The Food of the Gods (1976)
"Welcome to the bottom of the food chain"
When a mysterious substance starts bubbling up from the ground on a remote island in British Columbia, a local farmer believes it is a gift from God and decides to feed it to his chickens, causing them to grow to enormous size. However, rats, grubs and wasps also feed on the substance and soon the giant monsters infest the island, which causes problems for other civilians who are visiting.
Based on a ‘portion’ of a novel by H.G. Wells (that should read, literally no resemblance to the story whatsoever because a portion could literally be one word!) and brought to the screen by notorious director Bert I. Gordon, of The Amazing Colossal Man and Earth Vs The Spider fame, known for his love of directing movies featuring super-sized creatures, The Food of the Gods is one of the 70s ‘nature runs amok’ movies where Mother Nature had decided to take revenge upon mankind by unleashing a slew of beasts and disasters upon the Earth. It doesn’t bode well and that’s before the review has even properly begun.
The Food of the Gods is an atrociously made low budget film, but it’s nowhere near as bad as its reputation precedes, probably because it’s deadly serious. There’s no messing around here with the way these animals deal with their human lunches, and the cautionary environmental messages are still prevalent today with worries about genetically modified crops and plastic entering the food chain. The Food of the Gods gets straight down to business within the first seven minutes, dispatching a character, showing us the threats and giving us as much story exposition as you’re going to get to explain everything. Don’t even try to think of plausible reasons as to what the substance is or why it exists because you won’t get any. As cheesy and preposterous as things get during the running time, the film itself doesn’t cross over into parody or cheesiness. Everything is played with a straight face and it surprisingly works the better for it.
This stretches to the cast. The characters are dull; the actors behind them aren’t great. The Food of the Gods isn’t exactly your Shakespearean actor type of film, and the limited dialogue the cast have got here doesn’t do much to give them any sort of personality or characteristics. They’re not really fleshed out enough other than to provide names so other characters can lament them when they’re rat chow. In a world where rats and chickens have grown to enormous sizes, the characters do remarkably well to maintain their composure when faced with such absurd sights. A little more hysteria would have added to the film’s drama, with the two younger female characters being the only two to really seem to worry about dying at the hands of these rats.
Gordon’s Beginning of the End back in 1957 featured some truly awful special effects but here we go, nineteen years later, and it seems that the director has remained static in his approach – only this time, he’s not able to mask them as easily with the black and white footage. There’s no stop motion here, no animatronic models or the equivalent – Gordon has the budget of a postage stamp to bring to life these mutated monsters and so a mixture of giant rat and chicken puppet heads for close-ups, real footage of rats rear-projected or shoddy matte work is used to bring these beasties to life. The chicken head provides the film’s most ridiculous scene, when one of the characters strays inside the barn and is attacked by a crew member working the head in front of the camera. The wasps look like brown blobs during their moment in the spotlight. It’s up to the rats to anchor the film and they are the main threat here - a larger variety of animals would have worked better because the rats quickly overstay their welcome. I’m pretty sure there are shots of rats drowning and being shot with a paintball gun – some scenes seem to feature dead rats lying prone whilst their comrades scurry over them – which adds a little sour taste in the mouth. But the effects, for as pathetic as they look, do take a painstaking lot of time to get right and Gordon’s attention to detail has to be commended, even if the final results are laughable.
There is enough shock and gore here to satisfy horror fans though. The kills flow thick and fast and there’s a fair bit of blood splashed around, particularly when the rats get hungry and start nibbling away. I can’t think of too many more squeamish things than seeing rats like this and they will get under your skin, as silly as the blown-up footage looks. The idea that there is some sort of ‘head rat’ – an albino with pink eyes that hangs around in the background whilst the brown rats do all of the dirty work – is laughable but adds for one last jump at the end. The film goes all Night of the Living Dead for the finale, as the survivors barricade themselves in the farmhouse as the rats launch their final onslaught.
The Food of the Gods is rightfully lambasted as a terrible B-movie but it’s not all doom and gloom. Embrace the cheapness of Gordon’s butchered version of an H.G. Wells story and there’s a lot of entertainment to be had. There’s a good reason this has become a cult classic over the years.
The Food of the Gods
Director(s): Bert I. Gordon
Writer(s): H.G. Wells (portion of novel), Bert I. Gordon (screenplay)
Actor(s): Marjoe Gortner, Pamela Franklin, Ralph Meeker, Jon Cypher, Ida Lupino, John McLiam
Duration: 88 mins