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A hive of South American, killer ants has been lying dormant in Alaska for ten years until seismic activity causes subterranean warming, awakening the ants. While many residents of Burley Pines, Alaska are being eaten alive, a small group races to survive and to find a way to stop the ruthless ants. Written by
Greg W. Anderson
Entomologist Jim Conrad (Eric Lutes) is finally taking a vacation. He's headed to Burly Pines, Alaska, to visit a friend, relax, and fish. Of course, this being a horror film, and Conrad being the main character, he doesn't get much relaxation in. Shortly after arriving, Conrad discovers first a moose, then a person, who have been killed then stripped to the bone in a matter of hours. It's a good thing an entomologist is on duty, because it just seems that we might have some killer bugs on the loose! Although this film has received some terrible reviews, I actually like it, a lot. In fact, I'm giving it an 8 out of 10, and at times, was almost going to give it an even higher score! And no, it's not because it's "so bad, it's good".
Which is not to say that there's nothing campy about Marabunta: Terror in Burly Pines (aka Legion of Fire: Killer Ants!). I'd swear that directors Jim Charleston and George Manasse knew all along that they were creating a campy horror film, ala Lake Placid (1999), say, but one that plays extremely dryly. Heck, one of the screenwriters is even named Wink! That it is played so straight makes it easier to watch Marabunta on a couple different levels. You can enjoy it as a serious film, and it's a very engaging, suspenseful story on that level for the most part, and you can also think more "realistically" about the scenarios, and it's even funnier for being dry.
On the serious side, Marabunta follows the somewhat stereotypical plot line for the "bugs gone wild" horror subgenre. It may be predictable on that level, but it's also very enjoyable and effective. The three principle cast members help a lot. Lutes is very good, Mitch Pileggi is excellent as Police Chief Jeff Croy, and Julia Campbell, as Laura Sills, may have been very good, too, although it was more difficult for me to judge her objectively because she is so beautiful. There is also a lot of gorgeous Utah scenery (doubling as Alaska) and some nice cinematography. Also, for a low budget film, the effects were good.
The principle aspect that for me detracted from viewing the film as a serious horror vehicle was the score, especially towards the end. Composer Daniel Licht goes into a mode where he seems to be scoring a reality "challenge" television show rather than a film. Admittedly, the plot might also start to resemble a reality "challenge" television show by the climax.
But Marabunta is even more fun when we start to think about it "realistically". This is a film where people shoot guns at ants. They think it's an effective idea to stop ants by blowing out a mountain road. We get to see them race a tiny scooter away from ants, where the scooter is so slow, the ants almost beat them. We get to see a character drive wildly around in circles, putting others' lives in danger, rather than just step out of the car, because ants are on his leg. We get to watch characters take a canoe down rapids and waterfalls as a means of safe escape. There is no end to fun plot points like these. There are also a number of very amusing continuity "errors". In the realm of intentional camp, this film is near genius.
Marabunta is definitely worth watching, although preferably by those with a taste for dry absurdism as well as a love of "nature gone wild" horror.
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