King of the Ants (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Ever since Stuart Gordon directed the film version of H.P. Lovecraft's Re-Animator, which was his first film made nearly two decades ago, movie buffs have been looking for him to develop the imagination, crazed humor, and operatic gore that made his debut such a cult classic.

The wait hasn't been very rewarding. Nothing he's done since has quite matched the loony genius of Re-Animator. His most recent film, another Lovecraft adaptation named Dagon, had some moments, but fell apart with a silly rubber monster that would have embarrassed Roger Corman.

King of the Ants finally delivers on some of Gordon's promise, albeit in a completely different context. He delivered the macabre gore and the grotesque humor as expected, but this time there are no supernatural forces or bizarre scientific experiments. This story is about over-the-top gangsters, along the lines of Pulp Fiction.

Newcomer Chris McKenna plays a drifter who is making a few bucks as a house painter when he is offered a chance to make some pretty decent cash by killing someone. After he commits the crime (with considerable difficulty, for he is inexperienced in murder), he finds out some unpleasant facts (1) the guy he killed was a great guy, a dedicated civil servant who was about to expose criminal corruption in municipal construction contracts (2) and the major criminal the victim would have exposed is the guy who hired McKenna to commit the murder (3) the mobster is not going to pay off on the contract (4) the mobster is going to kill Chris, who is simply viewed as a loose end.

Chris manages to save his life by leaving a critical file with a friend, along with instructions to hand it to the police if Chris should disappear. When the mobster finds out he can't kill Chris, he decides simply to torture the shit out of him for a few days, ostensibly to find out about the file, but really just for the sheer joy of it. My personal favorite was their decision to use Chris's head for a golf ball. By the time the baddies are finished torturing Chris, his head is so distorted that he makes The Elephant Man look like Pierce Brosnan.

Between the murder of the civil servant, the torture, and Chris's eventual revenge, there is some truly disgusting and brutal on-screen violence, involving fiery bodies, severed heads, cracked skulls, and so forth.

The mobster is Daniel Baldwin, now looking and sounding almost exactly like his brother Alec. Baldwin's crew includes George Wendt from Cheers.


  • Chris McKenna - buns
  • Kari Wuhrer - breasts, buns, top of pubes. (Kari's natural breasts. after having the implants removed.)

DVD info from Amazon

  • full length commentary.

  • featurette.

The plot is quite good, and the intense violence is so graphically powerful that the audience feels every blow to Chris's head, but the element that really raises this film above routine straight-to-vid quality is the performance from McKenna. He had to make this character both amorally, brutally violent and sympathetic. That's not an easy combination, but he pulled it off so well that we end up rooting for him even after we witness his brutal slaying of the innocent civil servant.

The Critics Vote ...

  • No major reviews, but IMDb has links to reviews from several genre sites.

The People Vote ...

  • straight-to-vid
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. If you like gruesome, operatic violence and dark humor, this fills the bill bizarrely, but effectively.

Return to the Movie House home page