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Season 3 Episode 2 - Them!

Outro S3 E2

Hello my survivor friends,

Things are getting crazy again in season 3 of after the apocalypse. I hope you are doing well.

A couple updates for you. I created two new pieces this week and am adding them to the feed. They will be backdated to show up first.

One is an introduction that explains what the podcast is and has directions to all the links so that people starting the show can take advantage of that.

The second is a trailer – which I will play at the end of this outro. This is a 2-minute clip to give people an idea about what the show is like.

I would love it if you could help distribute that clip. If you know other podcasts or friends or whatever that might generate interest, please do. I’ll send you the clip. I have both audio and video formats.

Other than that, I ‘m working away getting content created and trying to stay ahead of my deadlines.

To take you out I have a deep dive into one of the T.V. shows and early movies that influenced many of the science fiction writers of my generation.


Creature Double Feature – “Them”

In the 1970’s and 1980’s there was a T.V. show in Boston where I grew up that had a major influence on my generation. It was called Creature Feature or Creature Double Feature.

It aired on UHF channel WLVI 56 on Saturday afternoons and sometimes after midnight on Saturday nights. It was quite popular with the younger audience. They showed the campy SciFi and Monster films of the 50’s and 60’s. Hence the ‘creature’ part of it.

These were different times. In the zeitgeist of today we would not consider any of these movies ‘Horror’ movies. They were made during the ‘Code’ years in Hollywood and there was nothing sensor-worthy about them. They weren’t scary. The weren’t even well made.

But they were different. And in that world of programmed sameness and pablum for a mass audience, different was good. Different attracted the teenagers like it always does.

You can’t compare today’s concept of small screen movie watching with what we were doing back then. It’s a different world.

Let’s step into the way-back machine (which by the way is a quote from a cartoon called ‘The adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle’ that had a segment ‘Peabody’s Improbable History’ where they time traveled to historical events using a machine called ‘the wayback machine’.

Anyhow, ‘Sherman, set the wayback…’

It’s 1978. A bored teenager lounges in a mustard-yellow vinyl upholstered cube chair in front of a 27inch T.V.

He stands up.

He walks to the T.V.

He reaches out and turns a knob to select the UHF spectrum. He then spins another analog tuning dial to bring Channel 56 WLVI into focus.

He bends the rabbit ear UHF antenna to see if the picture can be clearer. Maybe he experiments with a coat hanger antenna.

There are 3 national network channels on the main spectrum on VHF ABC, CBS and WBZ, and the public television channel (which no one watches).

But there are at least 3 additional channels on the UHF spectrum. That’s where the good stuff is. That’s where the local stuff is. That’s where the weird stuff is.

The UHF channels are the second-tier players. They have hockey games and bowling shows and usually go off the air at night. That’s right, they went off the air. After the midnight showing of something like Godzilla vs Mothra the national anthem would play and it would go to a test pattern.

Back to our teenager…Satisfied that he’s got the best picture quality he’s going to get, he settles back like a reclining spider into the vinyl box chair to watch the creature double feature movies.

Today’s first feature is the movie ‘THEM!’ from 1954.

Only a teenager would have so little to do on a Saturday afternoon that watching a couple hours of monster movies was the top choice.

And not feel guilty about it!

It was great!

They would have all the old creature films, like Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Thing and any movie that had a giant killer creature of some sort. All the old Roger Corman films, the Universal horror movies.

They also had all the re-edited and dubbed Japanese monster movies from Toho Studios. We all know Godzilla, but these studios kicked out dozens of Kaiju films with all different monsters.

Yes, kids, all your Kaiju anime started here with Japanese men in rubber suits destroying miniature cities in the Toho Studios 68 years ago!

Today’s movie was a movie called “Them!” about giant ants. It made an impression on me and my cohort even though we were watching it 25 years after it got made. I still remember the movie 40+ years later.

Watching these movies back then was a bit like your own version of Mystery Science Theater. In fact, many of these films would end up on MST.

As far as I know, Mystery Science Theater never did a show on Them!. They did do the one where giant grasshoppers attack Chicago called – “The beginning of the end” with Peter Graves – but that’s another story…

“Them!” is a movie made in 1954 by Warner Brothers. The film is based on an originalSciFi story treatment by George Worthing Yates.

Them! is one of the first of the 1950s "nuclear monster" films. Meaning - the premise isthat nuke testing created these mutations. This was a common premise. They knew nukes caused mutation. As you may know the entire Godzilla kaiju genre were a nuclear monsters.

These movies voiced a very real anxiety that nuclear weapons, a force created by humanity, were beyond our control and they would ultimately cause the end of the world. Basically, humans can’t be trusted with this power, they have overreached and it’s going to end badly.

Remember, this is the era of the nuclear bomb scare. People were really worried about a nuclear attack. The US had dropped two nukes on Japan at the end of WWII and the nuclear arms race cold war was in full swing. It wasn’t just Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Worldwide there have been over 2,000 nukes tested and many of them in this time period.

Them! is also the first "big bug" feature film to use insects as the monster.

This movie was supposed to be filmed in color and 3D but when they started filming the 3D camera malfunctioned and they scrapped all that and filmed in black and white. After the fact Warner Brothers went back and colorized the title sequence to add punch to it.

The story for Them! is based in the New Mexico but was actually all filmed around Los Angeles and the California desert.

This was a time way before CGI. The giant ants are life sized animatronic puppets. Considering what they had to work with, they are pretty good. From today’s CGI perspective they are a bit comical.

In the climactic scene they use flamethrowers to destroy the giant ant nest. These were actual WWII flamethrowers. Hey, it was the early 50’s and there was lots of excess war stuff available, yah know, just laying around… “Hey, Bob can you run down to the Army Navy Store on Santa Monica and get us a few flamethrowers?

It’s still a watchable movie. It’s dated, but not terrible. You can get pieces of it on YouTube for free but if you want the whole thing, you’ll have to rent it.

I like the screenplay and the pacing of the movie. It takes it’s time revealing the monsters. The protagonists move through the desert collecting clues to destruction and disappearances. This makes the payoff much more fulfilling when the monsters do show up.

One of the memorable scenes early in the move is when they find a little girl wandering in the desert listlessly clutching a doll. When the professor. (there’s always a professor) exposes the little girl to formic acid she starts screaming “Them!” Again, we know there’s something scary coming but we don’t know what. We only know it scared this kid catatonic. Good tension building.

The giant ants finally make their appearance in a sandstorm, and there is a gun fight where our policeman shoots off the ant’s antenna with a machine gun. Not sure why this remote police force had machine guns, but hey, it’s the 50’s, it’s America! “Hey, Bob, while you’re at it get us a few machine guns, that’s a good man…

That’s a pretty good scene. We get to see the female lead, the professor’s daughter, (because the professor always has a pretty daughter), cowering from the giant ants.

They chase down those ants and kill the nest, but two queen ants get away. One goes to a cargo ship and another to the storm drains under Los Angeles.

Another scene I still remember is when they are interviewing a drunk who lives in the storm drains about the ants and he starts singing “Make me a sergeant, in charge of the beer!”

The main characters are James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, and James Arness. They do a laudable job at taking the movie seriously, which helps.

There are a couple other actors in this movie that might be familiar.

First is a very young Leonard Nimoy as a soldier delivering a report. It’s a good standalone scene. He has dialogue.

Second is a younger Fess Parker who plays a pilot locked up in a Texas mental hospital for claiming to see ‘ant shaped UFOs’. This appearance would be one of the reasons Disney selected Fess Parker to play Daniel Boone in that highly successful series.

Another notable inside joke is the use of the Wilhelm scream. This is a sounds effect from the Warner Brothers library that was originally made for a 1951 movie and titles “man eaten by alligator”.

Play it here…

Them used this effect 3 times. Once you hear this scream, you won’t be able to un-hear it! George Lucas used it in all the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies – it’s a bit of a Hollywood inside joke.

Play it here…

As campy and schlocky as this movie is to us now, it was one of the top grossing films for Warner Bros that year. Think of it as the 1954 version of Aliens. It was something the audiences had never seen before.

Think of what it took for someone to come up with this idea and then shepherd it through the production process to create this fairly credible movie in the 1950’s.

It was memorable 25 years later for that teenager in the vinyl box chair wasting a Saturday afternoon on Creature Double Feature and It still holds up after 68 years.

The lesson here, my survivor friends, is that the crazy ideas and projects are the best ones. You just need someone with the vision and passion to take them seriously.

Hope you enjoyed this commentary. Now you have some fun facts to beat your friends with at your next cookout.

Here is the 2-minute trailer Robert and I cooked up. Enjoy it and please help us out by sharing. Shoot me an email or hit me on twitter or Facebook - Same username CYKTRUSSELL at gmail – and I’ll send it to you.

Links for everything in the show notes.

· Patreon to support the show ->

Until then – Keep surviving.

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