Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Final Girl Film Club - The Food of the Gods

Cody is endeavoring to write about all of the Final Girl Film Club entries he missed over the years. The movies will be covered in the original Film Club order in most cases, while some of the articles will be posted to coincide with certain dates.

Hopefully no animals were harmed in the making of this film.

B-movie writer/director/producer/legend Bert I. Gordon has the nickname Mister BIG, and it's not just because of his initials. Take a look over his filmography and you'll see that the man clearly had a fondness for large creatures running amok, having brought audiences such sights as a 50 foot tall cyclops, a man who grows to over 60 feet after being caught in an atomic bomb blast, massive irradiated locusts, a giant spider, ants made huge by toxic waste.

Twice in his career, Gordon turned to the 1904 H.G. Wells novel The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth as a source of inspiration for his "giant something" movies, although neither was a true adaptation of Wells's satirical work, in which the creation of a substance that enhances growth accidentally leads to a race of giants being born into the world and eventually a war between regular people and the giants. Gordon just took the basics - the idea of a substance that makes things large. In his 1965 sci-fi comedy Village of the Giants, a young boy accidentally creates a "Goo" that causes a group of juvenile delinquents to grow to heights over 30 feet. With his 1976 horror film The Food of the Gods, he told the story of an island overrun with giant animals and insects.

The first giant lifeforms to reveal themselves in The Food of the Gods are a swarm of colossal wasps, which disrupt the downtime getaway football player Morgan was seeking to have on a small island in the Pacific Northwest by stinging his friend to death. When Morgan seeks help from a nearby farm, he finds the barn full of giant chickens and the woman who lives there scared out of her wits.

The elderly couple the farm belongs to, the Skinners, one day found a strange white substance bubbling from the ground on their property. Their conclusion was that this substance was a gift from God, a way to take care of their needs, and clearly it must be some kind of food supplement. They began mixing it into the meal they fed their chickens. Seeing what became of those chickens, Mr. Skinner has gone off to make a "big money deal" to sell the substance, which they call the Food of the Gods. But in her husband's absence, Mrs. Skinner has noticed rat holes in the room where they store the FOTG, and she's afraid that the rats might have eaten some of it... That they could be out in the woods now, growing...

Mrs. Skinner is right to be concerned. Her husband never makes it home, getting attacked on the way and torn apart by rats nearly as big as his VW Bug.

Characters who do make it to the Skinner farm include bacteriologist Lorna, who takes a quick liking to Morgan, and her unscrupulous boss Mr. Bensington, a dog food company owner Mr. Skinner met who sees the opportunity to make millions with the growth-enhancing substance. There's also a young man named Thomas and his very pregnant girlfriend Rita. Before the rats ran their RV off the road, their biggest issue in life was Rita's refusal to ruin their relationship by getting married.

Under siege by wasps, rats, and overgrown grubs, the characters make their stand at the Skinner farmhouse, their fight for survival led by the proactive Morgan.

As Morgan informs us in an opening voiceover, his father warned him that something like this might happen someday: "One of these days the Earth will get even with man for messing her up with his garbage. Just let man continue to pollute the Earth the way he is and nature will rebel. It's going to be one hell of a rebellion." "You'll never know when and where it's going to happen, and once it starts you'll never know how and when it will stop."

Dear old dad would certainly be proud to see how Morgan handles the situation when nature does rise up.

The effects used to bring nature's wrath to the screen are dodgy. The chicken attack is funny; the wasp effects are rather awful, they're often translucent flying blobs that explode into smoke when they're shot. But the giant rat effects, those are troubling to me.

Some fake giant rats were made, giant rat heads are employed here and there, but for the most part the rats are played by real rats that were made to look huge through the use of trick photography. For scenes of the rats rampaging across the screen, that's fine, the problem comes when the characters are killing the rats. Rats are drowned in the movie, it looks realistic. Rats are shot with shotguns, and when those blasts hit the creatures, they're really knocked around by them, body parts explode open. Were rats killed in the making of this movie? It sure looks like it. The Food of the Gods is like the Cannibal Holocaust of rat movies.

I'm not the biggest fan of rats, I've never had a pet rat, but I definitely don't want to see them hurt for the sake of a dopey movie.

Gordon assembled a fine cast for his dopey movie. Marjoe Gortner, who in his pre-acting days was known as the World's Youngest Ordained Minister at the age of 4, does well as Morgan. Ida Lupino earned her 103rd acting credit (of 105) as simple farmer's wife Mrs. Skinner. Bensington was Ralph Meeker's 100th out of 109 credits. Jon Cypher, who plays Morgan's buddy Brian, had racked up 90 credits for himself as of 2004. The roles of Lorna and Rita were filled by actresses with some genre cred - Pamela Franklin, who had gotten hers from being in The Innocents, And Soon the Darkness, Necromancy, The Legend of Hell House, and Satan's School for Girls, and Belinda Balaski, who would go on to be in Piranha, The Howling, and Gremlins.

Overall, The Food of the Gods is an entertaining B-movie creature feature, but I would feel better about watching it and enjoy it a lot more if there was some reassurance from the Humane Society in the end credits.

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