You have to give credit to Ron Carlson’s goofy horror film for letting you know exactly what you’re in for from the very beginning. The opening scene features a screaming young woman running through the desert while being pursued by a giant ant. As she runs, she keeps removing articles of clothing until she’s totally naked. So it’s a pretty safe bet that Dead Ant is not likely to be burdened by talky exposition or meditative ruminations on the meaning of life.
This is the sort of effort that wears its cult movie aspirations so heavily on its sleeve that it they should bring back drive-in theaters to show it. Whether or not you’ll have a good time pretty much depends on your frame of mind, the time and place in which you watch it (late at night, while scarfing down pizza, is the best bet) and your degree of sobriety.
Resembling a cross between the 1956 science-fiction horror movie Them! (making that pic look like a masterpiece) and This Is Spinal Tap, Dead Ant revolves around Sonic Grave, an ’80s-era hair-metal band with one hit song to its credit and long past its prime, who are traveling through the desert to play what they hope will be a comeback gig at Coachella. Except that their sleazy manager Danny (Tom Arnold, taking a break from searching for damaging Donald Trump tapes) has actually booked them at the lesser, competing musical festival “Nochella.” He claims that it’s the hipper place to play, comparing it to Slamdance vs. Sundance, and it’s actually not the worst argument in the world.
The band, consisting of guitarist Pager (Rhys Coiro), lead singer Merrick (Jake Busey, channeling his gonzo father), bassist Art (Sean Astin, needing to rethink his career choices) and female drummer Stevie (Leisha Hailey), take a break at Joshua Tree to buy some peyote from Native American medicine man Bigfoot (Michael Horse of Twin Peaks fame, effortlessly stealing the film) and his dwarf sidekick Firecracker (Danny Woodburn). Bigfoot warns them that the drugs come with a curse, and that they will face grave consequences if they harm any living thing while traveling through this sacred area.
Unfortunately, Art soon needs to take an outdoor pee break, drowning an ant in the process. Cue the extremely gory, cheap-looking CGI mayhem, as giant “big ass” ants begin attacking the hapless musicians and several subsidiary characters, including a pair of scantily clad, nubile young women who should have “VICTIM” tattooed on their foreheads. When one of them is unceremoniously chewed up by a voracious insect, Danny mournfully observes, “Only the good die young.”
To be fair, the campy film has its share of funny lines, many of them revolving around the absurdities of aging heavy-metal rockers. “Nobody respects a power ballad!” Danny screams at one point, and you have to agree with him. Arnold makes the most of this endlessly wisecracking character, garnering most of the pic’s laughs and giving no impression that he thinks this shlocky, low-budget B-movie is in any way a comedown from the likes of True Lies.
Production companies: August Heart Films, Arctic Zebra Pictures
Cast: Tom Arnold, Sean Astin, Michael Horse, Rhy Coiro, Jake Busey, Leisha Hailey, Cameron Richardson, Danny Woodburn, Sydney Sweeney
Director-screenwriter: Ron Carlson
Producers: Ron Carlson, Stephanie Hodos
Executive producers: Mark Hodos, Ron Martino, Fleur Roberts, Matt Luber
Director of photography: Marc Carter
Production designer: Laurent Tulure
Editor: Eric Wing
Composer: Edwin Wendler
Costume designer: Paige Basham
Casting: Emily Schwebber