Phase IV

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For Phase IV clinical trials, see Clinical trial.
Phase IV
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Saul Bass
Produced by Paul Radin
Written by Mayo Simon
Starring Michael Murphy
Nigel Davenport
Lynne Frederick
Music by
Cinematography Dick Bush
Edited by Willy Kemplen
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • September 1974 (1974-09)
Running time
84 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States[1]
Language English

Phase IV is a 1974 British-American science fiction horror film. The only feature-length film directed by graphic designer and filmmaker Saul Bass, it stars Michael Murphy, Nigel Davenport and Lynne Frederick.[2]

The interiors of the film were shot at Pinewood Studios in England and the exterior locations were shot in Kenya, though the film is set in the Arizona desert in the United States.[3] It was produced by Alced Productions and Paramount Pictures.

The film was a box office disappointment and as a result this was the only feature film directed by Bass. It has since gained a cult following due to TV airings beginning in 1975 and also being shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000 during the KTMA era.


Due to an 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 built in the desert. Except for one family, the local human population flees the strangely acting ants. Scientists James Lesko and Ernest Hubbs set up a computerized lab in a sealed dome located in an area of significant ant activity in Arizona. The ant colony and the scientific team, along with the holdout family, fight each other though the ants are the more effective aggressors.

The narrative uses the scientific team as the main protagonists, but there are also ant protagonists going about their duties in the colony. The ants immunize themselves to the humans' chemical weapons and soon infiltrate their lab. Teams of ants penetrate the computers of the lab and short them out. After Lesko decodes an ant message, Kendra Eldrige, (a young woman who had taken refuge with the scientists) becomes convinced that her actions have enraged the ants. Seeking to save the two scientists, she abandons the lab and apparently sacrifices herself.

Hubbs and Lesko begin to have different plans for dealing with the ants. While Lesko thinks he can communicate with the ants using messages written in mathematics, Hubbs plans to wipe out a hill he believes to be the ants' central hive. Delirious from a venomous ant bite, Hubbs can barely get his boots on but is determined to attack the hive and kill the ant queen. Instead, Hubbs literally falls into a trap – a deep ditch that soon fills with ants that consume him. Helpless to save Hubbs, and concluding that the ants will soon move into desert areas where their growth will exceed man's ability to control them, Lesko chooses to follow Hubbs's plan. He sets out to the hive with a canister of poison. Descending into the hive, Lesko hunts for the queen, but instead finds Kendra. The two embrace, and Lesko realizes that far from destroying the human race, the ants' plan is to change them and make them a part of the ants' world. In voice-over, Lesko states that he does not know what plans the ants have, but he is awaiting instruction.



The wildlife photographer Ken Middleham who shot the insect sequences for Phase IV also shot the insect sequences for the documentary The Hellstrom Chronicle. Both feature extensive use of close-up photography of actual insects.

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." [4] 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. Shots from the original montage sequence appear in the theatrical trailer, which was likely prepared before cuts were made to the film.

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 at the Cinefamily cinematheque following a showing of the theatrical version.[5] The montage ending, along with a brand new 35mm print of the released version premiered on December 1, 2012 in Austin, Texas at the Alamo Drafthouse as a part of a full day of films by Saul Bass. The alternate ending had been included in preview versions (c. 1973-4) of the film, according to Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences representatives on site. The original film elements for the montage were located in Paramount's holdings, then digitally scanned and color-timed for presentation.

The novelization of Mayo Simon's screenplay, written by Barry N. Malzberg, gives a hint of the final version by Bass as it uses the uncut version of Simon's script.

Brian Gascoigne was the chief composer and Stomu Yamashta was responsible for the music in the montage sequences. David Vorhaus and Desmond Briscoe composed the electronic music.


This film was released on VHS from Paramount Pictures, the studio that made the movie. A DVD was released by Legend Films in 2008. The DVD is a bare-bones release of the film and does not have any special features, such as the original trailer, which had scenes cut from the theatrical version of the film.

The original psychedelic final montage of the movie, excised from the original theatrical release by the studio, was rediscovered in 2012 and shown in select arthouse theaters.


Waxwork Records released the soundtrack on vinyl in March 2015. It is the first release of the soundtrack in any format.[6]


Upon its initial theatrical release, the film had mixed reviews.[citation needed] In a negative review, Variety related it to the 1950s monster films that featured giant insects.[7] Time Out London wrote that the special effects take priority over the ideas.[8] A. H. Weiler of The New York Times wrote, "For all of its good, scientific and human intentions, "Phase IV" cries for a Phase V of fuller explanations."[9]

Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 83% of six surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating was 6.6/10.[10] Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of The A.V. Club described it as "designed more than directed, and edited around principles of color and line, rather than around performance or plot".[11] Bill Gibron of PopMatters rated it 7/10 stars and wrote that "for every hackneyed hole-punch moment there’s an engaging scope enhanced by the film’s visual wonders".[12] David Cornelius of DVD Talk rated it 4.5/5 stars and wrote, "Watch it late at night with the lights out, and you'll get plenty freaked."[13]

It won the 1975 Grand Prix Award at the International Festival of Science Fiction Films in Trieste, Italy.[citation needed] Over time, the film has gained a cult following.[14][15]


This is the first film to depict a geometric crop circle, in this case created by super-intelligent ants. The film predates by two years the first modern reports of crop circles in the United Kingdom, and it has been cited as a possible inspiration or influence on the pranksters who started this phenomenon.[16]

The film has been a significant influence on a recent generation of science fiction film directors and other visual media artists. In an interview, the Argentine director Nicolas Goldbart described Phase IV as having had a profound cinematic influence on him.[17] In his science fiction film Phase 7, Phase IV is playing on a television in the apartment of the protagonists. The writer/director Panos Cosmatos described Phase IV as having been a very significant influence on the look and feel of his science fiction film Beyond the Black Rainbow.[18]

The music video by Radical Friend for Yeasayer’s 2009 song Ambling Alp is an homage to Phase IV, and the video's images are inspired by some of the visual elements of the film.[19]

A novelization of the film was written by science fiction writer Barry N. Malzberg. In January 1989, Phase IV was featured on one of the very early episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Phase IV (1974)". BFI. Retrieved 17 June 2015. 
  2. ^ Bailey, Stuart (2006), Dot Dot Dot 11 11, Princeton Architectural Press, p. 20, ISBN 90-77620-05-2 
  3. ^ "Leaving His Logo on Hollywood". Wall Street Journal. August 7, 2012. 
  4. ^ Brosnan, John (1978), Future Tense: The Cinema of Science Fiction, St. Martin's Press, p. 228, ISBN 0-312-31488-4 
  5. ^ "Saul Bass' Long Lost Ending for 'Phase IV' Unearthed in Los Angeles". Retrieved 2012-06-26. 
  6. ^ Barkan, Jonathan (February 21, 2015). "Waxwork Releases Details For ‘Phase IV’ Vinyl OST". Dread Central. Retrieved 21 February 2015. 
  7. ^ "Review: ‘Phase IV’". Variety. 1974. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  8. ^ "Phase IV". Time Out London. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  9. ^ Weiler, A. H. (21 October 1974). "Phase IV (1974)". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  10. ^ "Phase IV (1974)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 26 June 2012. 
  11. ^ Vishnevetsky, Ignatiy (31 October 2014). "Saul Bass directed only one feature—and it's about super-intelligent ants". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  12. ^ Gibron, Bill (12 July 2008). "Phase IV (1974)". PopMatters. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  13. ^ Cornelius, David (18 November 2008). "Phase IV". DVD Talk. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  14. ^ "R.I.P. Nigel Davenport". 29 October 2013. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  15. ^ O'Carroll, Eoin. "Saul Bass Directed a Movie about Ants Taking over the World. Could That Really Happen?." The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Publishing Society. 2013. Retrieved January 20, 2016 from HighBeam Research:
  16. ^ Pilkington, Mark (2010) "History, the Hive Mind, and Agrarian Art". In The Anomalist, Vol. 14.
  17. ^ Interview on 10/15/2011 with Nicolas Goldbart Retrieved 6-28-12
  18. ^ Interview on 6/18/2012 with Panos Cosmatos Retrieved 6-28-12
  19. ^ Radical Friend’s Yeasayer "Ambling Alp" video and Phase IV Retrieved 6-30-12

External links[edit]

Mystery Science Theater 3000[edit]