PHASE IV (1974) Reviews and overview

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British-based 101 Films is releasing Phase IV, the only feature film directed by legendary credits sequences designer Saul Bass as a two-disc Blu-ray set.

The release includes the original ending that Bass wanted but was vetoed by the studio, as an extra. A new documentary, An Ant’s Life: Contextualising Phase IV, an audio commentary by Allan Bryce (The Darkside magazine) and Richard Holliss, and a limited edition booklet featuring new, specialist writing on the film, the career of Saul Bass and the history of ‘killer bug’ movies. The first 3,000 copies also come with a booklet and slipcase. Order from

A second disc features the director’s best shorts, including the Why Man Creates (1968) and a newly-scanned version of Ray Bradbury adaptation Quest (1984).

Meanwhile, here is our previous coverage of Phase IV:


“When You Can’t Scream Anymore!”

Phase IV is a 1974 American science fiction feature film and the only feature-length film directed by the noted title sequence designer Saul Bass (Psycho). Scripted by Mayo Simon, the movie stars Michael Murphy (Strange Behavior, Shocker), Nigel Davenport (The Island of Doctor Moreau) and Lynne Frederick (Schizo).

The film was a box office flop and as a result, this was the only feature film directed by Bass. It has since gained a strong cult following thanks to numerous TV airings.

According to the book Future Tense, “Bass originally filmed a spectacular, surreal montage lasting four minutes, showing what life would be like in the ‘new’ Earth, but this was cut by the distributor.” The montage was supposed to suggest that the two surviving characters were altered by the ants creating the next step in evolution for humanity and insects.

In June 2012, a few faded prints of the original ending sequence were found in the Saul Bass Collection at the Academy Film Archive, and this excerpt screened to the public in Los Angeles. Previously, only the novelization of playwright/screenwriter Mayo Simon’s screenplay, written by Barry N. Malzberg, gave a hint of the final version by Bass.




Due to some unknown cosmic event, listed in “phases”, ants have undergone rapid evolution and developed a hive mind. A scientific team begins investigating strange towers and geometrically perfect designs that ants have started building in the desert. The local human population flees the strangely acting ants.

James Lesko (Murphy) and Ernest Hubbs (Davenport) set up a computerised lab in a sealed dome located in an area of significant ant activity in Arizona. The ant colony and the scientific team, along with a holdout rural family, make war against each other, with the ants being the more effective aggressors…



” … it’s not any sort of traditional film, it’s unique and odd enough to granted more critical nuance than just ‘bad.’ It’s a creepily effective thriller, a heavy philosophical trip and even possibly a metaphorical argument in favor of Communism.” Badass Digest


“Plastic relationships between ants and men are occasionally established — most strikingly, in a cut from the monolith-like anthills to a row of computers inside the dome – but the dramatic relationships are perpetually suspended. One suspects that if Bass were able to eliminate actors and dialogue entirely, he might be able to pursue his graphic interests with much more continuity and distinction…” Jonathan Rosenbaum


“This is a film of ideas and images rather than character dynamics, and as such, it doesn’t really matter that the actors aren’t given much meat to chew on. The three leads are solid, but they’re forced into sharing an equal amount of screen time with insects, and it’s hard to choose which side is more interesting to watch.” The Stalking Moon

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phase IV

phase IV poster

Cast and characters:

Nigel Davenport … Doctor Ernest D. Hubbs
Michael Murphy … James R. Lesko
Lynne Frederick … Kendra Eldridge
Alan Gifford … Mr Eldridge
Robert Henderson … Clete
Helen Horton … Mildred Eldridge
David Healy … Radio Announcer (voice) (uncredited)

Filming locations:

The interiors of the film were shot at Pinewood Studios in England and the exterior locations were shot in Kenya even though the film is set in the Arizona desert.

Technical details:

84 minutes
Aspect ratio: 1.85: 1
Audio: mono

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