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.
Psycho: A Love Letter
by Charles Beall
How do you review Psycho?
If you are any kind of film lover, you have seen it. There isn’t any basis of film criticism, film admiration, or film anything where Psycho is not part of our subconscious. Psycho is as much American art as any painting from the hand of an American artist (yes, Hitchcock was British, but he was both a British and American filmmaker).
In his fantastic book, Alfred Hitchcock and the making of ‘Psycho’, author Stephen Rebello writes that the “working-stiffs milieu, two shocking murders, a twist finale peppered with transvestism, incest, and necrophilia [were] catnip to a man who fancied himself a connoisseur of abnormal psychology;” indeed, the plight of the characters is what drew Hitch to make Robert Bloch’s novel into a film. After all, isn’t it the characters that we remember most from this landmark film? Marion, Norman, “Mother,” and indeed, the Bates Motel and the house on the hill- these characters haunt our psyche (or at least mine).
Psycho is one of my all-time favorite films for many reasons. I remember my first time (don’t we all?) seeing this film. It was on AMC (when they actually showed good movies, but before they made the awesomeness that is Mad Men and Breaking Bad) and I was skeptical going into it. I was a budding Hitchcock fan, the only movies of his I had seen were The Birds and Vertigo (needless to say, at the time, I wasn’t a fan of the latter) and I had read that Psycho was his masterpiece. I sat down, eagerly awaiting the start of the film. Hitch had me at the titles.
We know how the story progresses, but to sum it all up, Psycho was originally Marion’s story, not Norman’s. The brilliance of the switcheroo is what has had me hooked for so many years. In a way, I became obsessed with Norman Bates- what an amazing character! But really, he is two characters warring inside the mind, and in the end, the “dominant” one prevails.
This war is brilliant portrayed by Anthony Perkins, who gives one of the greatest performances ever captured on celluloid. We see a sympathetic, fidgety young man who we feel pity for, even though we know he is a psychopath. But how did he get that way? Is he a good person corrupted by a force so overwhelmingly evil that there is nothing he can do to stop it? This week, I will be reviewing the Psycho film series while making a special emphasis on Norman Bates and his evolution to sanity (or insanity?).
The question I placed before you at the beginning is indeed rhetorical. How do you review Psycho? I know I can’t because it has all been said before. But this week you will find out my love and admiration for the Psycho series and this amazing character of both film and American folklore, Norman Bates.
Psycho grade: A+ (duh)
Tomorrow, it’s 22 years later, and Norman Bates is coming home…
The Birds (1963)
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NOTE: Anti-Film School does not claim ownership of the attached trailer.