I’m not a believer in the whole “horror has suddenly become elevated” thing. The genre has always had deeply personal, intelligent films. But I won’t argue that there has been a bit of a shift away from the cheesy, entertaining for entertainment’s sake, dumb B-horror films that were at their best during the 80s. We see so much less of this type of film these days, but Dead Ant is here to change that in 2019…
…Written/directed by Ron Carlson (Life Blood), Dead Ant follows a “one-hit-wonder” metal band called Sonic Grave, on their way to No-chella and desperate to come up with another hit. But when they stop at a shop way out in the desert and purchase some powerful peyote, they discover that the drug carries with it a magical curse: if they harm even a single thing out in nature while high, they’ll regret it. Some ant-flicking later, the band finds themselves attacked by a horde of giant, hungry ants that just keep getting bigger.
To understand Dead Ant, I need only describe the opening scene, in which a cameo from Cortney Palm (the heroine of another B-movie instant classic, Zombeavers), sees the actress running from a giant ant through the desert, yet finding the time to strip off all of her clothes as she runs because why the hell not? That bikini top must’ve really been weighing her down. Either way, that should give you an idea of exactly what kind of film Dead Ant is. A little bit Mosquito and Them with a touch of Tremors, Dead Ant is exactly the kind of low-brow, outrageous horror film you’d expect with giant, CGI ants and a cast of hilarious people.
If the Dead Ant cast were an actual band, they’d sell out every show. Dead Ant features a phenomenal cast comprised of Tom Arnold (Danny), Sean Astin (Art), Jake Busey (Merrick), Rhys Coiro (Pager), Leisha Hailey (Stevie), and Cameron Richardson (Love). Busey plays a hilariously bad singer, Arnold is a wonderfully perverted, frustrated manager well past his last shred of dignity, and the group overall is a bunch of entertaining burnout losers past their prime who just don’t know it yet. There is something fun and unique about all of them. These are the kind of people you want to root for, a charming cast that the audience actually relates to, instead of the unlikeable assholes we so often find in B-horror flicks.
Rounding out our cast are a couple of roadies, Sam (Sydney Sweeney) and Lisa (Joi Liaye), and the two who really steal the show whenever on screen, Bigfoot (Michael Horse) and Firecracker (Danny Woodburn). Horse is exceptionally ominous as the native selling the peyote and warning our less than intelligent cast not to fuck with nature. He’s like the desert itself, offering a beautiful experience, but giving the impression that if you make one wrong turn, you’re dead. Paired with the always funny Woodburn and later equipped with a rocket launcher and full-on “combat” gear, the two make a goofy pair that light up the scene and remind us that sometimes, horror is just supposed to be fun, plain and simple. Though I have to wonder, if these two aren’t actually evil and want to help those that unleash the peyote curse, why in the hell are they still selling it? It’s impossible to walk through the desert without stepping on a single living thing, so I have to imagine at a certain point, they’d be spending more on rockets than they’re making from the drug, yeah?
Logistics aside, Dead Ant is a wickedly funny, sexy, wild jam that just wants to rock your mind. Complete with gore, gratuitous nudity, and a head banging soundtrack featuring a song dedicated to side-boob, Carlson delivers a film perfect for a late-night laugh with some friends and a case of beer. Make no mistake, Dead Ant is hilarious. Try not laughing at a scene where an ant talks to Art, telling him that he fucked up big time, followed by a tiny, maniacal laugh. There’s also a ton of top-notch physical comedy that brings me back to films like the Austin Powers series, with moments like one character happily clapping two bloody stumps together and splashing blood everywhere. Is it stupid as all hell? Definitely. But is it fun to watch? If you could see me, I’d be holding up devil horns with an emphatic hell yes. The cast is all on their A-game, and this is my kind of dumb, bloody rock ballad.
That being said, it hurts my heart that the effects seem to come secondary to everything else. The gore itself is devilishly gruesome when done practically, but there are too few instances of this. There’s nothing like CGI blood spray to undercut what should be a tense scene of ant-munching, because that sort of cheap effect immediately removes the viewer from the carnage. Look at any memorable giant bug film, from Mosquito to Ticks and so many more, and the reason they are memorable isn’t just because they are a damn good time, but because the effects themselves are outrageous and delightfully gruesome. Dead Ant has plenty of opportunities to prop itself onto that same level, but falls short by cheapening the whole experience with green screens and massive bugs that never actually feel like they’re there. Call me a purist if you must, but twenty years from now, the practical FX in the films mentioned above still won’t feel that aged, whereas Dead Ant is already behind the game.
Like most nature vs. man films, Dead Ant, despite all the bad jokes, tits, and foul-mouthed talking ants, actually has some positive messaging that fits right into today, giving it that slight edge over all of the other drug-fueled schlock out there. The nature positive theme is an obvious one, with all of this going down because this worn-out band couldn’t help crushing a few ants, but there is also an early moment where Stevie explains to Art that he shouldn’t refer to Native Americans as “Indians” anymore. It may seem like a small, throwaway insert, yet fits right into modern ideals, and proves that these conversations are not only worth having, but the value of film is that we can have fun doing it. Dead Ant will have you showing respect to Bigfoot and his magical peyote, and you damn sure won’t be killing any ants anytime soon.
Dead Ant is 90 minutes of turn your brain off, peyote mind melt fun, all leading to an 80s-style ending in the vein of Lost Boys and super soakers filled with holy water. The film may not offer anything new, and lacks genuine thrills and excitement, but you’ll feel like you have ants in your pants from all the laughs. Carlson and his team deliver a film that isn’t above average, but isn’t trying to be, either. Dead Ant is mindless entertainment, and is all the better for it. Long live Sonic Grave.
Dead Ant is now available on VOD from August Heart Entertainment.
By Matt Konopka