Giant rats, post-apocalyptic action, and the danger of violent video games.
GNAW: FOOD OF THE GODS II (1989)
A sequel to Bert I. Gordon's 1976 film The Food of the Gods only in that they both feature creatures that have grown to giant sizes after being exposed to some kind of substance, Food of the Gods II is set largely within the confines of a university that has gone all-in on funding some of the most horrendous animal testing experiments imaginable.
The substance that causes growth isn't a mysterious fluid seeping from the ground, as it was in the '76 movie, but 192 Methional, a growth hormone developed by a Doctor Travis. When the parents of a young boy with a growth deficiency seek her help, Travis administers 192 Methional... and ends up with a giant, angry child living in her attic.
Travis's protégé Neil Hamilton takes a sample of 192 Methional to examine in his lab at the university, hoping to be able to find a way to reverse the effect it has had on the no-longer-little kid. Hamilton is usually one of the good guys - he works with plants and refuses to do animal testing, the only animal in his lab is his pet rat. But the need to crack the mystery of the growth hormone causes him to set aside his ethics.
Things go wrong when a group of animal activists raid the university labs and wreak havoc, causing 192 Methional to end up in the wrong hands and lab rats that have consumed the growth hormone to be set loose.
As giant, ravenous rats stalk the campus, tearing into anyone who crosses their paths, the publicity and money-minded school dean refuses to cancel the grand opening of the university's latest building addition, setting the stage for a public bloodbath.
Food of the Gods II isn't the best or most exciting "giant creature" feature you're likely to come across. It has plenty of issues, starting with the fact that it doesn't seem to have had the budget to properly show off its monsters. Sure, the approach of using the monster sparingly, saving good shots of it for big moments, is a legit and often effective one, but this is a sort of sequel to a movie that had its creatures all over the screen, and it doesn't shy away from the gore, so it's not consistently subtle. Rather than feeling like director Damian Lee is trying to emulate how the shark was presented in Jaws (writers Richard Bennett and E. Kim Brewster, who never had another screenplay produced, certainly took some ideas from Jaws), keeping the rats hidden as much as they are here just feels like a cheap out.
It's a movie that doesn't hold my interest much, and often has an odd, mean-spirited tone to it. It has some repugnant characters and awful, revolting sights to show its audience.
All that said, it isn't all bad. I wouldn't directly recommend it to anyone, but I've seen much worse "nature run amok" flicks.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)
I plan to write more about this one the future, but it's definitely worth mentioning now as well, since I strongly urge everyone to go out and see it on the big screen while they have the chance.
Director George Miller's return to the world he created with Mad Max in 1979, thirty years after the last installment (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome), is a whole lot of post-apocalyptic fun, a stunning spectacle of eye candy and action.
I knew going in that Miller had set out to make a movie that was essentially one long action sequence, and early on I began to grow a little skeptical. A lot of the moments seen in the trailers happen up front in the running time, and I wondered how the movie could possibly sustain the action beyond that. It sustains. Miller pulled it off, and delivered some world-rocking entertainment in the process.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a film I intend to watch a lot in the years ahead.
A year before having breakout success providing the screenplay for David Fincher's Seven, writer Andrew Kevin Walker was behind the script for Brainscan, a horror movie that had a bigger impact on me personally than his Morgan Freeman/Brad Pitt hit did.
Walker's feature film writing debut, Brainscan was directed by John Flynn (Rolling Thunder, Lock Up) and stars Edward Furlong as 16-year-old Michael, who has been very withdrawn ever since the death of his mother in a car accident, which he was injured in and has nightmares about. He mostly just stays in his room, playing video games and watching TV. He really only has one friend, Jamie Marsh as Kyle. He has a crush on Kimberly (Amy Hargreaves), the girl who lives across the street, but he admires her from afar. By "admires" I mean he points his video camera at her bedroom window and spies on her.
There is an aspect of Michael's character that I greatly related to when I first saw this movie on VHS when I was around 11 years old: Michael is a horror fan, and even runs a Horror Club at his school, where a small group of students gather to watch horror movies during the activities period. The Horror Club is quickly banned by the school principal. As a horror-loving kid whose interests were looked down on by most and strongly disapproved of at my school, I felt a kinship with Michael over this.
Kyle is blown away when he sees an ad for a new video game called Brainscan in an issue of Fangoria. The game is said to be the ultimate experience in interactive terror. The player will experience brutal murder through the eyes of a killer and, thanks to the game's use of hypnosis-like Mind Program Entry, this experience will feel "more real than reality".
The cynical Michael doesn't buy the hype, but still ends up giving the Brainscan company a call. He's told that the game is different for each individual player because it interacts with their subconscious. Michael doubts this is possible... until he's knocked, convulsing, back in his seat by the company actually scanning his brain. Soon a Brainscan CD-Rom arrives in the mail for him, a game made specifically for his mind - Death by Design.
Michael plays the game, experiences murder through the eyes of a killer, and it does feel more real than reality. As it turns out, it may even be real, as his video game victim turns up dead in his hometown. Michael now finds himself at the center of a real world murder investigation and draws the suspicion of Frank Langella as Detective Hayden.
The game demands to be played through, and to force Michael to continue playing it the strange-looking man in the game's logo emerges from the computer monitor. The '80s rock styled Trickster, played by T. Ryder Smith, is a cartoony character in the vein of Freddy Krueger, and his antics don't really fit in with the rest of the movie, as John Flynn captured a dark tone of dread and suspense for most of the scenes, and then there are the scenes with this clown dancing and chewing on a full raw chicken. Despite that, I wouldn't want to lose The Trickster from the film, because I do find him entertaining, and seeing images of him in Fangoria were the first things that got me interested in this movie. I thought we were going to be seeing a whole lot of this guy, I expected a Brainscan series.
Overall, Brainscan is a very effective, rock-fuelled thriller that I've always enjoyed. It seems to be underrated and twenty-one years later may be largely forgotten, but it will always be an essential to me.