Bert I. Gordon, 1976
Starring: Marjoe Gortner, Pamela Franklin, Ralph Meeker, Jon Cypher, Ida Lupino
I have a deep and abiding love for writer, director, producer and special effects artist Bert I. Gordon. He made some of the best early animals attack films and creature features, including The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), Earth vs. the Spider (1958), War of the Colossal Beast (1958), and Empire of the Ants (1977). He also had some truly amazing titles, such as Picture Mommy Dead (1966) to How to Succeed with Sex (1970).
Food of the Gods, which he wrote, produced and directed, is one of my favorite of his films. Based very loosely on H.G. Wells’ The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth, a strange substance comes up from the ground on an isolated island. Mr. and Mrs. Skinner discover it and feed the substance to their chickens, though other wildlife also begins to ingest it, including rats and worms. Mr. Skinner is soon killed by these unnaturally growing animals, while a group of football buddies camping on the island and are attacked by giant wasps. Morgan, one of the men, decides to investigate after getting his remaining friends to safety. Soon the only survivors on the island are trapped together in a barn, trying to avoid the giant chickens, wasps, and worms, but particularly the enormous rats, who enthusiastically feast on any human flesh available to them. Can Morgan defeat these giant rats?
I cannot pretend that this is a good film and it certainly wasn’t successful in the box office, but damn if it isn’t entertaining. I don’t know of many directors whose films ooze enthusiasm more than Bert Gordon. And I don’t know about you, but growing up watching The Princess Bride an endless number of times has given me an appreciation for rodents of unusual size, which abound in Food of the Gods, though the effects are mind-blowingly bad. The rats are shot on obviously miniature sets and many are even tossed through the air. The chicken is a must-see, as is the giant worm. The conclusion, where Morgan blows up a dam to drown the rats (they are now too heavy to swim) is absolutely insane. In includes a warning about the world ending and a great scene where the mystery substance pollutes a river, is eaten by cows and the cows’ milk is drank by children. Sadly this wasn’t pursued in the sequel. It could have been the greatest evil children film of all time.
I have to recommend Foods of the Gods because of how incredibly fun and fast paced it is. The plot might be flimsy and the dialogue laughable, but Gordon wastes no time dishing out animal attacks, which begin about ten minutes into the film. The gore is surprisingly plentiful and some of the attacks are hilarious. I don’t have a lot to say about the cast. Other than the inclusion of the wonderful Ida Lupino, no one is particularly memorable. Religious child prodigy (I’m not kidding) Marjoe Gortner stars and does a decent job beating the hell out of things, but his character is kind of a jerk. Pamela Franklin is another nice addition, though the script doesn’t give her much to work with. Horror fans will recognize her from The Innocents (1961), And Soon the Darkness (1970), The Legend of Hell House (1973) and Satan’s School for Girls (1973).
Food of the Gods is ridiculous, cheesy and has a certain, so-bad-it’s-good charm, but I think it is one of the best giant rat movies ever made and is certainly one of the most fun animals attack films to come out of the ‘70s. Definitely track down the MGM Midnite Movies DVD, which is technically out of print, but can be found online.
Gnaw: Food of the Gods II
Damian Lee, 1989
Starring: Paul Coufos, Lisa Schrage, Colin Fox, Frank Pellegrino
Because making a sequel to Food of the Gods 13 years after the fact seemed like a great idea, this Canadian film, really a sequel in name only, happened. It is trashier and more violent than Food of the Gods, but lacks most of the things that make the original film so much fun, such as enthusiasm or a sense of style. Two university doctors are both experimenting with growth hormones: the kind, environmentally friendly Dr. Hamilton and the greedy, slimy Dr. Delhurst, who is experimenting on animals to find a cure for baldness. Dr. Hamilton goes against his beliefs and temporarily begins experimenting on rats. Some animal rights activists later break into the lab and set the enraged rats free. You can imagine how well that goes that for everyone on campus.
Straight to video maven Damian Lee (Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe, 1990) sort of remade Food of the Gods in a college setting instead of on an island, but added in all kinds of other weirdo elements. Some humans come into contact with the growth serum and hilarity (and insanity) ensues. There are some strange sexual fantasies, a sex scene intercut with rats eating, and synchronized swimmers that don’t fare so well. The acting is terrible, the visuals effects are not only awful, but oddly dated, and the film has some very cheap production qualities, but certain viewers will find this to be a lot of fun.
On the other hand, most of you should avoid it. If you think I’m wrong, there’s a DVD from Lion’s Gate. Watch at your own risk.