At the time of writing this article and review of “Them!” it’s 65-years-old and highly likely some readers are unaware of the movie and its importance in the horror genre, furthermore many modern audiences will find the movie as a watered down b-movie antiquated with technical limitations. However, for the time of 1954, those constraints earned it an Oscar nomination in the category of Best Effects, Special Effects but earned a Golden Reel Award from the Motion Picture Sound Editors in 1955. Often modern viewers discount films that tend to be black and white, as less importance, but in 1954 horror had two other films of significance those were in black & white Godzilla and Creature from the Black Lagoon, these still get a big clamor from cinema lovers and creature feature fans. Needless to say, Them! presents itself with a quick pace story, some social commentary, and not very sexist for a film of its time.
Before we can move onward to discuss the legendary film, one needs to understand the cinema world of the early 1950s and the pre-production struggles, because nothing in movie-making goes smoothly. Hollywood started to enter in the sci-fi realm and later combined it with horror, incredible stories, such a vegetable human aka The Thing from Another World (1951) and other aliens warning us against reckless behaviors in The Day Stood Still (1951), while the movies were successful it still didn’t sell the studio executives too much, that’s not until 1953. An explosion year, first Invaders from Mars from Twentieth Century Fox in April, then It Came from Outer Space released by Universal Studios and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms from Warner Brothers, and famed special effects artist Ray Harryhausen worked on it, these two movies appeared on the film circuit separated by 8-days. Then it was Paramount Studios’ turn with War of the Worlds taking over in August. 1954 started the process of shopping “Them!” around started Warner who initially passed, but Paramount offered to purchased it, but before settlement Warner reclaimed the position, perhaps remembering that the Beast movie was a box office smash. However, they did eliminate both the 3D effects, because most theaters didn’t have the equipment to show it correctly and then chose to cancel filming the movie in color, due to nervous executives. The result was one of the greatest creature feature movies of the early 50s, and would go to unleash a series of sci-fi and horror features for the rest of the decade, atomic creations of large reptiles, bugs, people and even spiders, such as Tarantula (1955).
Gordon Douglas, who directed the popular comedy-horror movie Zombies on Broadway (1945) got the nod for this project, while using a screenplay of Ted Sherdemann, who based his work from Russell S. Hughes’ adaption of the story by George Worthing Yates, known for It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955).
Once more, I’ll try to avoid some spoilers, but no guarantees, the best parts of the film, found near the beginning of the story, which masked itself as a mystery, first a catatonic little girl, a camper of destruction (pull outward – not in) and quickly enough a convenience shop owner, a patrol officer, sand some high pitch chirping. This all occurs for the first 28-minutes, now the box art, does giveaway what Them! is all about, but this early portion, gives great insight to a filmmaker of how to disguise a one’s storyline, yet it all seems very plausible throughout the full movie, hence a realism that sucks the viewer into for entertainment.
Simply enough, however time to dive a tad deeper, set in New Mexico’s desert wasteland, officers Ed Blackburn (Chris Drake) and police Sergeant Ben Peterson (James Whitmore (The Relic )) traveling down a lonesome highway when they spot that little emotionless girl, later known as The Ellinson Girl (Sandy Descher) they scoop her up and proceed in the direction she came from, likely in search of her parents. They stumble upon a camper trailer, strangely torn outward, bizarre footprints, and hundreds on tiny ants in the sugar of the kitchen. Soon on the scene is a stoic F.B.I. officer Robert Graham (James Arness (The Thing from Another World ) and latches onto the case because the kid’s slain father was a fellow agent, from there two scientists, a father and daughter team arrive to research and discuss their findings. They are Drs. Harold and Patricia Medford, portrayed respectively by Edmund Gwenn and Joan Weldon , Harold appears a tad unsteady, yet still smart while progressive and brilliant, she’s not there for eye candy. Her character is shown as equal to the men, even when facing a room of generals and admirals, she holds her ground firmly. Harold notices interest of New Mexico and the radiation testing, how its effects are long lasting to both man and insect, in fact all creatures great and small. A series of incidents occur, including a funny scene with old gentleman, Jensen, who is in the Alcoholic Ward, which was a character actor called Olin Howard, the same one who is the first to later encounter The Blob (1958). Originally the conclusion of the movie to be set in New York subway but limitations of the budget scratched that idea and hence the use of the now famous Los Angeles storm drains for car chases, Grease (1978) to Terminator 2 (1991) and the remake of Gone in 60 Seconds (2000).
This movie, served as influence to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) where he kept the shark actually hidden from the audience, though like just like Jaws it dealt with the mechanical issues as well, nevertheless it also showed with James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) when the smoke/fog filled tunnels, served as a place for the monsters in “Them!” to hide before springing out to their prey. Lastly, the film title gets mentioned in Stephen King’s novel It, showing the love and influence extends greatly for the production. One important aspect the film used was amplified bird-voiced tree frogs (Hyla avivoca), on repeated loop hours. In addition, this film was shortly after World War II, and hence the studio acquired real flamethrowers on load by the Army, with condition that professional use, hence combat veterans starred in the movie, as uncredited roles. However, the construction of the actual monster ant, did honestly have silly looking eyes, but had very good effects for this creature feature, convincingly handled as they were full size beasts, measuring between eight to twelve feet long, and used manipulation techniques later called animatronics in the seventies, and quietly still employed to this day in filmmaking. Gordon Bau, a very accomplished makeup effects previously worked Strangers on a Train (1951) and the exquisite House of Wax (1953), in today’s world his title would be under SFX.
This film, truly gave so many horror fans the fix for creature features, as it served as influence for story tellers, filmmakers and fans, alike, the movie serve a springboard of the careers on many. In the era of 1950s where sexism soared, it is refreshing to have progressive mindsets, now granted some of the male chauvinism existed, but downplay in the film, no scream queen in the movie, there’s no evidence of how the audience perceived it, one could image . Nevertheless, “Them!” carried influenced, in fact recently it inspired the horror flick It came from the Desert (2017).
- The Amazing New Warner Bros. Sensation!
- FANTASTIC MONSTERS ATTACK EARTH! (original ad – all caps)
- You’ve never seen the like of THEM! (Newspaper ad).
- The horror-horde of crawl-and-crush giants you’ve been hearing about on TV and radio! (Newspaper ad).
- KILL ONE – AND TWO TAKE ITS PLACE (Australian day bill)
- AN ENDLESS TERROR! A NAMELESS HORROR! (Australian day bill)
- A horror horde of crawl-and-crush giants clawing out of the earth from mile-deep catacombs!
- Kill one and two take its place!
- This city is under martial law until we annihilate THEM!
- An Endless Terror! A Nameless Horror!
- The Sci-Fi Classic of the Atomic Age
IMDb Rating: 7.3/10
Baron’s Rating: 7.5/10