Friday, April 19, 2019

Food of the Gods (1976)

When talking of schlock - as we do here a lot - one must inevitably speak of Bert I Gordon.  'Mr BIG' as is sometimes referred to, is a veteran of schlock movie making, having, since the nineteen fifties, turned out a large number of B-movies, more often than not in the science fiction and horror genres.  Many, including The Amazing Colossal Man, its sequel, War of the Colossal Beast and The Spider, are now considered schlock classics.  At the time of writing 'Mr BIG' is still going strong at the age of 96, with his most recent directorial credit, for Secrets of a Psychopath, dating from 2015.  Noted for their cheap and shonky special effects, usually created by Gordon himself, a recurring feature of his films is that of gigantism, whether in humans or animals.  This found its ultimate expression in 1976's Food of the Gods.  Purportedly based on a minor H G Wells novel, (which had already served as inspiration for a previous Gordon film, 1965's Village of the Giants), it throws out the source material's social satire in favour of straightforward horror.  With only a few scenes bearing any resemblance to the Wells novel, the film features as the titular food a mysterious substance oozing from the ground on a remote island in British Columbia, which causes animals eating it to grow to enormous proportions.

Inevitably, the successful realisation of such a scenario is going to be heavily dependent upon the quality of the special effects.  As noted earlier, however, one of Gordon's trademarks was his notoriously inadequate special effects, usually dependent upon back projections of real animals or people.  Food of the Gods combines this technique with real animals wandering around miniature sets and life-sized puppets and models of the giant creatures.  None of them very convincing.  The roster of puppet giant rats, rubber giant wasps and back projected giant chickens (yes, chickens) are unfortunately as likely to elicit laughs from the audience as they are screams of fear.  (To be absolutely fair, the effects were still better than those in the 1972 giant rabbits-on-the-rampage movie Night of the Lepus).  The cast is largely B- list, (with the exception of the bizarrely cast Ida Lupino), with the ever-psychopathic looking Marjoe Gortner as hero, with Pamela Franklin (whose career had alarmingly been sliding ever downward since her sixties heyday as a child actress) and veteran heavy Ralph Meeker in support.  It is all as roughly assembled as most of Gordon's earlier films (which is part of their charm).  Yet despite all of its inadequacies, Food of the Gods turned out to be AIPs biggest grossing film of 1976, (out grossing US releases which included Futureworld, At the Earth's Core and Shout at the Devil).  Indeed, even in the UK I recall the film being given a big marketing push, with numerous prime time TV spots.  

Part of that success might have been down to the fact ecological horror movies featuring nature - usually in the form of homicidal animals - 'striking back' at humanity, seemed to be in vogue during the seventies.  (More often than not, they did so after some kind of human experimentation gone wrong).  Such films included the aforementioned Night of the Lepus, as well as other such low-budget efforts as Frogs and Day of the Animals.  Bigger budget efforts included John Frankenheimer's mutant bear flick The Prophecy and Irwin Allen's hilariously bad literal 'bee movie' The SwarmFood of the Gods was probably also helped by the fact that it was released in the same year as Jaws, whose success would inevitably have boosted other 'animal attack' movies in cinemas during 1976.  The success of Food of the Gods resulted in AIP releasing another vaguely H G Wells derived film directed by Gordon the following year: Empire of the Ants, this time featuring Joan Collins being menaced by unconvincing giant ants.  Incredibly, thirteen years after its release, a 'name only' sequel to Food of the Gods was released: Food of the Gods II.  Telling essentially the same story in an urban setting, it is testimony to the after life of the original film on VHS and TV that anyone would think it possible to cash in on its title more than a decade later.



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