Them! (1954)

“We may be witnessing a Biblical prophecy come true--the beasts will reign over the earth.”

Today, on Kaiju Korner, I’m going to flip the script a bit and focus on . . . bugs.  While usually small and parasitic in their general annoyances, bugs are a BIG problem for a lot of people. From flies to beetles, mosquitoes and beyond, lots of people find insects absolutely intolerable . . . so, what happens when these pint-sized annoyances become really, really GARGANTUAN in size thanks to some good ol’ fashioned love from radiation?

Mass hysteria as some deep-fried ants make their way from New Mexico to Los Angeles in a B-movie monster classic that most people have yet to forget about.  THEM!, complete with a big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles, was originally going to be shot in color and arrive in 3-D, as a challenge to Universal’s of Creature from the Black Lagoon, but the higher-ups at Warner Brothers ultimately decided to not spend the money, instead reducing the budget and forcing the black-and-white standard for its B-movie releases.

"a socially-charged Cold War era look at man-made monsters"

Mutating the main source of threats is nothing new to this column.  And plenty of directors continue to do it.  Yes, it seems bug movies, acting as a sub-genre or an offshoot from the kaiju threat, have their own corner of the mutated world when it comes to film.  From Peter Jackson’s Mimic to borrowed moments in Ridley Scott’s Alien, really big bugs have been a constant threat in our entertainment.

And it began with THEM!, a scrappy little gem from the Cold War Era.  With effects artist Dick Smith designing one fully functional 12-foot mechanical ant, gears, pulleys, and all for functionality, and three-quarters of a second one (for close-up shots), this monster movie quickly made history as the animatronics and the puppetry required to make the ant work was put on pause in favor of teasing the audience.  For the first half hour or so, the movie plays coy with its audience, allowing the tension to rise before revealing these mutant muthas!

The delay probably assisted the movie in making a cool $2 million (and becoming the highest grossing film in ‘54)  when it was first released because that growing suspense, especially in monster movies, is everything.  Just ask Spielberg, who also chose (or had to!!) to pump the breaks when revealing the shark in JAWS.

With a captivating story - which begins with a terrified little girl (Sandy Descher) roaming a New Mexico desert as she clutches a damaged doll - and some groundbreaking special effects, THEM! is a classic monster B-movie which plays upon the fears of a terrified public who were (and still are!!!) convinced that a new era of testing dangerous atomic weapons would cause massive mutations in any living thing!

Except the creatures affected by the testing are . . . ants!  Written by Ted Sherdeman, who was a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur and reacted quite strongly against the use of nuclear weapons, THEM! humanizes the whole situation by focusing on the smallest among us first, a child as she wanders the desert.Them! (1954)

Turns out, the little girl’s family has been attacked by these mutant ants and she’s the only survivor!  Enter Sgt. Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) and partner Ed Blackburn (Chris Drake), who travel to the campsite and discover an RV and an automobile which has been ripped apart from the inside! 

Cue the alien-like sound of the ants!  It’s this sound - after they discover weird patterns around the wrecked vehicles - which sends the transfixed girl into a shock that no one sees but the audience.  It’s a quiet scene which is full of danger, intrigue, and suspense.  Moments like this one add up, making THEM! work far better than it ought to considering the time period.       

What transpires is a socially-charged Cold War era look at man-made monsters - who announce themselves with an ear-splitting wail (but, really, pitched-up bird calls) - and the consequences there within as two scientists,  Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn) and his pretty daughter Dr. Pat Medford (Joan Weldon), uncover the truth behind the giant-sized ants and race against time - with some help from the military - to put an end to their sudden arrival.

Directed by Gordon Douglas and released by Warner Brothers in 1954, this 70-year-old monster-sized thriller is on the edge of enjoying a huge resurgence in popularity due to its cinematic achievements, which includes a strong use of suspense, a limited use of the monster-sized ants, and the trifecta use of the Wilhelm Scream, a sound effect which was recorded a mere three years before this film was released!  But, here, we get to hear that familiar scream no less than three times, cementing the sound effect’s rise in the popular culture as many films to come would use it.

THEM! is currently on blu-ray in a bare-bones edition and it needs some serious revisiting from Warner Bros in order to give it the release that the cult classic undeniably deserves.

5/5 nukes


Them! (1954)

Blu-ray Details

Home Video Distributor: Warner Bros.
Available on Blu-ray
- October 27, 2015
Screen Formats: 1.78:1
: English SDH, French, Japanese, Spanish
English: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono; Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono; Spanish: Dolby Digital Mono
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Region-free playback

THEM! is currently on blu-ray in a bare-bones edition and it needs some serious revisiting from Warner Bros in order to give it the release that the cult classic undeniably deserves..



  • None

Special Features:

  • Ants (3:06)
  • Theatrical Trailer

Film Details

Them! (1954)

MPAA Rating: Approved.
94 mins
: Gordon Douglas
Ted Sherdeman; Russell S. Hughes
Ted Sherdeman; Russell S. Hughes
: Thriller | Horror
A Horror Horde of Crawl-and-Crus Giants Clawing Out of the Earth From Mile-Deep Catacombs
Memorable Movie Quote: "General, I'll make a deal with you. You make me a sergeant in charge of the booze and I'll enlist."
Theatrical Distributor:
Warner Bros.
Official Site:
Release Date:
June 15, 1954
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
October 27, 2015
Synopsis: The earliest atomic tests in New Mexico cause common ants to mutate into giant man-eating monsters that threaten civilization.


Them! (1954)