Them!, 1954. 8/10

One of the better early-atomic age giant creature sci-fi movies. Them! does everything right. Given the premise that radiation causes drastic mutation, the giant ants’ appearance in a remote location generates the eerie yet modern atmosphere that typifies this genre.

The sense of mystery is well-plotted, as sightings and attacks intermix with the characters’ frantic speculations about the mayhem. The beginning is especially memorable; the child apparently sleep-walking in the desert introduces us to the theme of normal, innocent lives being torn up by the monster ants. The premature ‘ending’, with the destruction of the first nest, dramatically sets up the widening second phase of the plot. This device is used subsequently in Rodan, and other sci-fi monster movies, to equal effect. The pace quickens from the desert locale to L.A., the Army moving onto the climax in the sewer system’s nest.

The continuing focus on particular kids/families as victims works surprisingly well in Them! In many of the later monster movies, especially the Japanese ones, the monster and its trail of destruction is emphasized to the detriment of the characters. While that can be entertaining, it tends to become cartoonish. Them! keeps the story at a more palpable, human level.

The problem with focusing on the cast, however, is the obviously unrealistic conceit that only a handful of people, especially locals, are going to have a hand in all the decision-making once the menace grows. But if the characters are well-drawn, as they are here, it does sustain the suspension of disbelief.

The other issue with creature-themed movies involves the type of creature. An alien creature–like The Thing, has no real-world counterpart; the movie can come up with anything. The risk then is making it look menacing and frightening. But with an amped-up natural thing such as ants, scorpions, Gila monsters, etc., the fear is automatic. The real ones are disgusting enough, and giant ones exponentially more so. Also, the real critters can of course be used in some scenes.

Them! covers all the sci-fi bases with good pacing, acting, and special-effects. Along with The Thing and Invaders From Mars, one of the better early sci-fi movies. 8/10.

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