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David A. Prior
An old-fashioned, lakeside hotel targeted for purchase by an unsavory gambling casino promoter and situated next to a construction site, is attacked by an army of poisonous ants. Efforts to contain the ants and rescue those trapped in the hotel are hampered by the progress of the creepy crawlers upward from floor to floor. Written by
Kevin McCorry <email@example.com>
This was a television movie from 1977, made at the height of the eco-horror theme of the 70's ("Kingdom of the Spiders," "Grizzly," "Day of the Animals," etc.). The plot is thin, so the producers and director loaded up on noticeable stars. But, it's still got television and cheesiness written all over it.
First of all, the executive producer is Alan Landsburg, who credits range from bad ("Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo" and "The Savage Bees") to good ("Bill" and "Bill: On His Own" with Mickey Rooney, and "That's Incredible" and "The Undersea World of Jacque Cousteau", all multiple Emmy winners). Producer Peter Richmond is best known for the "Get Christie Love" movie and subsequent TV series, as well as "Terror Out of the Sky," the sequel to "The Savage Bees."
Director Richard Scheerer is virtually synonymous with TV. A list of the programs he's either directed or produced includes "The Love Boat," "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "Star Trek" Deep Space Nine," "Jake & The Fatman," "Hawaii Five-O," "Matlock," "Fame," "Hotel," "Falcon Crest" (which, coincidentally starred Robert Foxworth, this movie's leading man), "Dynasty," "The Night Stalker," "Knot's Landing," "Ironside" and "Police Story."
The cast is actually good because, up until the ants arrive, the movie plays like a nighttime television soap opera. The one exception is Suzanne Somers. She plays a businesswoman sleazy Gerald Gordon brings to the resort for a little adulterous seduction to close an important business deal. She gets top billing anyway, being the most recognizable TV star at the time. Others include the aforementioned Foxworth, Lynda Day George ("Mission Impossible"), Bernie Casey ("Never Say Never Again"), Barry Van Dyke (Dick's son, who co-starred with dear old dad on "Diagnosis Murder"), Brian Dennehy, Rene Enriquez (Lt. Ray Calletano from "Hill Street Blues"), Steve Franken ("Nurse Betty") and Stacy Keach Sr. (matriarch of that acting family). Myrna Loy of the "Thin Man" movies is on hand as the "special guest star," unfortunately joining the likes of Henry Fonda, John Huston, Ida Lupino and Shelley Winters as veterans in need of a paycheck, even it's from something totally beneath them.
The plot revolves around Lakewood Manor, a new resort going up near a lake (of course). The place is only half-finished as opening day arrives, so construction crews led by Bernie Casey and Robert Foxworth are still digging. A wheelchair-bound Loy is owner of the place and Franken is her right-hand man. The guests include Van Dyke, Gordon and Somers, among others. Despite the cheerful start, we all know something is amiss. Soon, we soon a couple of construction workers get attacked by ants and fall out of sight. They're not discovered for awhile (because they're the stereotypical lazy guys always disappearing for a break).
It seems the local ant population has a beef with the people. Actually, Loy ignored her homework and had her resort built over an old chemical dumpsite because it was too expensive to dig up and clean up the site. So, the chemicals leaked and, over time, the ants were affected. When resort construction crews start digging into the ant hill, all hell breaks loose.
There really is no horror, mostly because it's a TV movie accessible by kids, even though it features Suzanne Somers with most of her breasts exposed (still tame by today's TV, though). A kid in swimming trunks falls into a trash dumpster and gets covered with ants. He staggers into the swimming pool, thus washing off the ants. But, he dies because the chemicals have made the ants' bites toxic, although it really wasn't needed. If you've ever been bitten by fire ants, you'll understand.
Pretty soon, the whole resort is covered with ants. This is courtesy of Foxworth, who gets angry when Franken and Loy won't believe him about the ants, so he goes and bulldozes the entire mound. Today, he'd be sued for millions, if not beaten to death by relatives of the dead people.
Efforts to save the people are many. A helicopter lifts Loy out (a kinder fate than the one she suffered later on in "Avalanche"), but Van Dyke falls out a window helping her. Casey braves the ants to take the bulldozer in and rescue him. Of course, the helicopter trick is done away with because the downdraft from the rotors keeps blowing ants onto the hundreds of curious onlookers and the fire department has to waste water hosing the people off (why they didn't take that cue and just hose the resort or hose off the bulldozer for repeated trips is a mystery). Meanwhile, the ever-shrinking pool of survivors retreats higher into the resort as the ants follow. In the end, the few left are forced to sit in a room and let the ants crawl all over them while they breathe through paper tubes waiting for the Environmental Protection Agency to arrive. Guess which guy gets his just deserts in this scene.
The special effects were kind of cheesy. The masses of ants looked like black rice. The good part was that the movie borrowed from "Kingdom of the Spiders" which used thousands of live tarantulas to crawl all over people. Here, in the finale, the actors have to sit while the camera goes close-up to show real ants crawling all over their faces. I'm betting they listed this movie as their own personal version of "Fear Factor." Although Steve Franken did hook up with Peter Richmond again and got "stung" to death for "Terror Out of the Sky."
This movie actually had its moments. Bernie Casey was the only black guy in the film and he survives. Unfortunately, Rene Enriquez as the only Hispanic bit the dust pretty early. Overall, it was mindless TV fare, made for much cheaper than it would have cost to buy the rights to big movies on the silver screen. Another critic mentioned that the film was never shown again on broadcast TV and has been relegated to late night film bins on syndicated TV. That's true, but it's also true of most made-for-television movies.
"It Happened At Lakewood Manor" can still make your skin crawl. If you want to be scared by ants, try "Them" or "The Naked Jungle." But, if you just want to sit back on the couch with some popcorn, this movie will do. You may want to watch it with a significant other, though, so you can lightly brush against her skin and watch her jump. It works, although you'll probably stay on the couch long after she's gone up to bed.
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