Empire of the Ants/Tentacles Double Feature DVD Review

H.G. Wells was an excellent storyteller who also made many bold predictions about the future. This is a man who predicted space travel pretty accurately. What he never could have predicted was how bad his story "Empire of the Ants" would turn out once it made it to film. Now bundled on DVD with the Italian film "Tentacles," these two schlock fests are well known for breaking new ground when it comes to boring their audiences. Radioactive waste is spilled onto a small island, soon to be developed as a resort. A few ants manage to get themselves covered in the goo, rapidly growing into human-terrorizing beasts. When a group of tourists take the trip to visit the area, the ants begin their picnic, munching down on everyone who comes too close. When it's discovered that the ants actually control a local town, it's up to the small group of survivors, including Marylin Fryser (Joan Collins), to stop the insects horrific plan before they take over the world. Bert I. Gordon gives us this "classic," using the same effects he pioneered in another schlocker, "Beginning of the End." Most of the ants are real, hilariously magnified and superimposed onto the screen. The backgrounds between the humans and insect hardly ever match. Close-ups use full-size mock ups which were done so much better 20-years before in the undeniable classic "Them!" The plot rolls along at a snails pace, including an 18-minute scene in which some of the survivors simply row a boat across a river, occasionally spotting a swarm of the mutated nasties. It never really has a point, nor does any other segment in the movie. This is easily one of the most well remembered bad-movies of the 70's. (* out of *****) An underwater tunnel experiment annoys a rather large ocean beast that immediately begins snacking on local residents. Reporter Ned Turner (John Huston) immediately picks up on the story, quickly pointing the finger at the president of Trojan Construction (Henry Fonda). The beast continues to feed ravenously until Will Gleason (Bo Hopkins) devises a plan that can finally put an end to the monster that took out and entire group of sailboat racers. "Tentacles" has been so horribly criticized over the years, it's amazing anyone would dare put it on DVD. Released in Italy as "Tentacoli" and starring a wealth of actors, there is hardly any reason why this movie fares so poorly. Maybe it's because the giant octopus is only on screen for about 15-minutes total in a nearly two-hour film. Maybe it's because Henry Fonda gives one of the most abominable performances of all time. Then again, maybe it's simply because this movie is far too long, the effects are never convincing (particularly the finale), and no one ever really cares about the characters while they continue to converse in scene after scene with no effect on the movies plot line. Yeah, that has to be it. (* out of *****) Both of these films are presented in their original aspect ratios. "Empire of the Ants" gets a surprisingly nice 1.85:1 transfer, the same used for a previous DVD release from MGM. The scratches and specks that appear on screen can be annoying from time to time, but this is a nice restoration considering the age and quality of the movie. Light grain is noticeable throughout, but it never is a major problem. Flesh tones are accurate, but not amazing. The overall transfer is soft and occasionally seems a little too blurry, but this is a more than acceptable transfer for a film that really doesn't deserve it. (****) Speaking of films that don't deserve nice transfers, there's no need to go anywhere else than "Tentacles." This is a transfer just shy of absolute perfection. The only real issues are the skin tones, which are flat and always seem to be one shade off, but this seems to be the norm for this era of film. This is otherwise an unbelievable transfer featuring sharp detail, fine color, and absolutely no grain or compression problems. Every speck and spot has been cleaned up from the print. I'm not sure where they found this 2.35:1 print, but this is just stunning. (*****) "Empire" doesn't fare as well in the sound department. Anytime anything is going on in the background the actors dialogue is lost. Even when no background noise is present, the sound is scratchy and sounds like it's coming from a tinny radio speaker. This is mono 2.0 soundtrack that needs some immediate attention. (*) A remixed soundtrack has been produced for "Tentacles," and just like the video, this is a pretty nice effort. Dolby Surround powers this occasionally immersive soundtrack and the only real problems are the expected scratchy voices. The film's annoying soundtrack gets pumped through the speakers and the front speakers get a nice left to right workout. Bass is of course non-existent, but work was obviously done in this department. (****) Extras include the trailers for both films. There is some footage in both trailers that is not in the films so they are worth a watch. Otherwise, this is a barren 2-sided disc. (*) This disc, along with the majority of MGM's "Midnite Movie" line, are exclusive to Best Buy stores. It's hard to pay $10 for one awful movie, so it's a nice gesture to give us two. Then again, if you purchased "Empire of the Ants" separately when it was available, then you're probably not happy right now. Still, even though most of these movies are absolute bombs, the Tentacles transfer is a must for videophiles.

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