King Kong (2005), The Mist (2007), Slither (2006), Infestation (2009), Mongolian Death Worm (2010), Big Ass Spider (2013) – recent Mutant Giant Spider Dog (fake prank video on Internet—look it up!)

Giant ants are a scientific impossibility—they are unable to get big due to their breathing system. But plausibility never stopped monster movies!

Warner Bros prop man Richard Smith and SFX man Ralph Ayres were nominated for the Oscar but lost to Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The Them! ants were not small models like King Kong or rubber suits like Gojira, but “full-scale models manipulated mechanically or, as they would come to be known in the late seventies, animatronics. Half a century of conflicting articles and reports put the models somewhere between eight and twelve feet in length.” ( (Links to an external site.))

Watch Them!. Again, as you watch keep these basic elements in mind:

  • pre-appearance mentions & witnesses
  • initial glimpses
  • sounds they make
  • attention paid to specific people
  • gender origin
  • possible motivation
  • methods of destruction
  • geographical path they take
  • people involved in their discovery
  • people involved in their destruction / who dies and who lives
  • methods to destroy monster
  • human relationships around it
  • the meaning (the takeaway message) of the monster

A) Choose 5 of these questions and answer them with 2-3 full sentences:

  1. Many men scream in this film, not just women. Among them is the famous Wilhelm Scream, named for its 3rd use in a 1953 Western The Charge at Feather River (uttered by a guy named Wilhelm). The scream has been used over 200 times in Star Wars, Indiana Jones films, Willow, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Hercules, Toy Story, Batman Returns, Lethal Weapon 4, Small Soldiers, Tarantino’s films (including Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood), TV shows and video games. How is a man’s scream different from a woman’s? What is its effect on you? When is the Wilhelm scream used in this film? I count 3!
  1. Name three different camera techniques used in this film and describe when they’re used and their intended effect.
  1. Comment on some aspect of the forensic/police investigation involved in tracking down the ants.
  1. Analyze the sounds the ants make.
  1. Monsters always create a panic. What does this sure knowledge cause the authorities to do to prevent one? Compare with how this issue is treated in Gojira.
  1. One of the scientists in this film turns out to be a woman: Dr. Pat Medford. Comment on her role here and compare her to women in the previous monster movies. You might remark on the way we’re first introduced to her, who shows a romantic interest in her, and how she responds.
  1. Analyze the two different slide shows/films that Dr. Harold Medford presents to authorities.
  1. What’s the quality of interactions among the institutions: state police, FBI, the military, scientists, the media, ordinary citizens?
  1. How are the giant ants both similar to and different from humans?
  1. How are the ants different from King Kong and Gojira in crucial ways?
  1. Compare Them! with a more recent giant-insect film in some significant aspect.
  1. There are many mentions of insanity–homicidal maniac, loony bin, Do you think I’m crazy?—and we visit several men in hospital rooms. What connection is the film making between monsters and people’s mental states?
  1. Comment on the Biblical prophecy uttered by Dr. Harold Medford.
  1. How does this film switch genres midway?

B) Read Cody’s analysis, (Links to an external site.)

Comment on something in this reading that would pertain to an interesting discussion of Them!

C) Respond to at least one other student’s post with polite agreement or disagreement, giving evidence for your point of view.

there is the peer’s post:

2. The first camera technique I noticed was panning. The movie uses panning in the sewers of LA, when the jeeps are driving around. They use this camera angle to show that the tunnels are long and they don’t know what’s behind each corner. The second camera angle I noticed is dolly zoom, they use dolly zoom to zoom in on peoples faces when they have an expression of fear or worry on their face. The last film style Is close up most of the movie is shot and close up in peoples faces and in close quarters. Especially when they’re in the sewers most every shot is close up, they do this to show that it is a very tight setting.

4. The sound the ants make is very interesting, it was hard to pick up on the sound of what it was. I don’t know what sound ants make in real life, but I think it would be more like bee or beetle. The sound they make in the movie sounded like a squeaky belt at first, when they were in the desert. When they were in the Sewers, it sounded like an amazon with all the birds chirping put on repeat. The sound is very interesting and I don’t know why they choose that but it somehow works.

5. In Them!, the issue of the ants kept hidden for most of the movie. The only time the public finds out about the ants is when the news reporter comes on and tells everyone to stay inside in LA. Which was controlled very well and the public did not freak out like it did in Gojira. In Gojira the people know about the Monster before the government. Which creates panic in the people, so the people complain to the government and want them to get rid of the problem. The government does not really seem to care about what happens to the people in Gojira.

6. Dr. Pat Medford is seen almost in every scene working with the police and in with the guys. Compared to King Kong where the female is a damsel in distress, who needs to be saved by man. In Gojira the woman just seems to be a bystander in the story and she does not really make any decisions or choices. But Dr. Pat Medford is shown in many scenes and she even goes into the sewer with them to fight the ant colony. Which in this time period you do not usually see women in these types of environments.

10. How are the ants different from King Kong and Gojira in crucial ways? The ants are very different from Kong and Gojira. Kong is an ape which is very like a human and he has feelings for a girl. Gojira is from a nuclear explosion, and all he wants to do is destroy. The ants are also a byproduct of a nuclear explosion , but the ants seem to not bother anyone unless they are disturbed. The ants’ true instances have never really changed unlike the other movies where the natural instincts of Kong and Gojira became different.

B) In Codys analysis of Them!, Cody says, “Thanks to a combination of talented filmmakers and actors and a well-written, sophisticated script that takes things seriously, what could have been just another ridiculous monster flick came out as an extremely well-done, suspenseful, and at times, downright creepy, sci-fi thriller.” I totally agree with his comment on this, Cody was talking about how all other giant insect movies are cheesy. But he says they are very good movies and I agree with him because the effects are done perfectly and not overdone so they are cheesy. The actors also do a very good job of not over exaggerating their emotions which makes the movie a great movie.

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