Monday, 13 December 2010

Food of the Gods (1976)


From the 50s through to the mid 80s, Bert I. Gordon wrote, directed and/or produced over twenty horror and sci-fi flicks, including Empire of the Ants, Village of the Giants, War of the Colossal Beast etc. He did a lot of films about giant animals going on murderous rampages, a prediliction which earned him the nickname Mr B.I.G. I'd assume he had some sort of Napoleon complex and that these films were his way of getting back at a cruel, slightly-oversized world, but in the photos I've seen of him he looks like a normal-sized dude. I guess he just liked seeing giant animals wreck shop, which is understandable.

Unlike a lot of it's contemporaries, Food of the Goods wastes no time getting to the good stuff. A small group of friends, apparently professional football players despite looking far too old, decide to go hunting on an island in the Canadian wilderness, where one of them is stung to death by a giant, plastic wasp. One of the other hunters, Morgan (Marjoe Gortner), tries to seek help at a farmhouse and is attacked by a giant chicken, which is just as hilarious as it sounds. Afterwards he runs into the owner of the farm and phones for help for his friend, quickly forgetting that he just got attacked by a giant fucking chicken. After burying his friend back on the mainland, Morgan returns to the island to seek some answers.

It turns out that the owners of the farm found some white goop bubbling up from the ground, bafflingly concluded that was oil, and even more bafflingly decided to mix it with their animal feed. This caused their animals to grow to enormous size. They intend to bottle and sell the magical goop to the owner of a pet food company, Jack Bensington (Ralph Meeker), who has arrived at the island along with his assistant Lorna (Pamela Franklin), who seems somewhat overqualified for the position seeing as she's a "lady bacteriologist". Unfortunately some household pests get into the feed, and while it would have been cool if the rest of the movie exhibited the same variety of giant animals as the first five minutes, it's mainly giant rats from here on in.

This is one of those movies where people don't act or speak like human beings, even by the standards of the genre. For instance, upon seeing the giant dead chickens littering the barn (killed by the rats), Bensington is unimpressed by their size, complaining that he "can't really tell when they're dead". Then there are the couple of campers who are trapped on the island, Thomas and Rita. Thomas insists that his wife stay inside their camper van while he investigates a noise outside, but upon discovering a giant rat sitting on the roof of the van he tells his heavily pregnant wife to come outside with him so they can both watch in horror as the giant rats scurry in through the open door. What a dipshit.

Morgan, meanwhile, spends much of his screen time engaging in heroic activities that clearly cross the line between brave and stupid. In one scene he decides to head out and look for giant animals in an uncovered jeep for no reason, and when asked why there is no reply. He also jams his whole arm inside a nest full of angry, giant wasps. You never really buy him as the hero, since Gortner is relatively charisma-free. (I've never heard of the guy, but apparently he was a famous child evangelist and the subject of the 1972 documentary Marjoe, which sounds a lot more interesting than this movie.) The final act of the film sees him and the rest of the survivors sealing themselves up in the farmhouse as the rats try to get inside.

The rest of the characters are fairly boring stereotypes. Bensington is your standard evil capitalist. Lorna's knowledge of lady bacteriology proves utterly worthless, and the only time she does anything proactive is where she approaches Morgan in the midst of the rat attacks and plaintively declares that she wants him to do her. The funniest character is the farmwife, played by veteran screen actor and TV director Ida Lupino. She plays the super-religious, bible-quoting country bumpkin stereotype for maximum crazy. She gets a pretty amazing death scene where she has to go toe-to-toe with a giant rat puppet, which looks more like a guinea pig to be honest.

As for the special effects, they are just awful, often eclipsed by those in Gordon's much earlier films. Rat attacks typically use scale models of cars and scenery, with only the barest attempt to match them to their life-size counterparts. One particularly terrible effect shot involves a giant wasp attack, in which our heroes fire shotguns at semi-transparent insects until they burst in puffs of smoke. I could have assumed they were ghost wasps if it weren't for the close-ups of actors thrashing around with a giant plastic wasp taped to their back.

I wouldn't bother looking for a "No animals were harmed..." disclaimer with this one either, as a lot of rats get knocked around with high velocity paintball guns. The little guys get some serious airtime and I think I saw one rat do a double mid-air flip with a twist. Maybe these rats belonged to a stunt union, but I doubt it. There's also a scene where dozens of giant rats get drowned in a flood (spoiler alert), and although some of it may have been achieved with fake rats it sure looked realistic to me. I'm against the abuse of animals in films, especially films as shoddy as this one.

Apparently this film is very loosely based on H.G. Wells' classic The Food of the Gods and How it Came to Earth, although the only connections seem to be the title and the fact that the bottles of goop are inexplicably labelled "F.O.T.G." It shares more in common with Gordon's own Village of the Giants, except that it's not as good. Unfortunately it came out pretty late in the Notorious B.I.G.'s career, a time when campy nuclear-themed B-movies were losing popularity to "serious" eco-horror. This is something that Gordon never did particularly well. The film is it's all-time clumsiest when trying to do anything serious, and while the clumsiest moments are the most entertaining, there aren't enough of them to recommend it on those alone. It kind of peaks with the giant chicken attack.

1 comment:

Porky said...

I understand now why I've never seen this one. I agree on the harming of animals too, good film or bad. You'd think with the food chain as it is in cinema the guys making movies like this would feel it in their bones.