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Food of the Gods/Frogs Double Feature

Review by: 
A.J. MacReady & Suicide Blonde
Release Date: 
Scream Factory
Man vs. Nature
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Bert I. Gordon
George McCowan
Marjoe Gortner
Pamela Franklin
Ray Milland
Sam Elliott
Joan Van Ark
Bottom Line: 

The Food of the Gods – Reviewed by A.J. MacReady

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.

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.

Frogs – Reviewed by Suicide Blonde

One of my favorite subgenres of horror is the "Nature Bites Back" film. This was a staple of the 1970s, when people sat up and took notice about pollution and ecology became a hip topic. The movies all followed the same basic format: Man messes with nature (via littering, pollution, bogus science) and nature's critters fight back by noshing on B-list actors.

Frogs is a shining example of the subgenre. It's a silly film that isn't the slightest bit frightening unless you have reptile/amphibian issues, but is entertaining nonetheless.

Freelance photographer Pickett Smith (Sam Elliott, nearly unrecognizable without his mustache) is canoeing along the Florida waterways, snapping photos of local critters. But the further he canoes, the more pollution he sees: beer cans, discarded toys, sewage, and so on. What he doesn't see is Iron Eyes Cody with a tear in his eye, but perhaps that footage got left on the cutting room floor.

Pickett soon ventures out onto a lake, where a speedboat swamps his canoe and tosses Pickett into the water. The speedboat is driven by Karen Crockett (astonishingly scrawny Joan Van Ark) and her brother Clint (Adam Roarke), who are there for the annual Independence Day family reunion with their grumpy patriarch (Ray Milland) and extended dysfunctional family. Karen and Clint bring Pickett back to the family mansion so he can get some dry clothes.

But it's not all ice cream and lollipops at Casa del Crockett. Papa Crockett is a tradition-bound grouch who gets upset when the grandkids are five minutes late for lunch. The place is overrun with frogs, and Grover the handyman is missing. It turns out Grover has met his end at the hands of the local critters, and soon all the island's wildlife, including snakes, spiders, geckos, snapping turtles, alligators, leeches, and butterflies will be joining forces to knock off the Crocketts.

Like most films of this type, Frogs takes a little while to get going, with chitchat that could be called "character development" if the movie had any actual characters, as opposed to critter chow. No matter, because the film's Florida setting is atmospheric and creepy, the people are unlikable enough to make us root for the critters (but not so unlikable that watching them is painful), and the actors mostly keep straight faces. The death scenes are plentiful and ridiculous in a good way, though I'm still puzzling over the Death by Spider Silly String. And of course, the baffling Snapping Turtle Incident, in which a full-grown woman somehow gets stuck in ankle-deep mud and is killed offscreen by a snapping turtle.

The most puzzling thing about Frogs is, well, the frogs. Despite the film's title and the poster art ("Today the pond! Tomorrow the world!"), the frogs don't actually do much but croak a lot, sit around, hop menacingly (did I just write that?), and jump onto the birthday cake. The implication is that the frogs are the leaders of the critter uprising, which actually makes sense (did I just write that?) seeing as how frogs are among the first creatures in an ecosystem to show the effects of pollution.

Frogs isn't without its flaws - aside from the cardboard characters and inherent silliness of the premise, there are bad day-for-night shots, obvious insertion of stock footage, and breathing corpses. But the flaws are somehow endearing.

If you've ever wanted to see lizards use poison gas to kill a man, Frogs is your film. They don't make 'em like this anymore.

Both films are brought to Blu-ray for the first time as part of a double-feature presentation from Scream Factory that is a Man vs. Nature movie lover’s dream! The film’s new HD transfers seem to have been sourced from the same prints used for the previously released MGM DVDs (which actually looked quite nice in their own right) and are each remarkably clean for their vintage, despite a few compression issues that could be chalked up to the fact that they’re sharing real estate on the same disc. There’s quite a lot of fine detail on display here, especially on Frogs, but, with both films, the darker scenes suffer slightly from a bit of black crush (most obvious on Food of the Gods). Still, both movies look quite good, and the uptick in clarity and detail shows the upgrade was well worth the effort.

Speaking of effort, Scream Factory has gone the extra mile, here, populating this already bargain-priced double-feature set with a host of extras, including an all-new commentary track on Food of the Gods with director, Bert I. Gordon, as well as a new interview segment (HD) with actress, Belinda Balaski. Frogs, meanwhile, gets an all-new interview with star Joan Van Ark, while each film is also paired with theatrical trailers (HD), radio spots, and stills galleries. It’s a decent haul for a double-feature, especially considering the age of the films!

Highly recommended for fans of the genre!

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