But some of my favorite childhood celluloid entertainment were schlocky eco-thrillers – arguably some of the worst movies ever made – Frogs (1972), Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), Tentacles (1977), The Swarm (1978), Food of the Gods (1976), and my all-time favorite, Empire of the Ants (1977) starring Joan Collins, about a scam artist trying to sucker prospective buyers into purchasing real estate in the Everglades, and their ill-fated clash with giant mutated ants with mind-controlling power!
At first glance, this science fiction thriller is very much comparable to those disaster movies from the ‘70s – a flock of giant ground dwelling birds of prey (phorusrachids), assumed extinct for a million years, are living in a remote area of the Everglades, in one of Florida's last remaining wilderness areas. These dinosaur-like birds, up to ten feet tall and weighing almost 1,000 pounds, have survived for so long because of their almost human-like intelligence. They have adapted to their changing environment when all other species have failed. They hide from “the Man” during the day and hunt at night. They erase all traces of their presence. They think. They plan...
The dinosaur defecation hits the rotating oscillator when a reporter from the National Inquirer gets lost in the wilderness and gets a photograph of one of the birds. So with the success of the multi-billion dollar Salutations in the balance, the unethical developers pull all the stops to make sure that no one ever finds out about the phorusrachids – even if it means killing a few environmentalists and a flock of big dino-birds…
A novel like this can very easily get bogged down in the science but Smith did a masterful job of not going too deep – and he also brilliantly told part of the story from the point of view of the terror birds, namely a male called Walks Backward, one of the flock’s elders who knows that their survival is being jeopardized by a rogue male known as Scarlet, who has been entering into the Man’s territory and preying on dogs.
It’s ironic but The Flock would make one helluva movie…. I wonder if Joan Collins is available?
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for almost the last two decades and has written more than 6,000 reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.
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