Hollywood! Adapt This: THEM!

     October 27, 2013


Hollywood horror has been all about sequels for the last 30-odd years, from the slasher films of Friday the 13th, Halloween, Child’s Play and Nightmare on Elm Street, to the modern micro-budget franchise model of Saw, Paranormal Activity and Insidious.  In addition to the wild success of the latter approach, studios will occasionally drop a remake that no one in particular asked for (ahem, Carrie).  Not all remakes are necessarily bad news, however, as just this week we learned that Clive Barker himself would be writing a Hellraiser remake with Doug Bradley likely reprising his role as the iconic antagonist, Pinhead.  All well and good, but there’s a huge chunk of Hollywood horror I’d love to see return to the screen: the good ol’ fashioned creature feature.  Hit the jump to find out more.  Hollywood!  Adapt this: Them!

them-posterWhat It’s About:

Next year marks the 60th anniversary of this science-fiction film from director Gordon Douglas, a picture best known for it’s “big bug” antagonists (a technical achievement that earned Them! a special effects Oscar nomination).  Scripted by George Worthing Yates (The Lone Ranger serial, It Came from Beneath the Sea,  Earth vs. the Spider) and starring James Whitmore (The Shawshank Redemption), Edmund Gwenn (The Miracle on 34th Street)Joan Weldon (The Stranger Wore a Gun) and James Arness (The Thing from Another World), Them! is still regarded as one of the best creature feature films of all time.

The classic 50s nuclear monster movie takes place in New Mexico (conveniently located near Alamogordo, the site of the first atomic bomb test detonation), where a series of bizarre deaths and a path of destruction lead a team of law enforcement and scientific personnel to discover a race of gigantic ants.  Unfortunately for the humans, these ants are nearly impervious to small arms fire (unless they’re enough of a crack shot to, say, shoot the antennae).  The officials manage to take out a local nest with poisonous gas, but soon discover that two queens have escaped and are likely attempting to establish colonies elsewhere.  That revelation leads the team on a global search to eradicate the new menace before they have a chance to wipe out our own civilization.

How Could / Why Should It Be Adapted?

Them! is still revered 60 years after its release for a number of reasons.  First, and most obvious, is the use of then-cutting-edge practical effects to animate the giant ants via mechanical means, ones that are still respectable in today’s age of computer-generated imagery and are held up as icons of 50s movie effects.  Second is the all-star cast, especially in Whitmore and Arness, who went on to enjoy a lengthy career  sporting a wide variety of roles.  Third is the tight plot and relatively fast pace of the film, making it accessible for even today’s ADHD viewers.  This isn’t an exhaustive list of the film’s merits, but my fourth and final accolade for Them! is how seriously the film takes itself, as if the menace is indeed real and the men and women on the front lines are the only ones who stand between the threat and the downfall of civilization as we know it.  There is a lack of self-referential snark in Them! that, for better or worse, pervades in later creature features and monster films.  That’s reason enough for a remake, as long as these central tenets are upheld.

them!A technical (and potentially financially lucrative) reason why Them! should be adapted is that Warner Bros. originally planned to shoot the movie in 3D, along with a color release.  While the resulting film is in black-and-white (which, let’s be honest, probably helped mask the artificiality of the giant ant rigs), there is still a brightly colored, pop-art title sequences that has become rather iconic.  More interestingly though is the fact that the 3D cameras malfunctioned during the shoot and were scrapped, but the scenes were still filmed as if the 3D effect would be applied, resulting in ant claws and flamethrowers being aimed toward the audience.  In today’s 3D-happy box offices, a Them! remake release in 3D would actually make sense.

The Final Word

There has always been, in some fashion or another, an appetite for creature features.  Lately, the most successful films have been of the campy and downright ridiculous variety: Piranha 3D and its sequel Piranha 3DDSharknado, Snakes on a Plane, and Eight-Legged Freaks.  I’m all for these types of films, but I miss the serious side of creature features, ones like Them! who employed scientists alongside law enforcement officials to both diagnose and deal with the menace.  For every Arachnoquake, I’d like an Arachnophobia;  for every Avalanche Sharks, I’d like a Jaws; for every [animal + natural disaster film], I’d like a legitimate threat in the form of an imaginative creature, solved by a team of realistic human beings.  Yes, I love Night of the Lepus, Black Sheep (the 2006 movie, not the 1996 film with Chris Farley and David Spade, though I love that one, too), and The Killer Shrews as much as the next guy, but occasionally I’d like a little more thought and little less laughter in my creature features.

Be sure to let us know what you think in the comments below, along with you favorite creature features you’d like to see remade (or never touched for fear of a disastrous new version).  Check in to Hollywood! Adapt This! next week when we tackle another property primed for adaptation.

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