Then one day Mrs. Skinner was shooting at a dude, and up from the ground come a bubblin’ food. Of the Gods, that is!
The Food of the Gods may be the worst movie ever reviewed on Sci-Fi Saturdays. I know I said something similar when I watched Plan 9 From Outer Space, but at least there’s more there to enjoy (even if it is bad)! Giant animals and stupid people make for an enjoyable rainy day type of film, so tuck in and enjoy!
The trailer makes sure that the strong lineage of HG Wells films and stories is evident. And that The Food of the Gods might be the next big thing (literally)! It shows hawk-sized wasps, six-foot chickens, and panther-sized rats attacking the humans in, as it says, “an ecology gone amuck.” The rats trap the humans inside a house where they have nothing but a few guns. It also looks like a rainstorm or a flood washes them away. This may be a more appropriate film for the 31 Days of Horror articles, but we’ll see how bad it gets!
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
The Fiction of The Film
On a break from playing professional football, SF (Simon Frazier, not San Francisco as the logo would suggest) Quarterback Morgan (Marjoe Gortner) and his teammates Brian (Jon Cypher) and Davis (Chuck Courtney) decide to take a few days to go to a local island in the Pacific Northwest. They are hunting deer on horseback when the doe takes off into the woods. Davis chases it, but is bucked off his horse and attacked by a giant wasp. Morgan and Brian find their friend, who is either dead or close to it. Morgan goes for help at a nearby farm. When no one answers his calls he investigates the barn and is attacked by a giant chicken.
He kills it with a (regular sized) pitchfork, and finds the owner, Mrs. Skinner (Ida Lupino) in her kitchen. She has no phone and acts weird, considering his clothes are torn and bloody. She wants to show him her bottles of FOTG (“Food of the Gods”) which she and her husband believe to be a blessing from heaven. Morgan and Brian return to the mainland, presumably with the body of Davis. Mr. Skinner (John McLiam) returns that evening from the city where he was attempting to make a deal to sell FOTG. His car breaks down on the dirt road where he is attacked and killed by giant rats.
The next day a fancy car passes the Skinner’s demolished vehicle, and a pregnant couple whose RV is stuck. Jack Bensington (Ralph Meeker) doesn’t have time to stop for anything except getting his paperwork signed with the Skinners. His associate, a bacteriologist named Lorna (Pamela Franklin) thinks he’s a jerk. Mrs. Skinner shows them the place where the FOTG comes bubbling out of the ground. They also notice that the barn has been broken into by the rats, who have eaten the chickens. Back in town at football practice, Brian tells Morgan the coroner says that Davis was stung by over 250 wasps, so they decide to go back to do something about it.
Back on the island, Morgan stops to talk with Rita (Belinda Balaski) and Tom (Tom Stovall), the couple with the RV. Arriving at the farm, Morgan takes charge. He and Brian take off and blow up the wasps nest eliminating at least one pest. When they return they discover Lorna has fallen in a rat warren, so he crawls through a tunnel to rescue her, shooting giant rats as he goes. Thanks to all that drama, Jack has missed the last ferry! Elsewhere the rats attack the RV and Rita and Tom run to the farm for help. While Morgan and Brian drive off in his Jeep to do something about the monsters, Jack begins to collect as much FOTG as he can get his hands on. He’s gonna be rich!
Morgan sets up a plan to herd the rats down a fenced in road into the water where they figure they will drown, due to their size. He electrifies the fence and manages to chase about half of them into the river before others destroy the generator. Brian is eaten alive by the rats while trying to repair the generator. Morgan races back to the farm where Lorna has told Jack what a despicable person he is. Morgan smashes all the FOTG bottles from Jack’s trunk as the rats arrive. Jack tries to salvage as much FOTG as he can but is eaten by rats. The remaining humans, Morgan, Lorna, Tom, Rita and Mrs. Skinner, barricade themselves in the house.
Running low on ammunition for their guns, Morgan makes some pipe bombs and molotov cocktails. He grabs Tom, and the two of them make a run through the mischief of rats and head for a dam he saw earlier. They blow up the dam and race back to the farm before the water arrives. Rita goes into labor, so Lorna helps deliver the baby. Mrs. Skinner is eaten by a rat that enters the kitchen–but goes no further. Morgan and Tom arrive as water surrounds the house. The survivors stand on a second floor balcony as all the rats drown. When the water recedes they collect all the FOTG and rat bodies they can find and burn them. Later after the spring thaw, two bottles of FOTG that were missed get washed out to sea and break on the shore of the mainland where the cows graze. The cows are milked, it’s processed and shipped off. The film ends with a young boy drinking a container of milk in a classroom!
“My father used to say, ‘Morgan, one of these days the Earth will get even with Man for messing her up with his garbage. Just let Man continue to pollute the Earth the way he is and nature will rebel. It’s gonna be one hell of a rebellion.’” – Morgan
History in the Making
The Food of the Gods was chosen to showcase that not every film released at this time was a smash hit, or containing some redeeming social message. Sometimes films were made just for entertainment purposes. Released by American International Pictures (AIP), which was famous for releasing a number of Roger Corman films, who was the distributor of primarily low-budget and exploitation films, such as previous Sci-Fi Saturday films including X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, The Last Man on Earth, & Mars Needs Women. AIP also released other “classically bad” sci-fi films such as Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, The Thing with Two Heads, & The Incredible Man, yet also distributed the original Mad Max as well. So just due to the fact that a sci-fi or horror film came from AIP didn’t necessarily mean it was a turkey–but there was a good chance that it was.
Directed by Bert I. Gordon, The Food of the Gods was based on one portion of the HG Wells novel of the same name, which was divided into three sections. The book contained a continuation of the storyline in which people grew large from the FOTG. Coincidentally enough, Gordon also directed a 1965 film based on the second portion of The Food of the Gods, called Village of the Giants–about delinquent teenagers that grow to large size and terrorize the town. In fact much of Gordon’s oeuvre was based on size change, including The Cyclops, both of the Colossal Man films (The Amazing Colossal Man and War of the Colossal Beast), Attack of the Puppet People, and another super large-animal film from this time, Empire of the Ants.
Along with Night of the Lepus, Empire of the Ants, and Kingdom of the Spiders, The Food of the Gods was part of a resurgence in large animal films in the 70s. Popular initially in the 50s, with films like Them! or Tarantula, the 70s versions all grew out of a more ecologically based cycle of films that included not only nature striking back, but disaster films like Earthquake where the planet rebels, or socially significant tales like Soylent Green where the planet can no longer support humanity.
The Food of the Gods didn’t do much to advance the giant nature attacks sub-genre, but was able to make some advancements in the techniques used to create the special effects. The crew was able to build part of a giant chicken and several large rat heads with animatronic effects inside of them. This allowed the actors to confront something realistic looking in close-ups involving animal attacks. When used properly, and in short shots, the fake heads looked pretty realistic.
Unfortunately for every advancement like that, there are times when the effects fall short. The use of split screen effects–showcasing normal sized animals in a miniature set and full-sized set with normal humans–all failed miserably. The double exposure of the giant wasps flying around looked like ghostly images or specs of dirt on the film. There’s a reason that this film won the Golden Turkey Award for “Worst Rodent Movie of All Time.” Gordon’s other film from the following year, Empire of the Ants, was a superior giant animal film (barely) that also featured more recognizable stars like Joan Collins and Robert Lansing.
A hallmark of low-budget films is an inconsistent script. Characters do odd things for strange reasons, and the plot often has holes that a giant rat could crawl through. The Food of the Gods seems like a film that wanted to have something to say about a number of subjects, but failed on all of them. Women’s Lib, corporate greed, and ecology were some of the topics the film attempted to tackle.
The character of Lorna is shown as a free-spirited and liberated woman, who works in science. Her boss unfortunately is a misogynistic chauvinist whom she gets to tell off about half way through the film. She appears to be a strong character who pursues the male lead, and helps to deliver Rita’s baby, but then the weirdest scene happens. It’s in the trailer above if you want to check it out. For context, the group is trapped in the house with large rats surrounding the outside. They have guns, but limited ammo, as well as enough supplies to make pipe bombs. Things are tense when Lorna turns to Morgan and out of nowhere says “I want you to make love to me!” Talk about liberation!
Corporate greed is another topic the film tries to broach, but instead of making something meaningful like Rollerball or Soylent Green, the filmmakers reduce businessman Jack to a caricature. His motivations to salvage the remaining FOTG is almost comical, as he reaches for the bottles even as he is being devoured by the rats. This leads to the jars getting scattered around the farm property and ending up washing out to sea, which allows the darker ending to occur. Segue into the discussion of ecology brought up in the film. Morgan’s voiceover at the start and end of the film talks about how his dad always said that Nature would one day rebel against man. The consequences of previous actions by humanity may have led to the goo oozing out of the ground. What is the FOTG? It’s never explained, but it’s set up to be a potential downfall for humankind. Especially if it has gotten into the food supply.
The Science in The Fiction
As with other large animal films reviewed at Sci-Fi Saturdays, only some of the effects of a giant animal are considered. Morgan correctly guesses that while normal sized rats can swim in water, herding these gigantic rodents into the river (or releasing a dam’s worth of water onto them) will cause them to drown. The strangest aspect of the film is the various plot elements that Mrs. Skinner is able to regurgitate to the audience. Such as, nothing really eats the FOTG. It has to be mixed with something else, like chicken feed before the animals would eat it. And the adult animals were never affected by it, only the young. Which makes the thought of a giant elementary school kid at the end of the film seem even more horrid.
The Final Frontier
Ida Lupino was at the end of her career when she made The Food of the Gods (this was her penultimate film). She was primarily known as a popular screen actress from the 30s and 40s, starring in films such as Humphrey Bogart’s High Sierra. The remainder of the cast never really made it above the level of low-budget films. Marjoe Gortner was in the regrettable Caroline Munro/David Hasslehoff vehicle Starcrash in 1978. This was the last film for Pamela Franklin, having been a main character in the horror film The Legend of Hell House. Jon Cypher didn’t make another film until he showed up in the 1987 fantasy/action film Masters of the Universe, as Man-At-Arms.
The Food of the Gods was released in June of 1976 approximately one week before Logan’s Run, a sci-fi film that would eclipse many other current projects. 1977 would see the last two giant mutation of nature films for a while, which is probably a good thing. Just a few months later the whole world would be focused on one particular film. Spaceships, robots, and intergalactic action were to be the new normal, leaving films like The Food of the Gods as strange footnotes in the annals of sci-fi film.
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.