Initially, Judge Bill Gibron thought this DVD was centered around the creation of his favorite dish...linguini with white clam sauce. Sadly, it turned out to be the Bert I. Gordon groaner from three decades back.
One Taste is All it Takes
In preparation for the big game, football player Morgan (Marjoe Gortner, Earthquake) and his buddies head up to the Pacific Northwest to kill some deer. As luck would have it, they run into a pack of mammoth, monkey-sized wasps, and one of them is stung to death. Looking for help, Morgan discovers some bear-sized chickens on the Skinner Farm. Seems Mr. and Mrs. Skinner (Ida Lupino, High Sierra) have discovered some sinister glop on their property, and when fed to their livestock, the animals grow to gigantic proportions. Of course, the local pest population has sampled the stuff, and they too have developed into dangerous monsters. It's no long before shady businessman Jack Besington (Ralph Meeker, Johnny Firecloud) and his scientist associate Lorna Scott (Pamela Franklin, The Legend of Hell House) head out to the Skinners to secure the ooze's resale rights. But by then, donkey-sized rats are running ramshackle over the surrounding terrain. It's up to the sports stud and the rest of this motley crew to destroy the mutants once and for all. Even if what Mrs. Skinner says is true, and this is some manner of Food of the Gods, it's clear that man is incapable of controlling it.
Though a better title might be Bert I. Gordon's Same Old Cornball Fake Giant Rat Extravaganza, Food of the Gods does sound more ominous. Too bad the film such a moniker supports is the moldy mutton and broth of '70s drive-in fare. One of those classic AIP productions that sounds better in concept than execution, this tale of non-Texas tea bubbling seepage and the elephantine affect it has on the Northern Pacific critter population is so single IQ intelligent and invertebrate thrilling that pre-weaned babies laugh at its fear factors. Even the presence of former child evangelist turned equally pedantic actor Marjoe Gortner can't enliven what is, by all accounts, a redundant update of the classic '50s 'nature strikes back' scenario. And since it's helmed by the man who made oversized grasshoppers (Beginning of the End), large arachnids (Earth vs. the Spider), and titanic teens (Village of the Giants) certified schlock laughers, we know we're in for some rough sci-fi waters. Even with the advanced warning, the resulting rapids are almost fatal.
The ominous aesthetic threats begin upon witnessing Gortner…our supposed hero…dressed like a football player and running receiver routes. Filmed athletics have never looked so anemic. But then our wide-out waste of space heads for the woods to do a little pre-game animal slaughter, and the first moment of mockery arrives. While tracking a deer, one of Marjoe's mates gets attacked by some inflated plastic wasps and all suggested seriousness shoots right out of the storyline. It's at this point where one has to get their suspension of disbelief in order. Either they will accept Gordon's goofball F/X…a meshing of process shots, obvious props, fake fur rodent heads, and barely tolerant miniature work…and settle in for a 'so bad it's good' experience, or the palpable fakery will signal the time to abandon cinematic ship. And the decision better be a quick one. Famed actress/director Ida Lupino is waking in the wings as a Bible thumping biddy who believes a "higher power" delivered the catalytic goo to help save her floundering farm. Oh brother.
At this point, the massive mealworms and humongous hens are tossed aside for everyone's favorite gargantuan pest…the rat. Indeed, after Lupino proves her loopiness and a few more ancillary characters are introduced to the narrative, Gordon goes Willard on his unsuspecting players, and the final two thirds of Food of the Gods turns into a nonstop mouse-a-thon. When viewed from afar, swarming a stranded VW Bug or over running an RV, they look like snake food gone gonzo. They're cute as a button and nothing but loveable. Yet somehow, in close up, they transform into demonic puppets with beady red eyes and incisors desperate for human flesh. Even better, these nasty gnawers chew right to the bone and bisect people with relatively ravenous glee. For a movie made in 1976, this is some pretty bloody stuff…not up to the gruesome gore standards of the next three decades, but fairly funky nonetheless. Yet even the ample arterial spray can't salvage Food of the Gods believability. At several points in the narrative, we snort at the lack of reality (or anything resembling said state) and start looking for something to laugh at.
In true fashion, Gordon lays on the unintentional giggles. Lupino's faith-based buffoonery is good for a few chortles, while Gortner's athlete as conqueror make machismo seem asinine. Ralph Meeker, the kind of disgruntled character actor who resembles the physical manifestation of constipation, cracks off a few classics as well. He also gets all the curses, just to show how crass, crude, and capitalist he really is. When taken in total, they make the already rampant stupidity of Food of the Gods feel even more brain addled. The last act denouement, featuring an "as luck would have it" dam, as well as the birth of a baby (?), does little to subvert the lunacy. Even during the pro-ecology days of the Me Decade, this kind of wilderness gone wild adventure fails to resonate. It could be that, even updated, such a fright formula plays as dull and dopey. Or maybe Bert I. needed to shelve the ambitions and stick to forced filmic retirement. Whatever the case, H. G. Wells could never have imagined that his forgotten future shock work would have turned into this. Of course, old pro exploiters like Mr. Gordon weren't around in turn of the century England to forward their own mangy motion picture agenda.
As for the DVD release from MGM's Midnight Movies line, the transfer is acceptable. It's a tad dark, and a little fuzzy at times, but one can imagine that this is part of Bert I. Gordon's original budget restrictions, not a question of modern technology and format. Indeed, there are moments in the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen picture where the forced perspective and matt work looks very good. As for sound, the Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono from 1976 is just as flat and tinny today as it was then. There is no aural revamp for this release. Finally, those hoping to experience a little added content will be greatly disappointed. MGM provides absolutely no extras. It's bare bones all the way. Oddly enough, that seems appropriate for a movie that does very little to expand on the old man vs. mammal dynamic. Thanks to the lack of entertaining victuals, this is a pretty paltry meal overall.
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