With Food Of The Gods (1976) I was expecting schlocky camp, and I got it. Unfortunately, the albeit mild animal cruelty ultimately put me right off it, boo! I feel like a right spoilsport, because the other Final Girl Film Clubbers seemed really excited by this pick... but I just cannot get excited about something that treated innocent little creatures in the way this film appeared to.
I'll do my best to review this without coming across all tree-hugging animal activist. I did like many parts of it, I'll admit.
As the film opened I was happy to see the credits play over freeze frames of action - something I had admired and found very effective in the recently watched The Devil's Rejects. However it did feel a little as though the director had access to a(n American) football field and decided to make use of it no matter what, regardless of whether it really fitted into the theme or plot of the film.
In any case, while on a hunting trip holiday on a picturesque island, our football playing hero Morgan (Marjoe Gortner) captures a deer, but being the nice fellow he is, he lets it go. His friend is angered by this and follows the deer into the woods to finish it off. He will PAY for being so disrespectful to nature, oh yes he will.
By the almighty power of rotoscoping (at least, that's what it looked like) he is attacked and horribly stung by giant wasps. The special effects on his bloated face are great, and macabre. Pity they couldn't exert such expertise on the frankly dire wasp models.
This was the only decent cap I could get. Clearly director Bert I. Gordon realised that shaky camera work was the only way to go here, and it continues throughout the film during all of the man and beast hand-to-paw combat scenes. Keep moving around and they'll never know!
The surprising thing is, at times the effects do fall outside of being just plain shit (the wasps) and so shit you kinda love them (the rat heads). Sometimes the composites really do work, as does some of the model work. The cockerel Morgan encounters and kills in the barn is actually pretty cool.
Hilarious, but cool. You have to concede that the detail in that giant reproduction of a rooster head is impressive.
I loved the way Morgan just deals with the thing and totally takes it in his stride. There's a shed full of wildfowl taller than him and he barely reacts! I'm not expecting Oscar-worthy performances here of course, I realise that acting a convincing fight scene with a giant rubber rooster head is neither easy nor dignified, but how the devil did the scene not end with him walking away uttering the words: "WHAT THE FUCKING HELL WAS THAT?!"?.
We learn that these over sized terrors are the product of some gooey looking stuff an old married couple found in their rock garden. Nice. The "food of the gods" is bubbling, thin-looking porridge which they feed to their livestock and unfortunately for everyone here on in, the local vermin also get a hold of.
The big fat maggots are RANK and made me feel sick. Crazy farmer lady (Ida Lupino) calls them worms, but they are clearly maggots. Please quickly pass the sick bag.
Sorry. So, back to the plot such as it is: The friend dies from his injuries as Morgan was too busy choking cocks in barns and nattering with lady farmers. On the ferry home, the two friends discuss his death in a disconcertingly calm manner. They decide not to tell anyone about the over sized animals they encountered. Withholding information from the authorities = always a smart move.
They find themselves returning to the island soon enough though, having been informed that their dead friend's blood was full of poison from wasp stings. At least 250 of the buggers apparently. I think the writers could have perhaps picked a larger, more shocking number than that, but then that's just me.
We are thrown a few more people we are meant to care about: a caravaning couple including a heavily pregnant lady, the "love interest" bacteriologist Lorna (Pamela Franklin) and a complete arsehole named Jack (Ralph Meeker) who is from the off the token "I can't wait for his inevitable face-chewed-off death" character.
What follows is a series of set pieces where miniature reproductions of locations are used with varying success, as are big fake rat heads. It's interesting to note that the shots of the real rats climbing over the miniature sets are just that; the rats are harmlessly sniffing and going about their business on top of toy cars and doll houses.
Cut to the close up fake furry head however, and suddenly the things are hell-bent on destruction.
Perhaps I'm being too harsh, I don't know. Normally I would revel in the bad effects and suspend my disbelief as much as necessary, but the thing is the moment I got a whiff of animal cruelty, I didn't have very much patience or time for this film.
I don't know what they used to show the rats getting shot, it looked like paint fired at them which then splatted as it hit and caused the rat to recoil or be thrown backwards. This I may have forgiven... maybe. The scenes at the end with what look like genuinely drowning rats? No effing way.
So by this point I am rooting for the critters. I know I am going to be disappointed, but I can't help it: I want the animals to win. Especially when Lorna turns to Morgan in the middle of a siege of giant homicidal rodents, and in all seriousness utters the words: "I want you to make love to me"...! I laughed, sure, but then came the realisation that I would probably rather be slowly disemboweled by vermin than have to subject myself to any more of this tosh.
The humans win, of course. Something to do with the rats being so heavy they cannot swim, so Morgan breaks open a dam and they all stand on the roof and watch the poor things drown. Oh and the "leader" albino rat makes one last valiant effort before getting his head bashed in by Morgan's shotgun. Blah blah.
The film sets itself up nicely for a sequel, with some of the porridge finding its way into the local water supply, which cows are shown drinking from and then schoolchildren are given the mutant milk. A quick look on IMDb tells me a sequel was indeed made in 1989 (it is known as Gnaw), but from what I can make out it doesn't feature giant 70s kids.
Shame, that would have been way creepy.
So in conclusion, my pesky morals and slightly overenthusiastic love of animals prohibits me from liking this film very much. That's how I roll, I'm afraid. I will willingly, gleefully witness all kinds of murder, torture and dismemberment of humans, but hurt the animals - specifically really hurt them, as I am pretty sure is in evidence here - and you've lost me. I rate my love of movies above many other things in life, but is any film worth actually hurting a living thing for? Not this one, that's for certain.