Written by Tío Esqueleto
Writer, director, producer, and special effects artist Bert I. Gordon got his start in the early, black and white days of American International Pictures. Helming such 1950s B-classics as Earth vs. The Spider and Attack Of The Puppet People, Gordon’s (“Mr. Big” as he became known) best known early works for A.I.P. were his Colossal Man pictures, The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), and War of the Colossal Beast (1958).
In 1976, after 20 years of other projects for other people, Gordon returned to A.I.P., in color (yellow credits and all!) with The Food of the Gods, the first of two H.G. Wells adaptations (Empire Of The Ants would come out a year later) that would go on to be drive-in/late night TV staples. The Food of the Gods is a nature-gone-amuck tale where, once again, man’s meddling with nature has swung around to bite him in the ass, this time, with teeth, tails, beaks, and stingers.
On a remote island in Canada, Morgan (Marjoe Gortner), a football player, along with his agent, Brian (Jon Cypher), and his teammate, Davis, go hunting on horseback. Davis ends up ahead of the pack where he is ambushed by giant, two-foot wasps. When they finally catch up to him, Davis is dead, stung to death, his face swollen and unrecognizable.
Morgan rides on for help, where he happens upon the remote farmhouse of a religious fanatic named Mrs. Skinner (Ida Lupino). While snooping in the barn, Morgan finds himself in a bloody battle with a menacing, eight-foot rooster that he eventually brings down with a pitchfork. A bewildered Morgan learns that Mrs. Skinner has been feeding her chickens a watery, oatmeal-like goo she found oozing from a hill in the yard. She declares it a gift from the Lord, an “answer to our prayers,” a means to get rich. Think Beverly Hillbillies meets The Twilight Zone. She collects it in mason jars, and has affectionately labeled it F.O.T.G. Morgan warns her that whatever it is, it is more than likely responsible for the bizarre stinging death of his friend, and vows he’ll be back to the island to get to the bottom of it. He rides off, ending the first act, setting us up for the rest of the picture.
Morgan and a reluctant Brian return to the island determined to get to the bottom of their friend’s mysterious death. They arrive at the Skinner farm just in time to save Bensington, a greedy businessman, who had come to make the Skinners an offer on the ooze. The same giant wasps that killed Davis are attacking him. Also with Bensington (played by television staple of the time, Ralph Meeker) is his assistant Lorna (Pamela Franklin), a bright young scientist who quickly realizes the ooze’s negative effects clearly outweigh any positives. While inside, we learn that we can add worms and rats to the list of contaminated critters that’ve gotten into the "Food of the Gods." Lots and lots of rats!
Also on the island are young lovers, Tom and Rita, who were enjoying a camping trip until their camper got stuck and broke an axle. Rita (played by Joe Dante staple, Belinda Balaski) is at least nine months pregnant, leading one to wonder why she was ever on such a trip in the first place. Teams of giant, bloodthirsty rats eventually overrun their camper. They are forced to make a run for it, eventually ending up at the Skinner farm, with Rita about to pop.
So, we have the football star and his agent, the greedy businessman and his sensible scientist assistant, the god-fearing recluse, and the pregnant couple about to go into labor, all held up in a farmhouse in the woods, about to get overrun by legions of six foot rats. Now that’s a damn fine and fun set up for an exploitation film of the highest lowest quality! I won’t tell you how it ends up, who lives and who dies, but something tells me you can probably figure it out.
The Food of the Gods is too often summed up as a bad, cheesy, movie, but it’s not. The Oscar winner Crash (2004) is a bad, cheesy, movie. The Food of the Gods is a good B-movie, which knowingly embraces the aforementioned knocks with its tongue placed firmly and lovingly in its cheek for all to see. Nobody was out to win an award or leave a mark in cinematic history. They were out to entertain, to freak out, possibly jump start a career or two, and first and foremost, to sell tickets to 200-plus cars filled with two to seven teenagers and young adults each, at sold out drive-in theatres across America. At a budget of about thirteen bucks, the returns were astronomical and that was the point.
All cheapness aside, the special effects are really quite impressive, contrary to what other reviewers may say. Gordon and his assistant, a young Rick Baker, created them. They are a combination of live animal, matte, effects, and forced perspective, as well as Baker’s albeit early, but still highly effective, puppets and latex. Good stuff. Clearly not a special effect are the deaths of the live action rats. Whether shot at close range with .22 caliber bullets, or drowned, or electrocuted, many animals (just rats really) were harmed or killed during the making of this motion picture. Not so good stuff.
As with most of MGM’s Midnight Movies, The Food of the Gods comes with no special features. It contains an original mono mix, as well as a stereo mix, and is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. No trailers, no extras, just a really good transfer of a really great “bad” movie. Enjoy!