by Steve Habrat
Let’s just be honest here and admit that there are only a handful of notable horror films that deal with animals lashing out at humans. My personal favorites have to be 1954’s Them! and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, Them! because the giant ants are so gloriously cheesy yet effective and The Birds because it is a prime example of Hitchcock building unbearable suspense. If you are looking for an animal-attack B-movie that should be the definition of schlocky, look no further than Bert I. Gordon’s 1976 film The Food of the Gods, which is loosely based off H.G. Well’s novel The Food of the Gods and How it Came to Earth. With absolutely horrendous special effects and some cringe worthy acting, The Food of the Gods is a gratuitously violent midnight movie with some great moments of unintended hilarity. Featuring gigantic attacking rodents, wasps, worms, and, most memorably, chickens, The Food of the Gods is the type of movie that requires you have downed at least a six pack of beer before deciding to subject yourself to it.
After a mysterious milky slime bumbles up from the ground on a secluded island in British Columbia, an older couple, Mr. and Mrs. Skinner (Played by John McLiam and Ida Lupino), stumble upon it and see it as a gift from God. They decide to feed it to their chickens, causing them to grow to incredible sizes. A short while later, pro football player Morgan (Played by Marjoe Gortner) and two of his friends, Davis (Played by Chuck Courtney) and Brian (Played by Jon Cypher) take a hunting trip to the island where Davis is attacked and killed by giant wasps. Morgan and Brian leave the island but are lured back to seek out what really killed Davis. While exploring the island, they run in to a money hungry businessman, Jack Bensington (Played by Ralph Meeker), his assistant, Lorna (Played by Pamela Franklin), and a young couple, Rita (Played by Belinda Balaski) and Thomas (Played by Tom Stovall), who happen to be with child. After missing the ferry to get off the island, the small group finds themselves relentlessly attacked by giant rodents eager to rip them to bloody chunks. The group meets up with the God-fearing Mrs. Skinner and decides to barricade themselves in her home in an attempt to survive until the ferry returns.
Director Gordon was no stranger to giant critters attacking humans, as he made several films throughout the 50s and 60s that tackled the subject and gained himself the nickname “Mr. B.I.G”, which referred to his initials and the size of the antagonists in his films. The Food of the Gods seems like it a forgotten film from the atomic age just with more severed limbs and blood splashes. The film somehow ended up with a PG rating even though there is tons of gore to satisfy the entire family. The Food of the Gods is devoid of any real subtext or message outside of a warning to treat the environment with some respect because you never know when it may lash out at you (riveting stuff). The film also features some of the most hysterical actions from the cast that you will ever see. At one point, Lorna suggests that her and Morgan make love before the giant rats find a way into the boarded up home and eat them. I don’t know about you but stopping for a quick lay would be the LAST thing on my mind if I was trying to stay alive but I guess everyone is different!
If you aren’t giggling over the dated special effects, the overacting will have you in stitches. Gortner, who happened to be an ex-evangelist and spiritual healer (no joke) before he leapt to the big screen, is probably the best one in the entire film. He plays his role stone-faced and never once stops to laugh at all the absurdity he faces, even when he is asked to do battle with a giant chicken, which is the film’s highlight moment. The other notable player is Lupino as Mrs. Skinner, who hams it up begging God to save her from being devoured by giant rats. She gets a nasty bit that features her arm getting chewed off by giant mechanical worms. Everyone else is largely forgettable or just too ridiculous for words. Meeker is the typical jerk who lives too long but dies nice and gruesomely. Franklin is stuck with the worst dialogue in The Food of the Gods, her crowning moment coming when she suggests sex over trying to stay alive. Balaski is reduced to the cowering blob and Stovall spends too much time complaining about everything Morgan does to try to stay alive.
The Food of the Gods builds up to a violent last stand that features the destruction of a nearby dam that floods half the island, sending the giant rats to a watery grave (I’m being serious). Many of the special effects that we see are actually mini sets with rats scurrying over toy cars and plastic trees, all of which are extremely obvious. The one aspect of the film that actually impressed me were the scenes in which rats would be blown away by blasts from Morgan’s shotgun. These scenes feature live rats being thrown through the air as fake candle wax blood pours from their wounds. The climax of the film resembles the final stand in The Birds but without any apocalyptic chills running up and down your spine. Gordon opts to have the creamy ooze get in water which is drunk by cows on a nearby farm. The final scene is a child chugging a carton of tainted milk, hinting that there may be a sequel featuring a giant child (now THAT is scary). Overall, The Food of the Gods is a film that you could tolerate on a drunken double feature evening but just make sure that it is at the bottom of the bill so you have a nice buzz by the time you throw it on.
The Food of the Gods is available on DVD.