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Phase IV (1973)

By Ian Grey | Posted

One can easily imagine a contempo screenwriter pitching Phase IV: "Like 2001, but with ants!" But famed movie-title designer Saul Bass (Psycho, Alien), directing his first and only feature, made this in the fabled '70s, so high concept gives way to deliberately paced high-art effects, attaining a register of abstracted creepiness found nowhere else in invading-insect cinema. The plot is daft: In and around a trashy Arizona desert town, a group of scientists led by character actors Nigel Davenport, Michael Murphy, and Lynne Frederick build a biosphere so as to study the local ant population, grown hyperintelligent due to possible alien intervention. I know, I know, but onwards: Soon, minimalist-style anthills are surrounding the lab; the ants attack shapely Frederick and otherwise raise an anti-human ruckus, eventually leading to the ultimate evolution of man to a higher species, or something like that. Bass aims for Kubrickian scope, scientific accuracy, and slow-build chills; while he stumbles on the first two counts, Phase IV is ultimately a head-scratcher of the most unforgettable order. Plus, the scene where a whole mess of ants crawl out of a guy's hand is totally cool.

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