Visual White Noise Theater: Going into “Phase IV” (1974)

There is a “solar event” and ants start killing people. That pretty much sums up the plot of “Phase IV” it isn’t an original plot, nothing new there but what is surrounding the movie is new and breaths life into a plot that was done to death. Visually stunning, and steeped in some New Age horse shit, this movie pleasantly surprised me, people I trust who have the same tastes as me said “Phase IV” would be up my alley when I asked them if it would make me laugh they shrugged and said “It might I don’t want to give away too much info”. I was given the specifics of the plot and kind of rolled my eyes, another killer insect movie but this didn’t turn out to be another killer insect movie, no this was a sci fi horror/art house film.

It was directed by graphic designer Saul Bass and was his one and only movie which is a damn shame besides directing a few educational short films and the awesome, The Quest, loosely based on a Ray Bradbury short story, you can find it here: . He brought along his talent for visual flare to the film, sadly “Phase IV” tanked at the box office and “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (not a fan, don’t find their schtick funny, they fucking suck) skewered the movie relentlessly, because of the failure nobody would hire Saul Bass to direct another movie. Bass would continue to design company logos and posters and win awards, but lord knows what Saul would’ve come up with next if he were allowed to direct another feature.

Ken Middleham, a wildlife photographer, was the one that got the close up shots of the killer ants, interiors were filmed in England and exteriors in Kenya representing Arizona. Saul shot a different ending that showed what happened after the ant attack but the hippy dippy, visually stunning, New Age ending shocked even the coke jaded execs and they wanted it cut. That ending was thought to be lost but it was found in the Saul Bass Collection at the Academy Film Archive, it was cleaned up and showed at the film hipster haven Alamo Drafthouse, for a Saul Bass type festival in Austin, TX, the ending is available on Itunes Extras and 101 films in the UK did a special two disc release with the original ending included, that is out of print.

This film went from “failure” to cult success and one of my favorite new filmmakers, Panos Cosmatos, said this movie inspired his great “Beyond the Black Rainbow” and I can see the visual inspiration from “Phase IV” in this movie. Yeah fuck those not funny idiots on MST3, most of the movies they trash go on to become gems. If you want a visual experience get into “Phase IV” but the story isn’t original, its whats around it that is original.

To watch “Phase IV” with the cut ending go here: