I know, I know. I’m way behind on film coverage. Doing the best I can to get caught up, and also giving some much-needed coverage to films after their release.
The Food of the Gods loosely uses H.G. Wells’ initial plot, about a strange food that causes gigantism, and then branches out accordingly. Marjoe Gortner (performing marriages since he was four years old) stars as Morgan, a football player who heads to a dreary island to get away from society before a big game, and then encounters giant cocks, rats, and worms while he’s there. There’s a goopy soup that the residents know affects animals in strange ways, but they’re looking to sell it to Bensington (Ralph Meeker) and Lorna (Pamela Franklin) for a price.
However, Gordon doesn’t want the characters to feel too comfortable, because the rats have been getting into the food and growing huge in a cute-and-cuddly kind of way. The Food of the Gods splices footage of its characters on the island with real rats blown up to large proportions, scrambling around or swimming in water. It’s Gordon’s method of not having to continually resort to rat props that smack the characters, and for the most part, it works. Later, the film goes one better, putting the characters above a spliced-in horde of rats swimming in water.
The Food of the Gods is a relatively standard giant animal film from its first moments. Morgan, looking for a relaxing vaca from the world, is thrown into the terror, and instead of escaping from it, he plans to go back to the island to rid it of the wasps that killed his friend. Gordon’s characterization of most of the characters is full of stereotypical holes, and a lot of those people are really just here to be killed in gruesome ways by mauling rats. Still, there are little glimmers of a better film here when Gordon gives Lorna room to make waves with Bensington; she gives him a talking-to late in the film that probably should be delivered to many corporate bigwigs at Time Warner headquarters.
For a while, the film is a fun excursion into giant animal territory – cheesy certainly, but with its own merits. Gordon’s setting is varied and allows Gortner to traverse the moody, foggy island looking for ways to stop the rats that involve either electrocution or drowning. But it’s difficult to overlook the fact that Gordon’s real rats – the footage that was later added to the film – features all kinds of rats being tortured and killed. There are rats shot in the head, or electrocuted, or drowned in a tank (it looks like). All of that is a rather unnecessary and malicious addition to a film that is clearly very fake the rest of the time, and it really takes away from the entertainment value of watching a film about giant rats.
For the animal lover in the audience, then, I’d recommend staying away from The Food of the Gods; you won’t miss out on too much that you can’t see in Empire of the Ants. But for those that aren’t swayed by Gordon’s killing of live rats, the film is a much better giant animal movie in BIG’s canon, especially because the rat footage used is a little more believable. The characters are still one-dimensional, and there’s no doubt this is a corny drive-in flick; but it can be a lot of fun provided one can get over the senseless slaughtering of rats and Marjoe Gortner’s mop.
Frogs is surprisingly not known by an alternative name of Reptile and Amphibian Porn, because despite the title’s focus on one species of slimy swamp-dwellers, director George McCowan’s film hops all over the place with different nature-made monsters. Instead of taking advantage of giant creatures like Gordon’s The Food of the Gods, Frogs is more interested in taking an environmental stance where nature comes back to attack those that have tried to poison it into submission.
Sam Elliott stars as the handsome Pickett Smith, a photographer capturing shots of wildlife on a July 4th vacation. He stumbles on a family led by Jason Crockett (Ray Milland), living on a rich island plantation, who have all come together to celebrate Crockett’s birthday and Independence Day. Unfortunately for all, the frogs have run amok on the island, and they seem to be leading a snake, turtle, and lizard uprising over the Crocketts because of their use of pesticides and poisons over the years. Maybe it’s also because they don’t support their yuppy, croquet-and-badminton lifestyle.
McGowan’s film begins somewhat awkwardly, with Pickett nearly forced to join the Crockett family party as though it’s some sort of cult. And Frogs gives Pickett little motivation to stay – Jason is a miserly, miserable bastard – expertly played by Milland – and the film simply gives Pickett different odd jobs to do for Jason without any sort of explanation. The biggest motive for him is the beautiful Karen (Joan Van Ark), who continually invites Pickett to bed with her without any success (at one point, they have an unsubtle conversation about stopping by his room late at night).
But Frogs never allows the characters or the audience to feel very comfortable. The island setting works well thanks to its mist and heavy foliage; swamps, stickiness, and spiders abound, and McCowan often prefaces each scene with a look at the wildlife gathering around the Crockett residence. The frogs themselves are big bullfrogs, and though they’re not exactly scary, they act as an omen for the reptile and amphibian onslaught that’s yet to come.
The way the film is styled means it can use slick editing to its advantage, and McCowan does this with the help of real and fake creatures. A veritable zoo of snakes, Komodo dragons, spiders, and of course frogs round out the animals featured in the film, and Frogs jumps between characters being stalked by these creatures and then wrestling with fake counterparts. There are a couple of alligator scenes that do look faked, but for the most part McCowan does a good job of amping the tension up by using real animals.
At the same time, Frogs sometimes slips into foolish territory because of obvious limitations. Clint (Adam Roarke) is killed by water snakes somehow, although we never get to see exactly how that works. Michael (David Gilliam) is poisoned in a greenhouse by randomly placed bottles labeled poison, knocked off shelves by Komodo dragons and lizards. It feels like McCowan means these moments to be terrifying, but ultimately they end in chuckles.
It’s not a bad way to enjoy Frogs though, and paired with some effective acting by Milland, Elliott, and some of the other minor characters in the Crockett family, the film is one of the better “attack of the creature” flicks out there. It doesn’t have the tension or subtlety of the later-released Long Weekend, but for a film about generally harmless creatures, McCowan is able to capitalize on particular moments because of his use of multiple reptiles and amphibians that are actually in the scene instead of edited in after. Frogs is worth a watch, so hop to it.
Again, Scream Factory has done a great job of transferring both of these films. There are a few issues with muffled audio in The Food of the Gods, but I believe that is a problem in the film itself rather than this release. Frogs has a couple of cigarette burns and one particular shot of snakes swimming that has a lot of noise but is otherwise well-preserved. On the back side of the cover art is a compilation of various posters and stills one can use as reversible artwork.
There are a few more extras on this disc than Empire of the Ants/Jaws of Satan, which is a nice addition. There’s a commentary track for The Food of the Gods from Bert I. Gordon, and also an interview with Belinda Balaski (who plays Rita in the film); it’s only 11 minutes long, but she gives some great insight into the film as well as justifying the poor special effects and flaws. Also included is a trailer, an audio spot, and some stills from the film.
Frogs doesn’t have any alternative audio tracks, but it does have an interview with Joan Van Ark along with those radio spots, trailers, and another gallery. Van Ark is very generous about her time working on Frogs, and she’s a perfect interviewee – very excited to be talking about a film she did over 30 years ago, she goes into detail about her work with Sam Elliott and Ray Milland.
Overall, this double-feature set is worth the price, especially for Frogs; The Food of the Gods is just an added benefit provided you can stomach real rat killings.