An entire horror subgenre was born in the 1950s, wherein familiar beasts grow to gigantic size and terrorize humans. Night of the Lepus, the early 70s flick about giant, flesh-eating bunnies, generally gets the nod as the worst of the lot. Them, a reasonably well-directed (if cheesily special-effected) early example, featuring impossibly giant ants, may be the best.
Somewhere on the Lepus end of the scale is Food of the Gods (1976), loosely inspired by an H.G. Wells novel.
Pamela Franklin...Lorna Scott
Ralph Meeker...Jack Bensington
Ida Lupino...Mrs. Skinner
John McLiam...Mr. Skinner
Bert I Gordon, who directed (and wrote and produced; this was obviously a labour of love) at least realized neither he nor his cast had the talent to create dramatic tension or suspense. He therefore dispensed with the usual mysterious build-up which occurs in nearly every other film of this genre. Within ten minutes, we've heard the moral (nature's going to turn on us if we keep mistreating it), watched a man get killed by giant wasps, and witnessed our hero, a football player named Morgan, duke it out with a big chicken. Within fifteen, a soon-to-be-widowed hick woman, Mrs. Skinner, has explained the origin of the outsized animals.
Seems she and her husband discovered some mysterious substance, which they believe is a gift from God. At first they thought it might be oil, despite the fact that it's white. Perhaps they thought petroleum looks like the oil which is inside a pimple. Anyway, it's not any sort of oil.
Now the animals, she explains, stay away from it. They only eat it when it's mixed with chicken feed. So how did it end up in the chicken feed? Well, as she explains, since the mysterious substance wasn't oil, "there weren't nothing to do with it," so they put it in the chicken feed. Right. The standard protocol of every good farmer, upon finding a mysterious, unidentified substance, is to first determine that it's not oil, and then to feed it to the livestock.
If that character's thinking is a tad fuzzy, the director experienced a few mental lapses himself. Certainly, he didn't give much thought to the time of day in this film. We move from dark to light and back, though no clouds are ever evident. Perhaps that part of the world was experiencing a rare, recurrent solar eclipse. Certainly, the rest of the weather is odd. A storm materializes out of nowhere, twice, to contribute mood. We get a few moments of thunder of lightning, and then it disappears.
Pretty much everyone in this film is an idiot. The young couple (she pregnant) who go off the road because of giant animal trouble just hang around outside their vehicle, even turning down a ride because it's going the wrong way, and discuss their relationship. Morgan, the hero, meanwhile makes two kinds of decisions in his battle with the big critters: (1) Stupid decisions which make the situation measurably worse and (2) Stupid decisions which should make the situation worse, but don't, because the script ignores logical consequences.
An example of (1) is when Morgan and his friend return to the island to do in the giant wasps, by themselves, without informing anyone or taking more than a couple of hunting rifles.
An example of (2) is when they find the wasp's nest. Now, these wasps have been shown to swarm, fatally, at the drop of a hat. Anyone attacking their nest should be dead meat. But, no, the entire population of the nest remains politely within, while our two heroes cram explosives in and then set it on fire, thus eliminating the problem instantaneously. (Even they realized that blowing away an entire nest of wasps, one by one, with rifles, would take a really, really long time).
I won't discuss his plan to eliminate the giant rats. If you stay with this film that long, you deserve the opportunity to play "count the acrobatic leaps in plot-logic" yourself.
The acting is unbelievably bad. Either these people saw their dialogue five minutes before they saw the camera, or they were hired randomly off streetcorners. The deadened delivery works wonders with the dialogue. Consider this exchange between Jack, the Evil Corporate Guy who wants to buy the Food, and his female assistant:
JACK'S ASSISTANT: You don't care about anyone
JACK: Why do you work for me?
J.A.: Because jobs for Lady Bacteriologists are
just not that easy to find. You're a real
JACK: I am. Hahaha!
Putting aside the question of just what a Lady Bacteriologist does, we also have great romantic/heroic conversation between the Lady and Morgan:
L.B.: You don't like having women around
when you do your thing.
MORGAN: What's my thing?
L.B.: Facing danger!
Can it get any better? How about:
L.B. (to Morgan): I want you to make love to
me. I know it sounds crazy, at a time
Well, you have to hand it to her. She's got spirit. She's a credit to Lady Bacteriologists everywhere. But yes-- given that, when she makes her demands known, they are trapped in an isolated farmhouse with a handful of desparate people, one of them a woman about to drop a baby, while giant rodents are chewing their way through the walls-- it does sound a trifle crazy. Glad she mentioned it.
The stars of any such film are, of course, the big, bad animals. Here, we get a variety of critters, more mutants for our money.
I suppose that, in real life, being attacked by a giant chicken would be a singularly frightening experience. However, this doesn't translate particularly well to the screen. Chickens just aren't scary. Chickens are silly-looking. The giant wasp effects prove too fake to be frightening. The giant rubber worm is a little gross, but that's about it.
The rats are pretty good. The close-ups and compositing aren't bad, though the director relies heavily on reuse of the same shots, and the rodents' size varies from scene to scene. Still, big rats are kind of scary. Perhaps that's why the the last hour of this film, and the sequel, Gnaw: The Food of the Gods II, both focus on big rats.
My guess, however, is that the sequel's about as big a turkey as its predecessor.
I first wrote a variation of this review for Bad Movie Night.