February 26, 2012

King of the Ants (2003)

Directed by Stuart Gordon. Starring Chris McKenna ("Sean Crawley"), Kari Wuhrer ("Susan Gatley"), George Wendt ("Duke Wayne"), and Vernon Wells ("Becket"). Rated R.

Source: Region 1 DVD (The Asylum/First Look)
Running time: 01:42:07
Country: USA

A naive nobody named Sean is drawn into a world of criminal activity after a chance encounter with an electrician (George Wendt) who just so happens to moonlight as a strongarm for a corrupt businessman (Daniel Baldwin). What starts out as an opportunity to make some extra money by spying on a City Hall accountant turns deadly when Sean is coerced into committing murder. Seeing as he's never killed anyone before, it goes without saying that things get a bit sloppy. Turns out Sean's "employers" were using him and never intended on paying him the thirteen-thousand dollars he was promised, using the media coverage of the murder as an excuse to run him out of the city, but when Sean oversteps his boundaries and resorts to blackmail as a means of getting what's rightfully his, he winds up next on their hit-list.

The above synopsis doesn't really do the film justice, as KING OF THE ANTS (not to be confused with the other KING OF THE ANTS that came out the same year) goes to some really bizarre places that defy its familiar plot. Brutal violence, intense psychological torture, and out-of-place nightmarish imagery that would seem better suited for one of director Stuart Gordon's horror movies are just a few of the proverbial bodies of water that KING OF THE ANTS treads. However, outside of a few of the film's unconventional elements, the actual storytelling is too basic to warrant anything significant to chew on; it plays out pretty much like you'd expect, and it could be argued that the very scenes of torture, violence, and sex that make the film stand out are a cheap way of making what would be an otherwise forgettable movie worthwhile. Whatever the case, it works.

KING OF THE ANTS is based on a novel of the same name, which I haven't read. Had I known it was based on a novel beforehand, I wouldn't have bothered with it. It's not really fair to critique a film that's based on a book if you're not familiar with the source material, and in this case I can't really say how much of the horror movie elements are in fact Stuart Gordon's ideas or if they were actually in the book. Oh well. My bad! And, in case anyone's wondering, the title of the film is a reference to a line where George Wendt's character basically refers to Sean as an insect; at no point does Sean actually command a colony of ants to carry out his bidding, although I wouldn't have been completely against that, especially considering the predictable path the the film ultimately travels.

I wouldn't go so far as to call the acting in KING OF THE ANTS a "weak spot", but I do think the film would have benefited from some different casting choices. For obvious reasons, the presence of Daniel Baldwin just reeks of "second-rate", and even though Chris McKenna was fine in the lead role, I don't think he gives a strong enough of a performance to carry the weight of the film on his shoulders, and in general McKenna is quite uneven. On top of that, all of the main characters - including Sean - aren't very likable, with Kari Wuhrer, as the widow of the slain City Hall accountant, maybe being the exception by default since she's the only one in the film who isn't reprehensible in some way. Despite all of that, however, the cast is interesting. We get tons of scenery-chewing and nudity from Kari Wuhrer, but unfortunately this was filmed post implant-removal (they encapsulated a year earlier), Ron Livingston from OFFICE SPACE in an uncredited role, and Vernon Wells of COMMANDO and THE ROAD WARRIOR fame as one of Baldwin's goons.

In the event that you haven't seen this movie and decide to seek it out, be warned that there's lots of cock in the film. Not only do you see Chris McKenna's cock on a few occasions, but you also get to see Kari Wuhrer's cock (don't ask). In closing, even though KING OF THE ANTS is lacking in certain areas and somewhat underwhelming, it's an interesting curiosity in Stuart Gordon's filmography and, in my opinion, worth seeing for the truly bizarre second act of the film which features some spectacularly cruel violence.

Score: 6


  1. I was really looking forward to this one when it was first announced and I liked it. I thought it was pretty nasty at times. It was especially galvanizing seeing "Norm" from CHEERS playing such a sadistic character. The nightmare sequences were pretty "shitty" weren't they? Lol.

  2. I'm so far removed from CHEERS that it wasn't that much of a shock for me to see Norm playing a scumbag. And the nightmare sequences were indeed "shitty" in more ways than one!

  3. CHEERS is still my fave show of all time and I think his participation was what got me most interested in this movie after reading about it in Fangoria...and Kari didn't hurt, either. Always been a big fan of hers!

  4. I didn't know that. Can we expect a massive CHEERS retrospective on Cool Ass Cinema in the future? :-)

  5. Dude, you read my mind, lol. Actually, I had planned, or thought about doing a separate blog dedicated to CHEERS. I know just about the entire 11 seasons like the back of my hand, and last year started doing a season by season episode guide.

  6. Really? Wow, who woulda thunk that an aficionado of trash and exploitation cinema like yourself would be such a big fan of CHEERS?! I thought about doing TV-related blogs many times, but The Death Rattle takes up so much of my time as it is.

  7. Oh, yeah, I like other stuff, too. I've done non horror-sleaze related posts, too. I love stuff like GOMER PYLE, ANDY GRIFFITH, MUNSTERS, GUNSMOKE, BONANZA, all those old shows. It's also nice watching them because you will always spot an actor or actress who would end up in some trashy movie a few years down the road, lol.

    I hear ya. Considering I am still struggling with getting back in the spirit of working on stuff for CAC, a TV blog isn't in the works for me, either, for the time being.