Bert I. Gordon’s career as an exploitation filmmaker covered a variety of genres, including everything from psycho-thrillers to sexploitation, but he’s best known for a string of sci-fi/horror crossbreeds built around the theme of giant-sized threats to humanity. With a filmography that includes The Amazing Colossal Man, Village Of The Giants and War Of The Colossal Beast, it’s no wonder that Forrest J. Ackerman nicknamed him “Mr. B.I.G.”
Gordon applied his giant-thrills style to the revenge of nature subgenre that was popular in the ’70s a few times – and the most popular/notorious of these was Food Of The Gods, which uses a variety of animals for a multi-creature monster mash. It very loosely derives its premise from a section of an H.G. Wells novel and begins with football player (Marjoe Gortner) going to an island for a vacation. However, he finds himself bedeviled by the strangest of foes: giant-size animals.
Local farmer Mrs. Skinner (Ida Lupino) soon reveals that these animals grew large eating a strange substance that recently emerged from the ground. In short order, Morgan finds himself fighting for his life as they do battle with oversized wasps, rats and even chickens(!). Also trapped on the island are a crooked businessman (Ralph Meeker) who wants to profit from the “food,” his intrepid assistant (Pamela Franklin) and a hapless pregnant woman (Belinda Balaski) who found herself camping in the wrong place.
The resulting film is a weird collision of exploitation film techniques from different eras. Gordon acts like the ’50s never ended, setting up a variety of one-note characterizations and grounding his sci-fi/horror elements in distinctly ’50s visual FX techniques, like having real animals running amuck on miniature sets awkwardly matted into real locations with real actors and having the actors be attacked by oversized puppet-style animal heads. These elements collide with a distinctly ’70s cast, particularly drive-in leading man Gortner, and a plot that isn’t bashful about lifting some conventions from the very ’70s genre of the disaster film.
The oddball mishmash of styles never gels in a classic b-movie way but Food Of The Gods shapes up as a fun campfest for monster movie fans. There’s the occasional effective makeup effect from Tom Burman, like poor Mrs. Skinner being attacked by oversized worms that bite her arm. Better yet, the final act finds the survivors locked-up in a cabin a la Night Of The Living Dead while fighting off a horde of giant rats: the film’s silly yet straightfaced approach to sci-fi/horror hits critical mass here and the results are lots of fun. Gortner is a solid, intriguingly pragmatic hero, Meeker is a delightfully nasty human villain, Lupino hams it up amusingly as a simple rural type and Franklin and Balaski add a little scream queen appeal.
In short, Food Of The Gods is amusing celluloid junk food, with a mixture of ’50s and ’70s stylings that has acquired some charming quaintness with the passage of time. If you like schlock from both those decades, the collision of styles here will offer some diverting cheap thrills.
Blu-Ray Notes: This was just released on a 2-for-1 blu-ray by Scream Factory, partnered with Frogs. The transfer is a nice improvement on past home video editions, looking sharp and colorful, and PCM presentation of the mono audio is nice and clear. A commentary track is included for this film with Gordon and moderator Kevin Sean Michaels. Sadly, Gordon isn’t that forthcoming and has to be prodded throughout by Michaels, who only has a limited amount of questions and tends to gush about the film. That said, Gordon does provide a little insight into his VFX techniques and the challenges of working with rats if you are patient.
Also included is an interview with Balaski, who is funny and engaging. She talks about liking Gordon but occasionally locking horns with him on issues of performance, offers memories of her castmates and reveals the challenges of acting alongside rat puppets. Also included is a trailer that plays up the H.G. Wells source material, a radio spot that does the same and a gallery of ads and stills that includes an amazing poster that double bills the film with Straw Dogs(!). All in all, a nice value for fans, especially with the addition of Frogs and its attendant extras.