The Food of the Gods review
Bert I. Gordon’s work is well known in cult film clubs; he’s known as Mr. BIG, affectionately, and he’s got the sort of style that is immediately noticeable. Unfortunately, he’s not famous for crafting particularly good films; instead, the recognizable aspects tend to have to do with the poor special effects, the odd opening credit pauses, and, in The Food of the Gods‘ case, the killing of real rats. This 1976 film utilizing the bare-bones plot of H.G. Wells’ story actually came before Empire of the Ants, but in my own estimation, it’s a better film all around.
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.
Click next for the Frogs review.