People of a certain age remember with great fondness the weekend afternoon matinees on TV. For me it was Channel 40, and from about noon until five I was treated to all manner of the kind of drive-in movies Joe Bob Briggs used to champion. Poorly dubbed kung fu flicks. Sword and sandal flicks. Twisted metal demolition derby car flicks. Clenched-jaw men on a mission war flicks. And the best - cheesy horror flicks of every stripe: supernatural ghost stories, slashers, guys in rubber monster suits, and even nature-run-amok tales. Bert I. Gordon's seventies B-movie The Food Of The Gods was one such entry. Watching it now, I realize that it's exactly the kind of movie I'd have seen as a kid on those lazy afternoons, sprawled in front of the tube.
Morgan (Marjoe Gortner, Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw), a football player for what appears to be the San Francisco 49ers (!), takes a weekend trip with another buddy on the team and Brian (Jon Cypher), a coach. They take a ferry to an island for some deer hunting, and while messing around in the woods, the other player is beset by giant wasps, of all things, and stung to death. Upon finding his bloated, swollen corpse, Morgan and Brian take the body back to the mainland to determine how he died (not having seen the attack). Meanwhile, back on the island, Mrs. Skinner (Ida Lupino) waits at her cabin for her husband to return to the farm; he went into the city to make a deal for a new food supply the Skinners have discovered. . .one that comes from the ground. One that when mixed with regular food, causes their animals to grow to ridiculous sizes.
When Morgan hears that his buddy had an overwhelming amount of poison in his blood, he and Brian return to the island to investigate (why not?) and end up at the Skinner's cabin. Also showing up are a couple (the pregnant wife is played by a young Belinda Balaski of The Howling) with a broken down RV and a prick businessman (Ralph Meeker) and his young assistant (Pamela Franklin, The Legend of Hell House), who have come to see this "food of the gods" that Mr. Skinner told them about. But Mr. Skinner hasn't returned. Maybe it's the rats who, having gotten into the Skinner's special new food, have grown to frightening proportions and are now tearing apart all the humans they can find - not good news for the few people in this remote cabin.
This is the kind of flick that the term "campy" was invented for. Giant rats are the main threat, but we are also treated to attacks by the aforementioned wasps, roosters (this scene is particularly hilarious), and worms. The special effects involve many miniatures that scores of rats can swarm over, some glaring superimposed shots of badly-done FX, copious close-ups of regular sized rats, and a few human sized dummies and rat heads. It's all amazingly cheesy in that special 70's way, and entertainment of the sort that only a really bad movie can provide. It would also appear that once rats grow to the sizes they do here and they attack en masse it sounds like wild dogs or snarling cougars or something. There ARE two jump scares that I did find effective, which shocked me.
Director Bert I. Gordon, director of such pulp/trash classics as The Amazing Colossal Man and Earth Vs. the Spider (guy seemed to have a thing about battling giant foes), adapts a portion of the novel by H.G. Wells here, and also had a hand in the effects, apparently, and again - it's all kind of crap. He does shoot the wilderness surroundings of the island with a decent eye for nature, even if he can't really get a decent performance out of his actors to save his life - save for 40's and 50's star Lupino, who seems to take this more seriously than it demands. Franklin and Balaski do the best out of the others, or at least are less wooden. Gortner - now here's something interesting. After his fire-and-brimstone evangelical past (look it up, it's more interesting than his performance), he decided to become an actor and this was one of his first starring roles. Not surprisingly, he's not that good, and the fact that his character's somewhat of an impulsive moron doesn't help; dude can make a mean pipe bomb, though, even if he does make funny faces while fending off giant animals with a pitchfork. Meeker seems to be playing the typical "asshole" character you'd get in one of the disaster flicks of the period, the guy you want to see dead after about thirty minutes.
The disc, part of MGM's Midnite Madness series, has a decent transfer for a flick over thirty years old. The sound - a stereo track as well as a mono one - doesn't fare as well, but with this kind of flick it doesn't really matter. Unsurprisingly, there is not a single extra.
As I said before, this is EXACTLY the kind of flick you'd find in a seventies drive in, with lots of fake stage blood and melodramatics delivered by wooden actors and more than enough cheese to choke you. And I can't say it's good, really - but it is satisfying if you have a taste for this kind of old-school afternoon snack. Not for a minute can you take it seriously, but The Food Of The Gods has a certain kind of funky charm to it.