Stuart Gordon exploded into the horror film world with his unforgettable “Re-Animator”. Nearly twenty years later he’s still making films that make audiences cringe, then laugh hysterically within the space of a few seconds. His latest, “King of the Ants,” may be his best film since his auspicious debut.
“King of the Ants” is the simple story of a boy finding his calling in life. This being a Stuart Gordon flick, that calling is professional killer. Sean is a house painter, without any big dreams, he’s content to just float along. Painting a house one day, he meets Duke, played by George Wendt, who may have some odd jobs for him to perform. A while later he’s called to a golf course, where he meets Ray. Performed with gusto by Daniel Baldwin. Ray is a shady building contractor who wants him to follow a nosey city hall accountant. Sean is terrible at his new job. First of all he doesn’t even own a car, he’s forced to follow his mark on bike. Second he’s hardly inconspicuous, staying in plain sight at all times, sometimes only a few feet away, taking Polaroid after Polaroid. It’s a wonder he’s never noticed.
Soon after Sean is made an offer to kill the guy, by a very drunk Ray. Ray’s monologue here is absolutely hilarious. This scene is destined to become a cult classic. The murder that follows is unlike any we’ve ever seen before. The way it happens is very believable. It is what you would expect of a first time killer. It’s a tough scene to watch, with a comically brutal punch line.
Things are not what they seem, and soon Sean is in a hell of a lot of trouble. What follows is one of the most difficult movie sequence’s you’ll ever sit through. (In fact a few people left the theater after it started.) We’ve become so desensitized to violence, that it is quite a feat that a filmmaker can still make audiences squirm. I’ll only tell you that it involves Sean getting tortured by some very nasty men. I’ll keep it fresh and leave how’s and the why’s for your own viewing. There are some wonderfully bizarre hallucinations intermixed, that “lighten” this part of the film up. By this time, we’re only nearing the halfway point of the film. From here the hole Sean’s digging only gets deeper and darker.
Newcomer Chris Mckenna plays Sean wonderfully. It’s a very tough role to pull off. You’re supposed to be rooting for the guy, while he’s doing despicable things. Much of the film he’s under grotesque make-up. Yet he makes it all work somehow. In fact all the film’s performances are pretty great. Daniel Baldwin has a lot of fun playing a sleaze-ball. George Wendt is so sadistic, you actually forget he was Norm for 90 minutes. Vernon Wells, of “Road Warrior” and “Commando” fame, usually plays the bad guy, but here he’s one of the few sympathetic characters. Even Kari Wuhrer shows she has some decent acting chops beyond her usual B film roles.
Despite its title and some certainly horrific scenes, King of the Ants wouldn’t be categorized as a horror film. It’d be better described a pitch-black noir film. In fact, this is about as sick as you can get within the genre. The story is taken from a Charlie Higson novel, who also wrote the screenplay. George Wendt brought the book to Gordon seven years ago, he loved it immediately. It took them this long to find anybody morbid enough to fund the film. It’s highly unlikely that the film will ever be released in theaters the way it is. It’s way too hard for an R. But you can always count on an unrated DVD to see the film the way it should be.