Phase IV (1974)

Director: Saul Bass
Writer: Mayo Simon
Stars: Nigel Davenport, Michael Murphy, Lynne Frederick

Where to start with a film like this. Part documentary, thriller, sci-fi, creature-feature, some dodgy acting and ridiculous effects make it a difficult one to nail down. Now I am a bit of a lover of cult films, but I have to admit that I struggled with this one. It’s not a bad film per se, but I honestly couldn’t say it was a good film either. Just different. And if you catch the ‘lost ending’, bizarre and psychedelic as hell to boot.

Somehow, and I’m not sure exactly how (if this was explained then I must have missed it), ants in the desert form a collective super intelligence and start to cause trouble for the locals. Knowledgeable scientist Dr. Ernest D. Hubbs (Davenport) gives us a voice over commentary on proceedings and tells us he has managed to gain funding to go to the ants location with an assistant in order to study the ants and try and figure out just what in the heck is going on out there in the open desert. Lesko (Murphy) is his young eager assistant brought in for his mathematical expertise.

While all this is going on, we are treated to close-up shots of the ants doing strange ant like things. Something is definitely amiss with the colony. We come across an elderly couple living close to the analysis site and their granddaughter Kendra (The lovely Frederick). Hubbs and Lesko tell them to get the hell out of Dodge and quickly get to work. Soon enough (as you could probably gather) things start to go to hell for our two intrepid scientists and Kendra ends up isolated with them in their base.

What are the ants up to? What do they want? Do we welcome our new insect overlords? Well I will leave that for you good folks to discover, and once watched do look out for the lost ending. For over thirty years this was thought to have been lost forever until it turned up one day. It can now be found on YouTube (as well as the film too I believe). I’ll say it is worth watching for Davenport, he is great as usual and Frederick is there I’m sure for visual appeal. It’s easy to see what Peter Sellers saw in her. Pity her career died off with the scandals following Sellers’ death.

That aside, this is an interesting study, the colours in the film are gorgeous and there’s certainly not many films around quite like this one. The ending is just a bizarre mix of all sorts. This was Saul Bass’ only feature film. He made a few shorts before and after this, but one can’t help wonder if this visual piece of strangeness put paid to any future directing chances, despite the man working on many big films as part of the miscellaneous crew (including many Hitchcock films). One to catch if only to say you’ve seen it, for Davenport himself or Frederick fans to see her early career.


The Sage’s Rating:

Posted in Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller and tagged , , , .

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