Them! put giant killer bugs on the map. Ants were very fascinating to me when I was kid. I dealt with them a lot and frequently learned many interesting facts about their colony. So a movie about rampant 9 ft ants from the 50’s was always on my radar. My parents were big fans who watched the movie frequently when they were younger. Although I saw clips, I didn’t see all of Them! until way later. Them! is the very first monster attack creature feature starring giant bugs.
Ants are mutated as a result of atomic radiation. Ironically, Them! was released the same year as Godzilla. You’d think Them! would end up cheesy with a premise like that, but it’s surprisingly terrifying even now. The high pitched bird call they make is creepy and so is the idea of ants crushing you in their mandibles. Them! slowly builds up to their reveal with local New Mexico police officers investigating mysterious deaths and the disappearance of sugar. Their only clue is a traumatized little girl who famously screams the title.
It starts with the FBI and a few scientists examining the area, then grows into a far worse problem that requires the military. Thanks to a couple of escaped queens, the world could soon be overrun with giant ants. It gets to the point where even information from the local drunk is helpful. The ants are dangerous due to their acidic stingers and ability to tunnel deep underground. Flamethrowers do the trick after several tragic losses accompanied by early Wilhelm screams. Highly capable actors, deep questions, a simple premise, and 50’s flare help make Them! a well executed trend-setter.