The Bigger and Badder Halloween Top 13: #9: Food of the Gods (1976)
When I said that there was a chance that the B.I.G man, Bert I. Gordon, might make another appearance on The Bigger & Badder Halloween Top 13, you probably didn't think it would be the next day, but that is exactly what is happening. I could have honestly almost filled up this list with great giant creature features from Mr. Gordon such as The Amazing Colossal Man, Earth vs. The Spider, The Cyclops, and King Dinosaur. However, I kept my choices down to two such films (though Empire of the Ants also made a strong case for inclusion), and after the tremendous teens of Village of the Giants, I had to follow it up with what probably is Gordon’s best known film, Food of the Gods. Both Village and Food are both loosely based on the H.G. Wells novel Food of the Gods, and when I say loosely, I mean I don't think that Wells included either The Beau Brummells or a former child evangelist in his novel. The main thing that both movies share is the conceit of an edible that makes the ingestee grows to tremendous proportions. While Village casts the greedy eaters as rowdy teens out for a thrill, Food of the Gods takes the path of the wrath of nature with wasps, chickens, maggots, and rats filling out the cast of overly large animals. So sit back, grab a snack, and come with me as I cut off a slice of Food of the Gods.
Morgan (Marjoe Gortner), a player for the San Francisco 49ers, and his pals go out for a relaxing time on an island off the coast of California. They think to take in nature and do a little horseback riding, but when suddenly one of them is attacked by a swarm of giant wasps, they realize that their quiet respite might be anything but. Morgan goes for help, but when he finally finds a farm he is attacked by a giant chicken and must defend himself. The mistress of the farm, Mrs. Skinner (Ida Lupino), isn't the helpful sort either and tries to run Morgan off at gunpoint thinking he is there to steal from her the substance, which she calls Food of the Gods, which has began bubbling up from the ground and is responsible for the large state of the animals. After finally getting his friends back to the mainland, Morgan returns to investigate and finds Jack Besington (Ralph Meeker) and his self proclaimed “female bacteriologist” Lorna (Pamela Franklin) trying to strike a deal with Mrs. Skinner for the food. However, they soon find out that more animals have been at the edible of enormity, and the farm is besieged by giant, hungry rats which must be fought off if any of them are to escape the island alive.
I always thought that The Food of the Gods was Jif Peanut Butter, but that might just be me. In ancient Greek myths, the Food of the Gods is ambrosia which was said to bestow mortal men with everlasting life, but once H.G. Wells got a hold of the concept, he turned the food into a substance which tells of the development of “Boomfood” a substance first used on animals (which run amuck) before being used to breed a new race of giant children who change the entire course of society and history. I recall reading it many years ago, and, while it was interesting, there are better dystopian books written around the turn of the 20th century if that’s your bag. The movie Food of the Gods eschews high minded social science fiction for a series of animal attacks and preachy moralism about nature taking its vengeance. While Village of the Giants might have been the better film when it comes to making a high minded idea out of a silly premise, Food of the Gods is nearly the opposite, taking Wells’ original idea and turning it into a silly special effects nightmare. There is good reason that Food is on this list, and that’s because it’s a no doubt, through and through, cult classic. From the shoddy special effects (the first time the wasps looks great, but in the next appearance they are see through for no apparent reason) to the cast which includes one of my favorite genre film actors (more on that later), Food of the Gods hits all the high notes of a film that is truly a great example of something that really is so bad that it’s good. I also have a special place in my heart as I recall being a young lad of nine or ten and my next door neighbor telling me about two films he watched on video, Food of the Gods and C.H.U.D., one afternoon and having nightmares that evening despite never seeing the film.
The actor that I was mentioning earlier is none other than Marjoe Gortner, perhaps one of the most fascinating actors to ever pass though the hallowed halls of genre film. In his youth, Marjoe was a fire and brimstone evangelist at four years old traveling the country billed as the “World‘s Youngest Ordained Minister”. Later in life, he regretted his role in the fake evangelical church and exposed many of their practices in an eponymous 1972 documentary. From there, he began taking on a series of film roles, and he’s popped up on the LBL in Pray for the Wildcats, Starcrash, Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw, and Mausoleum, all favorites of mine. Now, I can add Food of the Gods to that list. Marjoe is the absolute best part of the film. Despite having to suspend my disbelief that Gortner was a football player (although in the 70s they weren't quite the steroid freaks of today), he really holds the whole film together in such a way that anytime the action moves away from him, the whole affair comes to a near grinding halt.
The rest of the cast does come with quite a bit of genre cred. Pamela Franklin, despite her character laughing calling herself a “female bacteriologist” as if the gender of the bacteriologist determined something more about them, is a favorite because of her appearance in one of my favorite thrillers, And Soon the Darkness. Here she is window dressing mostly, intended to add a small romantic dynamic for Marjoe’s Morgan. More amusing and important to the film are Ida Lupino and Ralph Meeker. Lupino nails her role as Mrs. Skinner the clearly deranged owner of the farm that produces the food. I say clearly deranged because who would feed that stuff to chickens, those things are meaner than hell at knee height as it is, but it would cut down the three egg omelet to a single one. Lupino appeared in many classic Hollywood films, but, for me, her most beloved role is the gun moll Marie in the Humphrey Bogart classic High Sierra. Ralph Meeker played his shyster businessman way over the top, but in a film where rats are filmed attacking a toy VW bug so that they appear to be giant, a little over the top is well needed. Meeker also was a star from Hollywood past, and he has even made a previous appearance on The LBL opposite Barbara Stanwyck in Jeopardy.
In the classic film book The Golden Turkey Awards, brothers Michael and Harry Medved gave Food of the Gods the distinction of being “The Worst Rodent Movie of All Time” which begs the question from me, had they seen The Nasty Rabbit? Despite what the Medved Brothers had to say, I find Food of the Gods incredibly entertaining despite, or perhaps because of, the shoddy special effects and uneven feeling to the film. These kinds of films are the sort that separates the men from the boys when it comes to cult films. Either you're going to bask in the cheesiness or you’re going to absolutely hate it. For fans of Marjoe Gortner though, it can't come highly recommended enough. Food of the Gods is like ambrosia to those of us who love the cheap, stupid, borderline inane to be found on the cinema screen, and while it may not grant me eternal life, I surely hope that it gets one in the hearts and minds of cult cinema fans everywhere. That just about wraps it up for The Bigger and Badder Halloween Top 13 today, but there are still eight more titles between now and the big day. As with every day, this day also includes a list of favorites from a friend so make sure you scroll down below the trailer to see what kind of monstrous picks are in store for you today!
Today I have something really special for you folks, a list from my main man in China, Bill Dan Courtney. If you don't know Bill Dan, then you're missing out. From The Uranium Cafe to Necrotic Cinema, Bill Dan always drops the science on classic horror, super sleaze, and the ultra strange in cinema all from the far side of the Great Wall. I am proud to list Bill Dan as one of the longest and biggest supporters of The LBL, and if I ever get to China or Bill ever comes back stateside, he is truly someone that I would like to meet and talk to for hours on end. So naturally his list is just as fascinating as anything he ever does. So take it away Bill!
1. Caltiki – Directed by Riccardo Freda and an uncredited Mario Bava and dubbed into English by K. Gordon Murray this falls into the giant, flesh consuming blob genre. Even worse than the evil Caltiki is slimy bad guy Max. The Italian actors manage to pull off playing Mexicans better than they do British aristocracy as they do in many other films of the period.
2. Earth vs the Spider – Bert I Gordon (BIG) was the king of giant creature films over at AIP and this was one of his best. This teenagers fighting a giant spider film is the source of my arachnophobia to this very day. I like it more than the also good Jack Arnold film Tarantula.
3. Frankenstein Conquers the World – Great looking film by Ishiro Honda that really tries it best to link in the Frankenstein saga but it really ames no sense on that point. Love the miniature sets and in the end the Frankenstein monsters battles Baragon, and in an impossible to find alternate ending a giant octopus.
4. Reptilicus – AIP film co-produced with a Danish company and filmed in Denmark. This si Northern Europe’s answer to Godzilla. The monster is a riot, but not as much as the actors themselves. The Americans can’t focus on Reptilicus for too long as they are always making time with a couple frisky Danish gals.
5. Konga – Another AIP production, produced by Heman Cohen, done abroad, this time in merry ol’ England. The always high-strung Michael Gough creates a giant ape in his laboratory and soon it is running amok in downtown London. The filmmakers didn’t seems to fancy him climbing up Big Ben like King Kong did the Empire State Building, nor did they want him carry a blonde bombshell. Instead his totes around a screaming Michael Gough.
6. The Giant Claw – Sam Katz man, who did some of the later Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller and, I believe, Lex Barker produced this outrageous big bird film that sports what has to be one of the most incredible giant monsters in all of b-movie history. Sexy Mara Corday spices things up a bit.
See, just like I promised. An interesting mix full of great tidbits from an awesome dude. If you loved that like I did, then make sure you tune your internets back into The LBL every day as The B&B H13 because I have plenty more great lists, surprises, and giant monsters in store for the rest of the month!