Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Food of the Gods (1976) review


Marjoe Gortner (Morgan), Pamela Franklin (Lorna), Ralph Meeker (Bensington), Jon Cypher (Brian), Ida Lupino (Mrs. Skinner), Belinda Balaski (Rita)

Directed by Bert I. Gordon

A gooey substance found erupting from the Earth by some farmers on a small Canadian island causes enormous growth in their chickens after its mixed in with chicken feed. The thick milky matter is later ingested by other creatures including wasps and worms. Soon, hordes of rats grow to gigantic proportions and devour a number of the inhabitants. A small band of survivors hole up within a cabin besieged by the ravenous rats.

Ida Lupino (top middle) shows where she found the FOOD OF THE GODS

Bert I. Gordon made a seemingly very successful career out of directing movies about giant monsters. He was about as prolific as the propagating creatures found in his films. Beginning with KING DINOSAUR in 1955, Gordon utilized macro enlarged lizards to populate the barren landscape of Nova, a newly discovered planet investigated by scientists sent to explore it. From there he went on to giant locusts in one of his best loved bad movies with BEGINNING OF THE END (1957), starring the late Peter Graves. THE CYCLOPS (1957) about a giant one eyed monster and more macro enlarged lizards masquerading as dinosaurs.

Gordon continued his 'BIG' movies with THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957) and its sequel, WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST (1958). He also dabbled with "little people" with ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE in 1958. Mr. B.I.G. went big again with the entertaining EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (1958) and the abysmal VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS in 1965. Gordon then went on a hiatus from giant creature features until 1976 rolled around leading into this laughably bad throwback to his woefully entertaining monster movies of yesteryear.

Trapped underground in the lair of the rats

FOOD OF THE GODS, unlike Gordon's EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977), borrows a bit more from Wells' original story. Whereas his story had science create the growth serum, the movie has it emerge from the Earth. The giant fowl are the focus in Wells' story while the rats take up the bulk of the screen time in the movie version. People also ingest the foodstuff in the book and the films ending threatens this. The 'late-to-the-party' sequel from 1989 explored this aspect by concluding with a gigantic young boy running wild. Gordon also surveyed Wells' tale in his goofy comedy sci fi flick, VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS (1965) which co-starred a young Ron Howard.

Gortner (left) gets his hands on a big rubber wasp

Former evangelist and faith healer, Marjoe Gortner really gets into his role as the football player, Morgan. He doesn't do a whole lot of "acting" during the dialog scenes, but when it comes to battling the beasts, Gortner showcases a lot of verve. Whether he's electrocuting or shotgunning the various outsized creatures, Gortner comes to life. The rest can't be said for the rest of the cast. Everyone else merely goes through the motions performing the required screaming and running when the creatures are onscreen often times seeming indifferent or embarrassed about the whole thing.

It's all a laughable mess, really. It seems to be the more popular of Gordon's double dose creature feature 70's revival, the other being EMPIRE OF THE ANTS released the following year. Despite its large following, it doesn't seem to have been a huge hit during its release. FOTG must have been big business in Japan, though, considering the lavish box set the film received there. Still, the film has more than its fair share of hilarious and cringe-worthy sequences.

The attack by the giant chicken (the sound of that is funny in itself, but MYSTERIOUS ISLAND from 1961 pulled it off nicely) is one for the books and Ida Lupino's arm being gnawed by enormous worms is rather grim. The numerous rat attacks are violent pushing the PG rating about as far as it will go. Also, the shots of the rats being blasted by rifle fire are a bit disturbing. The creatures are obviously being hit with something, whether it's fake or otherwise is unknown to me. There is no ASPCA credit during the ending crawl.

Gordon is less successful in the pacing department here than he was in his follow up. I was honestly just a slight bit disappointed upon finally seeing this movie for the first time when it hit DVD a few years ago. After family members and fans somewhat raved about it, it wasn't quite as "memorable" (although it's certainly more ambitious) as Gordon's giant ant non-epic, which got heavy rotation on television during the 80's and 90's.

I do recall getting a hold of the Famous Monsters of Filmland (I have since gotten two or three of them) issue from back then which featured a cover spread on the film as well as seeing it listed in the TV Guide from time to time. For whatever reason, I was unable to see it at that time.

No doubt fans of 'Nature Gone Wild' movies will surely want this in their collection. It would make a grand double bill DVD show for trash fan get togethers with its sister release from the following year. With FOOD OF THE GODS, Bert I. Gordon showed he still "had it"...even if "It" hadn't changed one damn bit since his Golden Age heyday.

This review is representative of the MGM Midnite Movies DVD.

Rogue (2007) review

ROGUE 2007

Radha Mitchell (Kate Ryan), Michael Vartan (Pete McKell), Sam Worthington (Neil Kelly), John Jarratt (Russell)

Directed by Greg McLean

Radha Mitchell (left), Sam Worthington (middle), Michael Vartan (right). Worthington has since become a rising star in US action films

A group of tourists, including an American travel writer, embark on a holiday excursion into the Australian Kakadu National Park. Taking a detour after spotting a flare, the tour boat is damaged by something big under the water. The group are then forcibly stranded on a tiny island in the middle of the lake. With the tide coming in and darkness approaching, the mud caked atoll begins to sink. The dwindling survivors attempt to make it to dry land and escape the forest alive.

For whatever reason, movies involving gi-normous Crocodilia have never fared well theatrically, but seem to find much better appreciation on the small screen. Even going back to 1980's ALLIGATOR, that film came and went rather quickly without much fanfare, but that was due in part to an odd decision by the producer. Still, that film became a massive success for ABC. Since then, any movie that featured a killer crocodile either went straight to disc, or television via the (then called) Sci Fi Channel such as Tobe Hooper's CROCODILE and BLOOD SURF (both 2000). Even the quirky big studio production of LAKE PLACID (1999) failed to generate much interest despite a healthy ad campaign.

Vartan inside the crocodiles corpse ridden lair

Foreign territories also got in on the act. Thailand with CROCODILE (1979) and it's obscure sequel. Then there's Italy's own BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER (1979) from Sergio Martino and Fabrizio De Angelis' KILLER CROCODILE (1989) which also got a sequel directed by ace effects artist, Gianetto de Rossi. In regards to McLean's mesmerizing rendition of JAWS (1975), there had already been an Aussie killer croc flick from 1987; the uniquely plotted DARK AGE. It's quite possibly the single most creative film of the 'croc amok' subgenre story wise. Alongside ROGUE, Australia also unleashed another recent crocodile horror/survival picture with the minimalist, but effectively suspenseful, BLACK WATER (2007).

After his nasty debut with the searingly savage slasher/torture film, WOLF CREEK (2006), McLean returned with this, a film near and dear to his heart about a monster reptile hunting humans. It was a long battle for this subtle, but ambitious monster movie throwback to make it to the big screen. Fan anticipation was high for McLean's follow up, but it was beaten to the punch by the far less enthusiastic PRIMEVIL (2007). The makers of that film couldn't even be bothered with advertising their film as a monster movie opting instead to falsify it as a slasher flick.

The giant croc makes off with one of the first victims

That movies poor performance aided in ROGUE being put on the shelf by a seemingly nervous Weinstein company, only to receive a very limited release before being dumped unceremoniously on DVD. Sadly, the film did poorly even in its home country. The Weinstein's release bore a DVD cover that totally screams "Sci Fi Channel premiere". The original poster artwork was frightening and eerily realized, being a modern take on the classic poster for JAWS (1975).

The stranded tourists attempt an escape

McLean's picture is a love letter to the onslaught of killer animal movies that populated the 1970's with a special nod towards Spielberg's JAWS. Those 70's films themselves being a revival of the numerous similar atomic creature movies of the 1950's. Just as those movies belonged in the 'Siege' style of suspense/horror opuses, ROGUE puts its people in peril not in a house, a cabin, or other such construct, but on a rapidly sinking atoll. McLean takes his time getting to the good stuff, but it's well worth the wait. There's also a nice bit of foreshadowing (an ugly spider prepares to feast on a bug caught in its web) as the boatload of tourists make their way into the monster crocodiles domain.

Not only that, but the film has some of the most sprawling, awe inspiring cinematography in any film of recent memory. These sequences perfectly capture the beauty and majesty of the Australian locations. The inherent dangers notwithstanding, DP, Will Gibson (who encores for McLean from WOLF CREEK) captures some notable shots of the vast Aussie landscapes.

The tourists trapped within the monsters territory, itself swallowed up by the surrounding desolation of the vast expanse of wilderness and mountain regions.

The score by Frank Tetaz is also noteworthy and adds a whole other layer to these photographic marvels. It also greatly augments the suspense scenes especially the last ten minutes.

The croc effects are also the finest this monster subgenre has yet to see. Even the CGI shots are very well done and mix perfectly with the handful of animatronic shots. The croc also doesn't move at lightning speed as other creatures have done in other similar movies. It moves fast, but in a far more believable fashion. The finale within the gore addled lair of the beast is one of the best edge-of-your-seat conclusions to come along in a long time. I also particularly enjoyed the demise of the monster. It avoids the tried and true method of "Blow'em up real good" that so many other rampaging animal movies incorporate.

Although a good many of the people trapped by the huge reptile manage to escape, the handful of casualties come as a bit of a surprise. Some of the characters die that you don't necessarily expect. The film has all the proper creature fodder found in past horror movies of this type, but not all of these die a spectacularly gruesome death. With so many great qualities, it's mind boggling that this production has been neglected as the superior horror film it truly is. One of the best this subgenre has to offer, it should have gotten more of a theatrical showcase than the limited run the Weinstein's gave it.

Understandably, the film lacks any major action set pieces that moviegoers come to expect these days, particularly those that worship at the alter of the all mighty Hollywood blockbuster. While not counting the wonderful conclusion, the film mostly takes place at its one central location. ROGUE plays fine on the small screen, but I would have loved to have gotten the opportunity to see it in a darkened theater. As it is, it's an eye opening, frequently scary trip into the unknown territory of the Australian boonies that no fan of the killer animal subgenre should pass up.

This review is representative of the Dimension Extreme Unrated DVD.

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