Director Bert I. Gordon, whose initials apparently determined his script choices, started off in the 1950s making bad but enjoyable movies like The Beginning of the End and The Amazing Colossal Man, all about oversized animals and people. By the 1970s Bert was directing bad and unwatchable films like The Witching (a.k.a. Rosemary's Disciples) and Empire of the Ants, all about oversized animals and people. (And if you're b-movie savvy enough that you said to yourself, "Hey, The Witching didn't have any oversized animals or people in it," we remind you that it starred Orson Wells.) This brings us to The Food of the Gods, possibly the worst film in Mr. BIG's catalog.
The credits claim that this film is based on "a portion" of the novel Food of the Gods by H. G. Wells. Considering what we know of Wells' novel, this seems to be overstating things a bit. Pretty much the only "portion" of the novel that appears on screen here are the two words "giant rat." The other 149,998 words are left largely unfilmed. The estate of Mr. Wells probably sighed in relief.
The rats take drastic action to correct
a typical 1970s fashion crime.
Marjoe Gortner, who we hate eternally because he was much closer to Caroline Munro than we will ever be, has the lead role in the The Food of the Gods. He plays a college football player named Morgan. Together with some friends he visits a small island off the coast of Canada to go hunting. One of their party is attacked and killed by giant wasps, which, as luck would have it, are out of season. Morgan heads off to find a phone, but wanders into a barn where he is nearly killed by a giant chicken! Or maybe it was a carnosaur. We keep getting those two confused. In any case, Morgan dispatches the enraged rooster with a pitchfork.
The only current inhabitant of the farm is Mrs. Skinner (Ida Lupino!), who refuses to let Morgan use the phone. She does seem a bit worried that the local rat population may have gotten into the chicken feed, though.
Inexplicably, Morgan leaves the island, apparently without calling the cops or even retrieving his friend's body. A couple of days later Morgan and his friend Brian return to the island. In between these two events, however, we are treated to a display of filmmaking virtuoso you don't often find outside top directors like Francis Ford Coppola or Martin Scorsese. We are talking about, of course, ferry scenes. Rarely will you see cinema magic like this. Morgan drives his jeep on to the ferry. We watch other cars drive onto the ferry. Then the ferry leaves. And then -- joy! -- we get to watch the cars drive off the ferry at the other side!
"Get them my pretties! Fly! Fly!"
This should have been enough. Most filmmakers would stop pushing the envelope there, but after a few brief scenes, Bert I. Gordon has his actors go thorough it all again to get back to the island! Amazing! Some people may say the opening shot of Touch of Evil is one of the greatest moments in movie history. But we know that those people haven't seen the ten minutes of back-to-back ferry scenes from The Food of the Gods.
And just for posterity, the role of the ferry attendant was played by Reg Tunnicliffe. He never appeared in another movie, proving that the light that burns brightest burns shortest.
We've already spoiled the fact that the rats do indeed get into the chicken feed -- it seems that Mr. Skinner (Mrs. Skinner's husband, obviously) has been supplementing the birds' diet with a white goo that comes from a stream out back of the farm. The Skinners at first thought the white goo might be oil (they aren't farmers on some remote Canadian island because they have degrees in geology), but when they found out it wasn't oil, they did what anyone would -- they fed it to their farm animals. The farm animals wouldn't eat it straight, but the Skinners weren't going to be dissuaded that easily. They mixed the goo in with the chicken feed. The results were that the baby chickens grew huge -- and then ate the regular-sized adult chickens.
We came up with a bunch of jokes for this
picture, but we couldn't print any of them.
The night before Morgan arrives back on the island we see Mr. Skinner die at the teeth of the giant rats. Surprisingly, his Volkswagen Beetle proves to be little protection against 6-foot rats. If you can't trust a Beetle, what can you trust?
We're also introduced to a few more unpleasant characters to increase the number of potential victims. Lorna (Pamela Franklin) and Jack (Ralph Meeker) are representatives of a large company that want to buy the rights to the goo, while Rita (Belinda Balaski) and Thomas (Tom Stovall) are just poor schmucks camping on the island who get stuck there when their camper breaks down. Please, when you notice that Rita is nearly nine months pregnant, resist the urge to point and giggle. You know she's going to give birth in the next ninety minutes, and we know she's going to give birth in the next ninety minutes. But the two dopey parents are unfamiliar with the process of human gestation, or else they wouldn't have gone camping with a bun in the oven.
"Yo, She-Rat. Let's go."
Marjoe and his boom stick.
Even if you've never thought about what you might do if faced with predatory giant rats, rest assured that you would probably handle the situation with more aplomb than the characters do in this dreary movie. Morgan races around the island concocting ridiculous schemes to kill the oversized rodents, including electrocution, drowning, homemade bombs, etc. He's kind of like MacGyver, only his inventions aren't that clever and he's played by a never-was actor... okay, he's exactly like MacGyver. But when push comes to shove Morgan finds comfort in a magically auto-reloading shotgun. Someone alert Charlton Heston! And amazingly, he even has an arch-enemy in the personage (ratonage?) of an albino rodent that is apparently leading the rat swarm telepathically. We call him Moe, because Moe is their leader.
One might ask why our characters don't hightail it off the island, but one might as well ask why Pamela Franklin spends the entire film wearing a hat that perfectly resembles a dead cat. As a matter of fact, all the characters wear the exact same costumes, complete with hats and gloves, whether indoors or outdoors, for almost the entire movie. We guess that made continuity easier. Too bad none of the innovation that went into continuity and ferry footage went into the script. No suspense is ever generated, and most of the dialogue is the characters bickering with each other. It seems like having characters bickering with each other became a standard in horror scripts after Night of the Living Dead (1968), but that movie was about the breakdown of society. Most of these characters, especially the married couple, argue endlessly before faced with any giant animals. Is this supposed to be fun to watch? All it does is make us root for the rats.