Dead Ant (aka Giant Killer Ants) (2017)

Dead Ant (aka Giant Killer Ants) first published by SciFiNow

This fourth feature from Ron Carlson (All American Christmas Carol, 2013; Tom Cool, 2009; Midgets Vs. Mascots, 2009) opens with a before-and-after sequence: a young woman buys peyote from Native American Bigfoot (Michael Horse) and his diminutive sidekick Firecracker (Danny Woodburn), with a warning of ‘grave consequences’ should their client disrupt the local fauna; and then the same woman flees down a desert road, inexplicably stripping off all her clothes while pursued – and eventually killed – by a gigantic ant. 

This serves as an apt prologue to Dead Ant. Its credentials as tawdry exploitation are immediately established by the scene’s utterly gratuitous T&A. Its status as a creature feature is also clear. And the woman’s final posture – running forwards while constantly checking back over her shoulder – perfectly encapsulates the dynamic of this backward-looking film, which always has half an eye on the monster movies of the Fifties (and in particular Gordon Douglas’ 1954 giant ant flick Them!). 

In a self-conscious touch, the main characters of Dead Ant are also stuck between forward and backward momentums. “We need to be current, we can’t go back,” insists Pager (Rhys Coiro), lead guitarist of the once-semi-famous glam-metal band Sonic Grave. “We need to go back to our roots,” argues lead singer Merrick (Jake Busey), who just wants to return to the glory days of make-up and power ballads. Meanwhile drummer Stevie (Leisha Hailey) is contemplating turning her back on the band and driving off in her classic Ford pickup. En route to what they hope will be a return to past success, Sonic Grave  – plus its various groupies and long-suffering, super-sleazy manager Danny (Tom Arnold) – acquires peyote from Bigfoot, and heads off into the desert, hoping to find themselves and their new sound. Yet when tripped-out bassist Art (Sean Astin) kills a fire ant, an army of the critters comes back for vengeance, first leaving pieces of Art, and then beleaguering the other band members, while dramatically increasing in size each time they are killed – as though reflecting Sonic Grave’s own incarnations and comebacks over the decades. Like rock and roll, these ants refuse ever truly to die.

Dead Ant is relentlessly silly, with its constant running joke – and it’s a good one – being that Sonic Grave remain relatively unfazed by all the crazy things going on around them. “This shit happens every day in rock and roll,” declares Danny, who is used to having to find emergency replacements for bassists, and who has definitely seen it all before. Viewers may feel the same way, finding little original in the film’s merger of hard formication, insect escapades and killer tracks, of Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap (1984) and John De Bello’s Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978). Yet sometimes it is the old, familiar tunes that the audience really craves – and Dead Ant‘s comic playlist sure gives them a zany remix. 

Strap: Ron Carlson’s myrmecoid monster movie may be playing a familiar tune, but is as unstoppable (and as hilariously ridiculous) as an ageing rock band.

© Anton Bitel