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Episode guide: K09- Phase IV

Movie: (1974) An astronomical event endows an ant colony in the Arizona desert with sentience. Two scientists are sent to investigate, but who’s testing whom?

First shown: 1/15/89
Opening: The Mads are running low on funding
Host segment 1: Joel discusses Isaac Asimov’s Laws of Robotics
Host segment 2: J&tB discuss the first thing they plan to do when they get to Earth
Host segment 3: A game of “I spy” becomes a performance of “Wipeout.”
End: Joel programs Crow and Gypsy to recite a new robotic law
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (124 votes, average: 4.10 out of 5)


• This episode is the first episode (not counting KTMA episodes 1-3) to feature a non-Gamera movie, and the first episode featuring a movie that would not be riffed on the show later. As such I will, with this entry, begin the “Cast and Crew Roundup” feature (I will do the Sandy Frank titles when they come back around in season 3).
• There’s lots going on in the opening. It’s the first time the show has started with The Mads instead of Joel. It’s also the first time we get a sense that there is somebody with authority over The Mads (btw, the nickname “Old Leadbottom” is from a ’60s TV show called “McHale’s Navy.” Look it up, kids!). We also get the first mention of “the madscientist-mobile,” which would come up again.
• Also this is the first time, as far as we know, that Joel did the “getting run down by Cambot” routine, which both he and Mike would do again in the future.
• One thing that has surprised me is: there’s been no explicit mention so far of Gizmonic Institute! Clearly The Mads are transmitting FROM Gizmonic Institute during KTMA (Joel once directly confirmed that to me). I guess he had not come up with the name yet?
• I saw this movie when it first came out. I thought it was a pretty good little sci-fi thriller and I still do. The ant photography, as well-done as it is, goes on a little long and slows the pace down too much, and the acting by the humans is pretty low-key, but it’s not really a “cheesy” movie.
• The Brains must have thought so too. They seem to get into it. Several times they say something like “uh-oh” when a plot development unfolds, a sure sign they are caught up.
• However, Josh never seems to quite get the premise of the movie. “Yes, because most ants have the power of reasoning…” he says sarcastically when the movie suggests that they do. Later he yells: “They’re ants!!” when a character suggests that there is an intelligence behind their actions. That’s the premise of the movie, Josh!
• A segment of riffing in the theater, starting at about 7 minutes into the episode (not counting commercials), was included on the pitch tape that was used to sell the show to the Comedy Channel. That tape was included included on the MST3K Scrapbook tape. Question: Was that really the most sparkling few minutes of riffing the whole season?
• Servo extends his head again in the theater.
• Another first in segment 2: The first time a bot mentions his “load pan.”
• Now-dated reference: When a high-pitched sound makes some glass break, Crow says “Ella!” That’s a reference to a then-popular Memorex commercial featuring jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald.
• Uh, could Segment 3 get any more random? It’s completely stream-of-consciousness. Were they are just killing time?
• At one point in the theater somebody drops something and it makes a rather large noise, so loud the performers feel they can’t ignore it, so they acknowledge that it happened. Then there is a strange scraping noise, which they don’t acknowledge. Was someone dragging whatever it was away?
• Movie observation: For a science lab that was just built, it sure has a lot of shelves full of spare parts laying around, like a warehouse that has been sitting there for years.
• Joel calls Gypsy Gipsum again.
• Cast and Crew Roundup: Screenwriter Mayo Simon also wrote “Space Travelers. Camera operator Jack Mills also worked on “Gorgo.” In front of the camera, Alan Gifford was also in “Devil Doll.”
• Fave riff: Meanwhile Grandma and Grandpa are patty melts out on the lawn. Honorable mention: Hope nobody’s eating rice at this point…

75 comments to Episode guide: K09- Phase IV

  • 1
    Dan in WI says:

    Tom Servo said it best at the end of the film. “This made flying turtles look good.” I’ve seen this episode once before about a year ago when I first bought the KTMA season. I only watched this one once. I have to say of all the movies in the history of the show this is the one that really creeps me out. It blows away Squirm in my book. Squirm had enough camp to keep it at least somewhat on the lighter side. But not this film. I dare say it was also the best film they’ve ever done. It isn’t my kind of movie at all but I have to admit it was good. So good it legitimately creeped me out.
    I also felt this one fell quite flat as an MST3K episode. Sure by KTMA standards they occasionally got a few good lines in. But on the whole they did nothing to distract me from what is a legitimately scary movie. This is one I wonder what they could have done with in their prime instead of their infancy.

    Favorite Riffs
    Tom: This isn’t a Gamera movie. Their mouths are moving with the words.

    Joel: He’s making a puppet out of it.
    Tom: What’s a puppet?
    Joel: You wouldn’t want to know.


  • 2
    Graboidz says:

    While the riffing isn’t top-notch, this is a fun episode because the movie is pretty good. I actually wouldn’t mind finding the un-riffed film on DVD.

    I really wish they had re-visited this one later in the show’s run.


  • 3
    Creepygirl says:

    I remember renting this movie from a local video store in the mid 80s. I also found it to be a pretty good movie. I thought the riffs were really starting to roll.

    My copy of this episode includes KTMA commercials starring our beloved cast. First Kevin plays male lead in travel agentcy commercial followed by joel live at a local comedy club every Monday night. Finally we have the Mads as spokesmen for a pizza joint called Pizza & Pasta.

    On the KTMA scale I’ll give it 3 stars.


  • 4
    warp_10 says:

    That brought back fond memories when you said “Old Leadbottom”… I LOVED Capt. Binghamton, my favorite part of the original McHale’s Navy.


  • 5
    pablum says:

    This is my favorite KTMA episode. The host segments and riffing are standard for that era, but the movie is the type of sci-fi I enjoy watching. Weird stuff from the ’70s always piques my interest.


  • 6
    Finnias 'Critter' Jones says:

    Joel: When you’re out in the woods, you can’t beat “Off”.

    First of all, this movie is incredibly well made. High-concept plot, well acted, gorgeously shot, and featuring a groovy organ-heavy score, reminiscent of early Tangerine Dream. But it’s also kinda slow and ponderous, which makes it an easy target. The riffing is at least consistent, if not always hilarious, bringing us closer towards the ideal MST episode. Again there are more annoying clacking robot puppet sounds in the theater (probably Crow).

    This movie provides a prime example (Dr. Hubbs) of a mad scientist so in love with his studies that he disregards the welfare of his fellow humans.

    Unfortunately, this is only a 2 star episode (KTMA scale) for me. Despite the movie being a fascinating snooze-fest, the riffing never reaches a boil. But the host segments are solid, and in the theater, Trace’s Crow is coming into his own, unleashing a stream of ant-based puns.

    Joel: It doesn’t mean she likes you, she just doesn’t have parents.


  • 7
    Sampo says:

    Sorry, I forgot the ratings thingy again. It’s there now.


  • 8
    Fart Bargo says:

    This is actually one of the better flicks MST3K have needled. I was checking Daddy-Os on this film and was shocked by the quality ‘pedigree’ of the folks involved in this production. As most know, Daddy-O provides technical background on who worked on the production and other films they have worked on. Instead of seeing the usual suspects of schlock films (which I love), I was blown away by the quality of films that the staff was involved with;

    Educating Rita; A Clockwork Orange; The Rocky Horror Picture Show; Star Wars; Superman; Don’t Look Now; The Dirty Dozen; Chariots of Fire; Mysterious Island; The Looking Glass War; Psycho; Tommy; Victor/Victoria.

    It appears to be my favorite British film list, more or less. Besides the micro filming of the ants, I thought the special effects were very effective for a limited budget. Ant obelisks with mouths was very creepy.

    J&TB were pretty sophomoric riff wise as Critter & Sampo point out so I really enjoyed this one. For me it was a nice combination of watching a good film with occasional wise cracking. The Mads were great, I love Earhardt! Finally, Gamera is really neat but the riffs can only get stale running the same script repeatedly. To transition from 250 foot turtle to billions of ants near broke my neck.


  • 9
    Brandon says:

    I take it the “rice” riff was spoken over a shot of maggots.

    Reminds me of the “Hey, I think this is rice…. oh, it’s not!” riff from Mitchell.


  • 10
    Brandon says:

    Also, I read Joe’s original comments for the host segments, and he mentions that the end credits roll while Gypsy and Crow are reciting their law. Would that make this the first MST3K to have an “unusual closing”?


  • 11

    I have a video review of this show here:


  • 12
    Michael D. says:

    Graboidz-the film is available on DVD from Legend Films. I rented it from Netflix not too long ago. I found Phase IV to be one of the better “nature’s revenge” films that cluttered up theaters in the 70s.


  • 13
    Graboidz says:

    Michael D. thanks for the heads up!! I pop it on my Netlix queue ASAP.


  • 14
    rcfagnan says:

    I would agree that this was a pretty decent movie if not for the really lame ending. Sort of a “We ran out of time and/or budget, so here’s a ‘Monster-a-Go-Go-esque’ ending for you folks.” Was it just me or did the young male lead’s voice sound familiar? I think he was in “Being From Another Planet” from season four…


  • 15
    dad1153 says:

    Have to agree with the consensus that, despite some goofy stuff (the overacting mad scientist looking like NY Times financial reporter Paul Krugman… the resemblance made me laugh!), this is an above-average imperfect movie with below-average riffing for the kind of goofy schlock MST3K came to be known for. I love those ambiguous 70’s era end-of-the-world disaster movies and this one, despite not coming together, is much better shot and coherent than stuff like “Beyond the Poseidon Adventure” or “Swarm.” I didn’t have a problem buying that the ants were capable of reasoning (the footage of the ants backed this claim up) so Servo’s exasperated ‘they’re just ants!’ shouts fell on unsympathetic ears with me. Some talented behind-the-scenes people (legendary designer Saul Bass directing, UK cinematographer Dick Bush, etc.) and good-for-the-budget effects (the exploding towers, the reflective solar panel things, fake and real insects causing mayhem, etc.) actually got and kept my attention on the flick’s narrative until that crappy ending that reminded me of the ‘interface’ finale of “Overdrawn at the Memory Bank.” Other than the many ‘ant’ puns and J&TB’s posing like the open-mouthed statuettes (allowing Servo to once again look freaky with his stretched neck) the real MiSTie treats are in the intro and host segments. I too have a DVD with commercials (is that Kevin announcing Joel’s stand-up act?) and Joel really looks more comfortable on-camera with every passing episode. Am I mistaken that this is the first experiment where Joel looks genuinely shocked at a movie ending badly? I don’t recall more than a shrug-and-carry-on attitude at the end of each ‘Gamera’ flick, but his ‘I can’t believe they did that!’ reaction when “Phase IV” ends is the first of many times he will be saying that over the next five years (most memorably to me in “Monster A Go-Go”).

    Two-and-a-Half stars (in the KTMA scale) as an “MST3K” episode and Three Stars to the movie itself.


  • 16
    Alex says:

    This, for my opinion, is one of the better KTMA episodes… at least from what I remember (I haven’t watched it in ages). I also had a copy of it with the commercials, but I gave it away since it was one of those typical bootleg copies.

    If KTMA wasn’t off-limits, this would be one of the better choices. Infact, I think this film might be public domain… correct me if I’m wrong, though.


  • 17
    mataglap says:

    This is definitely a different style of film-making that you don’t see much anymore, without much dialog. The actors are actually semi-famous, you’ve seen them in other movies and just can’t place them. The girl is best known for marrying Peter Sellars and inheriting all of his money, but then she died a few years later of drugs and/or alcohol problems. She’s actually British and her accent creeps through once in a while.

    What maybe was an argument for doing this movie was that all the long pauses allow for plenty of opportunities for riffing, although there still seem to be a number of times they step on the dialog (and still occasionally on each other’s lines). The host segments are longer than we’ve seen up til now, I think because the movie isn’t that long to begin with, these sometimes seem more improvised, rather than the stuff in the theater.

    Good change of pace after the deluge of Gamera movies. Looking forward to Space 1999!


  • 18
    fish eye no miko says:

    I really love this episode!

    My favorite riff is “If you didn’t wanna play with the ants, why did you go over to their house?” In fact, my friend and I sometimes use it as a metaphor for people complaining about situations they got themselves into in the first place…
    “There’s ant A”
    “And ant B!” (Aunt Bee)


  • 19
    mstgator says:

    Apparently, the movie originally had a longer/different ending that was altered by the studio after test screenings, so we can’t necessarily blame the filmmakers for the lameness that derailed an otherwise creepy little movie.

    Favorite part of this episode wasn’t even in the actual show; it was the wonderfully cheesy “Club Travel” commercial costarring Kevin. Smile


  • 20
    Smog Monster says:

    Looking back – every KTMA Gamera episode failed me, although KTMA Gamera vs. Guiron had the best pacing and riffing of them. It’s kind of a shame that they didn’t do anything national Season 1 worthy with the Gamera episodes, but with K09 Phase IV, we have a tremendous first non-Gamera title since K03. Definately around Season 1 grade, but there were problems. Long intersections of silence from them, much of this occuring when something to say about the movie was OBVIOUS. A lame, even if it was short 3rd Segment. And overuse of the word “ant”, but all in all, it was a great first non-Gamera-in-a-while episode. Many strong jokes were made when ants weren’t on the screen, and the only painfully overused joke was Crow’s insisting they step on the ants with a boot. So, I’m giving this episode 5 stars, and I don’t do that idley…


  • 21
    Cornjob says:

    I love this episode. One of my favorites of any season, not just KTMA. I regard the film as being a very ambitous, interesting, and spectacular failure. It makes no sense on so many levels (especially at the end), but you could use it’s mistakes to teach a lesson in a philosophy class.

    I agree with Servo, Kendra (girl on horseback) is a total babe. Possibly the most attractive lady in any MST movie by my standards. Sweet, demure, innocent, giving to a fault, beautifull but approachable, I could go on and on.

    So many of the riffs cracked me up so much I had a hard time believing it was unscripted. I also love Servo’s sardonic tone, even if he didn’t seem to get the movie completely. An unriffed version is available from netflix. Worth getting just to get an unfuzzy look at Kendra.

    “Take me, ravage me”


  • 22
    CaveDweller says:

    I don’t know why, but this has always been a favorite episode of mine…especially a favorite of the KTMAs. I guess it’s because the movie itself is kind of fun to watch, in an odd sort of way, even if the jokes aren’t always that great.


  • 23
    trickymutha says:

    #21- the woman who played Kendra (Lynne Frederick) was married at one time to Peter Sellers and David Frost. She died at age 39. Sad, really. I agree she was stunning and would put her near the top of the babes of MST.


  • 24
    trickymutha says:

    Oh, she wasn’t married to both of them at the same time LOL


  • 25
    H says:

    As the first non-Gamera KTMA that we’ve seen in full, it does okay. They’ve done better in KTMA for sure but I enjoy the movie and the host segments are decent as well.


  • 26
    MSTJon says:

    @ Graboidz

    And if you’re really interested in the DVD, I can almost promise you your local Best Buy has a few copies on the shelf. A few around here (Denver) actually were promoting it on endcaps!

    Really enjoyed this ep, I think it’s the sudden change from Gameras to a semi-decent movie. I think it helps that the quality of my copy is really pretty good. Good times had by all here.


  • 27

    Sorry, but I think this is one boring, boring movie. I hadn’t re-visited it in years, and hoped my opinion of the movie would improve, but no. The sharper writing in the next couple of seasons would have helped add energy to this movie, I think.
    As for the episode, there are a lot of firsts, and we see them getting their sea legs. Enjoyed the host segments, didn’t enjoy the movie. I’m looking forward to the upcoming TV-movies, especially SST Death Flight.


  • 28
    starman15317 says:

    So far, this is the only KTMA episode I’ve seen. I decided to watch it because of the film. It’s a pretty funny one.


  • 29
    Mighty Jack says:

    I feel this is one of the funnier KTMA episodes. Among the riffs that got me laughing….

    “Antstock. They tried to have Woodstock but the termites came.” – Servo

    “…because it happened to such a small and insignificant form of life.” – “Salesmen.” – Lesko/Crow

    “…doing things ants don’t do; communicating…” – “Square Dancing.” – Lesko/Servo

    “We’ll just come back stronger, with ear muffs.” – Crow


  • 30
    Michael D. says:

    Regarding the ending- the original ending had the ants merging the two survivors into a faceless, andrognyous humanoid with ant characteristics(?). This was apparently the next step for humanity in an ant-controlled world.

    The 9 minutes of footage that comprised the original ending was removed against the director’s wishes and is now believed lost. However, a few seconds were used for the trailer, which is available here:

    The novelization was written using the original screenplay as a basis and I bought a copy, hoping for some clarification like Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. But it was just incomprehensible run-on sentences and sentence fragments. Oh, well. I only paid a few dollars for it.

    But you have to admit that they don’t make movies like this anymore. The photography is impressive and I can’t imagine how complicated it was to set up certain scenes with the ants, particularly the ant “graveyard”. It’s light-years from grasshoppers climbing on photos of buildings.


  • 31
    Cornjob says:

    Major bummer about the Kendra actress. If her own personality was anything like her Kendra persona she must have been a nice person.

    On a lighter note, here’s something from my work on the MST3K faction of a facebook game:

    Admires, envies, and wants to humiliate insects. With Ahab like determination he set out to show some ants who was boss. He failed miserably, got eaten, and doomed the human race to be enslaved by a bunch of bugs. Good one.


  • 32
    Cornjob says:

    Just watched the trailer. Ick. I can see why it was dropped. I respect how ambitious the movie is, and it’s certainly intersting and makes you think, won’t you?


  • 33

    My episode guide entry here:

    This was the first KTMA I ever saw (took a week to download it from the eDonkey server from the DAP – ah, memories).

    Anyway, watching it for the first time, I was enthralled. My deep, abiding love of the KTMAs began here. The movie, so unlike anything they did on the cable run, is interesting and engaging, the jokes are on target and the host segments are zany. Everything I could have hoped for. In fact, watching this episode, I immediately recognized how off-base the comments about the KTMAs not being entertaining were. Sure, it’s not slick and they hadn’t worked out a rat-a-tat riffing pattern. But, for me, the show was never about something as simplistic as the riffing. This episode shows *character*, both in the form of Joel, the bots and the Mads, but also their interactions. It shows that they are more than just constructs designed as a “riffing vehicle”, they are already fully formed creations. Without them, it’s just guys talking over movies and *that* would never have gotten out of Minnesota.

    Five stars.


  • 34
    Drunken Fist says:

    Have to agree with everyone that is is actually a pretty decent movie. Pretty good host segments too; their rendition of “Wipeout” really cracked me up! LOL


  • 35
    afrgarga says:

    Phase IV was a really cool weird-as-hell movie. And now that I’ve seen the trailer I really want to see that original ending.


  • 36
    Roland Warner says:

    No love for the “Carpenter Ant” line? Twisted


  • 37
    MiqelDotCom says:

    Yeah, that was a good one! Joel doesn’t laugh and then Josh says
    “he’s Ant-o-rexic” & Crow says “See, Tom gets it”
    Plenty of good ant wordplay in the riffing!

    Fairly good 70s scifi, but I agree with Joel & the Bots – the ending sucks.


  • 38
    Richard the Lion footed says:

    To me, this is the first episode where Joel and the cast gets the idea of what the show is really about.
    This episode is as good as anything they did in Season 1 and could even be seen as Season 2 quality.
    They are doing more riffs, it is a bit tighter, and it is looking like a national show, not a “public access” one.

    I saw this film when it was first show on TV (gad, I’m old)and liked it then. However, as the show has demonstrated over the years, they do no just make fun of movies you hate. They also go after the ones you loved growing up.

    This is the first “real” MST3K of the series, in my opinion.


  • 39
    BeefStumpKnob says:

    This is a strong “3” for me, as others have said it seems to be the first one that follows the main theme of the show as we now know it. From Crow’s “best thing is after you are done with the cast, you just step on them” to Joel’s “when you’re out in the woods….”, this one had me laughing!


  • 40
    Cornjob says:

    Have we allready done a “best
    MSTed movie” topic yet? Phase 4 is at the top of my list. Followed by the KTMA disaster movies, then Space Travellers.


  • 41
    Watch-out-for-Snakes says:

    I really enjoyed the “I’m tripping” moments with Joel during this one. This movie is psychedelic and far-out, man.

    Also, a good filmatism comment from Joel, “Wouldn’t seem so frantic if we could calm down that cameraman”.

    And to show Joel can go lowbrow, “When you’re out in the woods, you can’t beat Off!”

    This experiment shows great promise. Things start clicking as a whole, but the Josh/Joel chemistry still feels off. I really enjoyed the “Wipeout” song they slap out, though.

    I like that Dr. F’s pet names for Joel were an early character development.

    Joel seems more confident in front of the camera.

    During the “I spy” game, Cambot nods when Joel says his/her/its name; is this episode the first mention of Cambot?


  • 42
    Dan in WI says:

    #41> Cambot was named numerous times when they did the phone calls during the Gamera episodes.


  • 43
    TheDON3k says:

    A little late to the party, but figured I would mention that this may be the only episode of MST3k where a Riff makes reference to the Theme Song.

    When they first show the science lab, Crow says, “Their switches sure are clean” (something to that effect) to which Joel replies, “That’s because their space station is new.” or something along those lines. I recall it being odd, not just because of the reference to Joel polishing switches, but also Joel refers to their lab as a space station, or something like that.

    Sorry I don’t have the specifics, since I watched this one a couple of weeks ago.


  • 44
    Paul J says:

    Anyone notice when the scientists come upon a dead animal and Crow yells “Kitty!”
    Joel starts cracking-up and is like “no, it’s a goat.”

    Anyway, later on in the show there would be many instances where Trace’s Crow would say “Kitty” in that cutesy-kid voice. Is this episode where it all started?


  • 45
    touches no one's life, then leaves says:

    >>>btw, the nickname “Old Leadbottom” is from a ’60s TV show called “McHale’s Navy.”

    It’s also from from a February 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone (which is where I remember it from). You can look that up, too. Wink


  • 46
    Bruce Boxliker says:

    To me, the riffing seems a little low-key compared to the Gamera movies, due I’m sure to the lack of Gamera’s happy fun feeling. I like a scientist-based movie just as much as the next guy, but the pacing in this movie was just so slow. As mentioned before though, the movie did a fantastic job with the ant visuals.
    I think in either the next episode &/or the one after it there’s another loud thump during a theater segment, and Servo/Josh blames it on Gypsy.


  • 47
    snowdog says:

    This ep contains what I think is the first of many, many “pull my finger” riffs. It’s still a staple on Rifftrax, and it still makes me laugh when they nail the timing. I admit my mind tends to wander in these early shows, but is this one of the first riffs where they put words into a character’s mouth rather than just comment on the action?

    I can see why they chose this ep for the demo tape. The riffing is surprisingly consistent for the KTMA days. It even got a few chuckles out of me.


  • 48
    Thom Sirveaux says:

    Until now, I had been watching these episodes on Youtube, but this is one of the few that are not available on Youtube. Where else can I view it? Do I need to go back to trading tapes? Smile


  • 49
    snowdog says:

    @Thom, you can buy unreleased eps here:

    I forgot to comment the “Pizza and Pasta” ad. (Do they get their ingredients from a place called “Ingredients”?) Trace and Josh have fun with the ad-libs. I wonder if anyone noticed that Josh used Campbell Soups’ probably trademarked slogan “Mmm Mmm Good”. Food for thought… (get it?)


  • 50
    jjb3k says:

    This is one of the few KTMAs I put on even when I’m not marathoning the whole series from start to finish. The riffing is decent for this era, and even though the movie is claustrophobic and creepy, at least it gives us the lovely Lynne Fredericks, who’s quite easy on the eyes in that loose 1970s sort of way. Shame she had to get absorbed by the ant collective at the end there.

    There’s a scientist named Hobbs in this movie, and as far as I know, there’s not a single Calvin and Hobbes reference made anywhere in the riffing. Missed opportunities like that abound in the days when the show was unscripted.

    Josh may not get the premise of the movie, but the way he shouts “They’re ANTS!” makes me laugh anyway.


  • 51
    jaybird3rd says:

    Unfortunately, my copy of this episode has badly muffled audio, so I don’t have much to say about the riffing. The episode also seems to have disappeared from YouTube (where there was once a copy with much cleaner audio), so I’ll have to pick it up from CheesyFlix.

    One of the older comments mentioned the “lost” alternate ending by director Saul Bass. In the four years since this episode was last in the rotation, that ending has been found, and it was screened along with the film at a Los Angeles festival in 2012:

    [SPOILER ALERT] Starting with the same shots as in the theatrical version, Michael Murphy’s character James descends into the ants’ hive expecting to blow it up, ending the war with humankind’s insect adversaries. Instead, he enters a room where Kendra (Lynne Fredrick), the girl he and his partner rescued from insecticide poisoning earlier in the film, is lying in a pool of sand. She rises and approaches him, as he realizes that the ants want to join – or merge – with humanity, prompting a new evolutionary development in both species. James and Kendra find themselves running through a gauntlet of geometric structures, eventually ending up in a maze where they are tested and observed in the same way that mankind tested the insects.

    In a dizzying and often disturbing montage of imagery, James and Kendra become an embodiment of all mankind as a new species is created. Emerging from their transformation, the pair gazes out onto a sunset-stained landscape, realizing that humanity has reached a new level in its evolution: “Phase IV.” [END SPOILERS]

    I agree that “Phase IV” is a pretty good film, but it’s too hard to enjoy it in its muddy and muffled K09 incarnation, so it’s one of two or three of the KTMA movies that I’m going to add to my library in their un-MSTed form. I was tempted to wait until a restored edition with the original ending, but that doesn’t seem likely for such a relatively obscure film, so I’ll probably just pick up the theatrical edition.


  • 52
    jaybird3rd says:

    Another interesting feature on “Phase IV” and Saul Bass, this one from the WSJ:

    August 7, 2012, 9:21 p.m. ET

    Leaving His Logo On Hollywood


    Bronx-born graphic designer Saul Bass (1920-96) literally left his mark on everything from airplanes to tissue boxes. His iconic logos for United Airlines, Quaker Oats, AT&T and Minolta, to name a few, set the standard in the postwar era of design. But today they remain cloaked in the long shadow cast by the pioneering title sequences, storyboards and other visual services he provided to filmmakers like Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese and, most famously, Alfred Hitchcock. Bass helped plan the shower scene in “Psycho,” designed the poster for “Anatomy of a Murder,” and created classic title sequences for “Vertigo,” “West Side Story,” Goodfellas” and many more.

    “He became the most famous graphic designer in the world because of those title sequences,” said Pat Kirkham, a professor at the Bard Graduate Center and the co-author of “Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design.” “He was making graphics move. It was sort of modern art on the screen.”

    When Bass tried his hand at filmmaking, his debut, “Why Man Creates,” won the 1969 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short. But his sole feature-length directing credit, “Phase IV,” is largely forgotten. Released in 1974, the visually unique, allegorical tale of two scientists (Michael Murphy and Nigel Davenport) and a local girl (Lynne Frederick) under siege by an army of sentient ants, was plagued by production crises and critically panned.

    “I think that was a new experience for him,” said the director’s son, anthropologist Jeffrey Bass. “Everything else he’d done until then was widely recognized as being great.”

    “Phase IV,” which will screen Thursday at 92YTribeca as part of the venue’s “Bastards of Hitch” series, was intended to be “an extension of all the types of film art Saul was interested in,” Ms. Kirkham said. To that end, Bass assembled a dream team of collaborators including future Oscar-winning “Star Wars” production designer John Barry, screenwriter Mayo Simon, and actor Michael Murphy, known for his roles in Robert Altman’s films.

    But the production saddled Bass with an arduous education in the realities of studio long-form filmmaking. “I think he was flummoxed by the group-think,” Mr. Murphy said. “Saul was used to coming in and saying, ‘OK, we’re going to make a big red ‘U’ on the back of your plane. If you don’t get it, go somewhere else.’ He had that kind of clout in the [design] world but he didn’t really have it in the movie business because it was his first picture.”

    “Phase IV” was made under a co-production agreement dictating that the cast, crew and production locales be part of the British Commonwealth. “It was quite a deal,” said Mr. Murphy, the film’s sole American actor. “The picture was set in Arizona but we shot in the Rift Valley in Kenya. Then we went to London to do the interiors.”

    The financial advantages were offset by the handicap of spreading a modest budget over 1,000 miles. “It was a logistical nightmare,” Jeffrey Bass said. “They had pieces of that production going on in three continents at the same time.”

    Spectacular and eerie ant photography, undertaken by insect footage specialist Ken Middleham within his suburban California workshop, was largely supervised via airmail. Despite being bitten by a local ant on set in London, Mr. Murphy had nothing but praise for his six-legged co-stars.

    “My feeling was that the ants were great and we weren’t so great,” he said. “I’ll take half the credit for not being wonderful in it.” He said that post-recording the film’s dialogue—a choice that, like the fictional ant intelligence, was apparently of an unknown origin—proved fatal to his performance. “Saul went home as I recall and I went in and looped every line in the picture,” he said. “I was from the Robert Altman school where you didn’t loop a line unless you fell down on the set or something. Ultimately we sound sort of disembodied.”

    A disastrous preview and subsequent altered ending further frustrated Bass. Perhaps most perplexing, though, was that the world’s foremost designer wasn’t allowed to sell his own film. “Saul wanted to do the ad campaign,” Ms. Kirkham said. Instead, “Phase IV” was marketed with a poster illustration featuring a disembodied hand with an ant crawling from it and the words “The Day the Earth Was Turned Into a Cemetery!” hovering above.

    “It’s just so ironic,” Mr. Murphy said. “What an offensive thing for a guy like that. That was not what that movie was about. ”

    Nevertheless, the curious, hypnotic appeal of “Phase IV” remains difficult to shake. “There is a real strangeness about it,” Mr. Murphy said. “People look back on it now and say, ‘Well, this is sort of weirdly part of another era.”

    Jeffrey Bass offered that the film’s central theme of “how do we view the other,” and “the assumption of superiority” arguably harkens back to his father’s Bronx childhood. “Maybe it had something to with growing up Jewish in New York in the ’30s,” he said. “Your perspective on authority is different.”

    For Mr. Murphy, mixed feelings about the film itself are unrelated to his perspective on Bass’s power as a visual artist: “He’d never really dealt with actors before,” he said. “If I had been blue paint, maybe it would’ve been great, you know?”


  • 53
    schippers says:

    The 1970s are all over Phase IV, but unlike any other eco-horror movie from that time period, this one is intelligent.

    Also, the macro photography, as others have noted, is absolutely incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it equaled.

    All in all, a poor choice for MST fodder, but hey, it was KTMA, making it up as they go along. Gotta cut em some slack.


  • 54
    jaybird3rd says:

    The 1970s seem to have been the perfect years for strange films like “Phase IV”; the bleakness of these films reflected the overall bleakness of that decade, and it somehow made the films more effective.

    Inspired by the part they played in inspiring MST3K, I recently added “Silent Running” (1972) and “The Omega Man” (1971) to my movie collection, along with “Westworld” (1973) and “The Andromeda Strain” (1971). They’re all very much cut from the same 70s cloth, especially visually; I don’t think they would have been the same movies if they had been made in the 60s or in the 80s.


  • 55
    eegah says:

    I don’t know if anyone cares, but I cleaned up the audio a bit and made an mp3 (ala Rifftrax) that syncs with the VHS:


  • 56
    trickymutha says:

    Send me the ant movie. I wish I had a pristine copy of this experiment. A watchable film, with, pretty good riffing by the guys.


  • 57
    Tarlcabot says:

    The alternate-full crazy ending of Phase IV is on Youtube. It’s…something else.
    Watch it here.</a>


  • 58
    pondoscp says:

    If only they had gotten to riff that alternate ending! I feel like I just watched The Matrix… or Teenagers From Outer Space, with the forced perspective and all.

    So Gizmonics Institute is KTMA. That makes sense when Season One starts and they’ve moved to Deep 13.


  • 59
    jaybird3rd says:

    @#57: Thanks for the link! One of the YouTube commenters said it best: “Exactly how I like my sci-fi. Trippy, subversive and dreamlike.” I can’t stand it when movies try to explain everything to you; they’re sometimes so hermetically sealed with dialogue and exposition, out of a fear that “people won’t get it”, that there’s nothing left for the imagination.

    They definitely should have kept that ending in the film.


  • 60
    wonderfly says:

    The true start of the KTMA era, and the start of the episodes I’ve watched (I refuse to watch the KTMA Gamora episodes – why do that, when I can enjoy them in their full glory in Season 3?)

    On the topic of bleak 1970’s sci-fi films, I give you Family Guy’s take on it:


  • 61
    FordPrefect says:

    I was never convinced that The Mads were at Gizmonic Institute during the KTMA series. The word “Gizmonic” was never used until the first episode of Season One. Also, Joel once stated that the reason his character and Dr. F do invention exchanges is because that’s something they used to do at Gizmonic Institute. The invention exchanges didn’t start till the first episode of Season One either. Ah well, KTMA isn’t canon with the official seasons anyway.


  • 62
    Cornjob says:

    My old posts can be found around #21, #31, and #40. I love this movie and this episode. I’ve been beaten to the punch (and lemonade) about the news regarding the lost ending being found. Like the rest of the movie I don’t think that the ending makes any sense. But it makes no sense in a spectacular, beautiful (sort of) and interesting way.

    Whoever released this film with the ending chopped off, like the movie had been run into a ditch and abandoned instead of ended, must have had even more rocks in his head than most executives. Why not release 2001 without its ending you knob?
    The deleted end of Phase 4 not only contains the philosophical core of the film, but also it’s the most interesting visually, conceptually, cinematicly etc. The theatrically released version not only had its heart ripped out, but its head cut off as well in a way that made the poor filmmaker look like a chowder head. I really felt bad for Saul Bass. I don’t know of any other movie that was so totally ruined by the studio.

    Check out this tribute site to Lynne Frederick.


  • 63
    Cornjob says:

    And even if they were smart enough, how did the ants learn about the construction of state of the art mobile laboratory’s and how to precisely sabotage them? Did they take Votech classes or just read the manual with their compound eyes after studying remedial English at the local community college?


  • 64
    Michael D. says:

    BIG thanks to jaybird3rd and Tarlcabot for pointing out and sharing the original ending of Phase IV! I really hope this overlooked gem gets a decent DVD release with a remastered version of the original (and much better) ending.


  • 65
    Cornjob says:

    The heart of the confusion in this movie stems from looking at an insect colony/hive and musing about how wonderful a human society could be if it was modeled on an insect one. The mistake here is that an insect colony is not analogous to a human society, but a human body, with individual ants/bees/termites being analogous to individual cells.

    The vast majority of ants are workers who lack reproductive organs and spend their entire lives doing simple repetitive tasks. Furthermore individual ants are even more expendable than individual skin or blood cells. An ant colony can survive the destruction of the majority of its workers much better than a human can withstand the loss of the majority of its tissue. Ants mourning the loss of their individual dead would be like every living cell in a human body pausing for a moment of silence whenever a skin cell died.

    And individuals are free to pursue their own interests. Individual ants deciding they didn’t want to spend their short existence reinforcing tunnel walls and becoming performance artists would undo the colony. Just as individual biological cells deciding they wanted to do their own thing would reduce a human being to a puddle of uncooperative one celled organisms.

    And any human society based on an insect model would largely consist of expendable workers born to do one simple repetitive task and who lacked genitalia. The only community members with reproductive organs would be one gigantic immobile woman that excretes offspring all day long and her intimidated attendants. If this is utopia I’m going back to Thunderdome. So if anyone reading this is considering creating a human society modeled on an insect colony, don’t.


  • 66
    Cornjob says:

    Anyone have any idea how the solar eclipse or whatever at the beginning made some ants hyper intelligent?


  • 67
    Cornjob says:

    Although ants abandoning their colony to become performance artists might ruin the nest, it could make for an interesting Pixar movie.


  • 68
    Sitting Duck says:

    Personally, I thought A Bug’s Life has always been a bit underrated (and Finding Nemo is hugely overrated). I particularly liked how it took the basic concepts of The Seven Samurai and twisted them.

    BTW that’s some good stuff you wrote up in post #65. Brings to mind the Robert Heinlein quote on all the things a human should be capable of doing, while noting that specialization is for insects.


  • 69
    Cornjob says:

    Thanks Sitting Duck (any relation to Sitting Bull?). I love the way this movie makes you think.

    I also have a thing for the character of Kendra. She has the appearance of a demure Pre-Raphaelite nature spirit that stepped out of a John Waterhouse painting and shucked her diaphanous gown for jeans and a shirt. She seems like she never said or did a mean thing that wasn’t warranted. But she has some steel in her. She gave the ants what for when she started to realize what had happened. And she sacrificed herself to save the others (in a scene Tomservo made hilarious with the whole “Take me, ravage me” bit). The actress Lynne Fredrick had a rather sad life that ended early and with few friends. Check the above link and the whole internet for more details.

    Watching again now I’m wondering how the ants got Kendra from where we thought they killed her to the sand pit at the end. Did they convince her to join up and walk barefoot through the desert for miles? Did they slip her a roofie? Hit her with a taser they built? Tie her up carry her away like a giant chicken leg? Why didn’t we get to see any of that?

    And Hubbs. Aside from the callous disregard for humanity. Scientists are supposed to study and learn about nature. Not manipulate it and put it in its place. That’s what technology is for.


  • 70
    Cornjob says:

    I know. I just love this episode too much. The movie definitely needs a restored director’s cut DVD, and if only one KTMA MST episode is released it needs to be this one.


  • 71
    Sitting Duck says:

    I’m his lesser known cousin who, along with Crazy Quilt, whalloped the 6 7/8 Cavalry at the Battle of the Medium-Sized Horn. Razz Actually I’m from Virginia and haven’t been further west than Michigan (except the one time I visited my brother when he was stationed in Alaska).


  • 72
    touches no one's life, then leaves says:


    And yet the 1970s was also when “Star Wars” was made. Lots of levels of study there.


  • 73

    My original comments are @ #41

    In the opening,
    Larry: “We sold your Dodge.”
    Joel: “Not the Slant Six Swinger!”

    Joel and the Bots do a “ducking away from the screen” gag here, when they’re
    trying to figure out what the out-of-focus object heading toward them is,
    “Oh.., it’s a truck. It’s a truck! DUCK!!”

    during a smoky part,
    Joel: “Somebody threw some doobs down there.”

    Crow: “Ants make your party mix more lively.” Party

    There are 3 local KTMA commercials on my copy of this ep.
    The first is a Club Travel ad that features Kevin (he only has a couple lines, sits in a chair most of the time).
    That is directly followed by an ad for Joel’s standup act at Comedy Gallery Riverplace, featuring a couple of his bits.
    The third is later, during the last commercial break, and is the Pizza N’ Pasta Pizza ad with the Mads. “Yummy sounds.”

    I still like the Host Segment #3 version of “Wipeout” that Joel and Servo slap out on the table.

    This is an okay-ish movie, a little dry, but trippy.
    Still, it’s a KTMA episode of MST3k.
    1 out of 5 ant-stars.


  • 74
    Mnenoch says:

    It’s kind of fun to watch how Joel & the bots kind of get sucked into the movie while they are riffing on it. Definitely a better movie then they would usually watch. Although I will say I’m not a fan of these 70’s movies that are dark and drab. Still an interesting idea for a movie, sounds like the original ending was more explanatory then the ending that got used. Overall pretty good KTMA episode.


  • 75
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