|During the 50’s, I still remember going to our local theater on Saturday mornings and seeing a movie for ten cents.
This is where I first saw War of the Worlds (the original), This Island Earth, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Beast of Hollow Mountain, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing from Another World, etc.
Among these icons were two flicks that had a very big impact on me: one was actually a serial, The Adventures of Captain Marvel, and the other was a dicey little B horror film entitled THEM!
Captain Marvel was an exciting and thrilling ride for a youngster. THEM! on the other hand, was an eerie, bone-chilling, fright night. The sound of those giant ants can still bring a smile to me because of how effectively scary they were (and still are). My buddies and I stared wide-eyed at the screen, completely frozen in our seats.
There have been different accounts attributing those sounds to various sources, e.g., Wikipedia and IMDb: “The sound that the giant ants from THEM! make as they approach their prey is a recorded chorus of bird-voiced tree frogs (Hyla avivoca) of the southeastern United States. Occasionally, a gray tree frog (Hyla chrysoscelis) can be heard on the soundtrack as well, as these species can often be heard together at the same wetland.”
However, when I was at USC in the early 70’s getting my MFA in Acting, I was also taking several courses in Cinema. And there, I was told by a friend of the actual sound man (who initially recorded the effect for the killer ants) that the guy recorded the squeaky belt of an AC unit outside one of the sound stages at Warner Brothers Studios. Apparently, it seems that the sound tech had remembered hearing that noise as he would go to the set each day...and decided to tape it and give it a try.
Whatever the source, it has, in my opinion, never been surpassed by any other sound effect for the sheer imaginative horror it evokes when it is heard...ever. On top of that, this was the first movie I had ever seen where the hero got killed -- and besides, he was a policeman.
And I don't mean just killed. This guy got chomped by a frightfully believable (for its day) giant, hairy insect - like the ones in a smaller version that I used to stick toothpicks in at picnics.
Then there was the little girl with the thousand yard stare who couldn't talk except to hysterically scream the film's title: "THEM!"
It seemed forever to us kids -- if not fashionably late -- before we even got to see these monsters. But by then...we were pretty much toast, anyway. Two of my female chums were on the floor between the seats, asking us guys when they could look up.
The fact that the movie was filmed in black and white, also added to the fear factor and suspense. (Hitchcock doubled down on this element in PSYCHO.) We were left to our imagination as to what these “bad boys” looked like for almost half the picture. All our young, fairy-tale-imaginative minds were left to reckon with - were those high pitched, unearthly screeches coming out of the dark, windblown desert from an unseen terror.
I can still sit down and watch this movie without ever getting tired of hearing and seeing...THEM!