Food Of The Gods (1976)
Dir. Bert I. Gordon
Written by Bert I. Gordon based on a “portion of a novel” by H. G. Wells
Starring Marjoe Gortner, Pamela Franklin, Ralph Meeker, Jon Cypher, Ida Lupino
FOOD OF THE GODS starts out the way I secretly want every movie to start out: with a man punching a giant chicken. The man in question is Morgan (Marjoe Gortner, more on him later), a pro football player who has arrived on a remote British Columbia island for reasons which are overexplained to the point of total nonsense. The chicken is a chicken from the farm of Mr. and Ms. Skinner (John McLiam, FIRST BLOOD, and Ida Lupino, THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT), who have been feeding their livestock a mysterious oily substance which has bubbled up on their farm. This is the titular food, although unless I misheard, the Skinners seem to say it’s the food of just one God. The thing about the Food Of The Gods is, it makes animals grow really big.
This is pretty much the best premise ever for a movie, and for awhile it seems like it just might live up to its premise. Pretty soon after the giant chicken punching, we get a fight with giant wasps and a large wasp nest (the wasps look to be roughly 10,000 times their original size, and their hive is probably three times larger than normal so it must be pretty cramped in there), then an assault on a car by giant rats (well, regular-sized rats on a tiny adorable model car) and giant flesh-eating maggots. And then some more rats. And more rats. And even more rats. And finally, more rats again.
Don’t get me wrong, it would take a stronger man than I to find no joy at all in a bunch of normal-sized rats swarming over tiny, detailed models of various sets from the movie. But it would also take a significantly more disturbed man than me to find enough joy in that concept to support an entire movie. And unfortunately that’s what FOOD OF THE GODS is betting on, devoting nearly the entirety of its latter half to a giant rodents riff on a NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD farmhouse siege conceit. This presents a problem, because it’s far too silly to be frightening or tense, but also way, way too repetitive to get by on campy charm, which leaves this giant animals vs stereotypes setup with disappointing little to recommend itself.* I suppose there are just barely enough unintended chuckles in there (“hey, look lady, I’ve already seen your chickens!”) to scrape by as ironic enjoyment, but really there’s unforgivably little enjoyment of any kind to be had here, considering how easy it should have been to make this premise into something breezy low-budget fun.
Because there’s not much to say about the movie, I’d instead like to point to something much more interesting: the movie’s star, Marjoe Gortner, doesn’t exactly have a stellar track record as an actor, even by B-movie standards (not to speak ill of STARCRASH, MAYDAY AT 40,000 FEET or AMERICAN NINJA 3: BLOOD HUNT), but he did live an interesting life: he was forced by his parents to become an evangelical preacher as a very young child, and apparently became quite popular in the traveling preacher circuit of the time, before running away to San Francisco to enjoy the hippie life after his dad absconded with the millions they’d bilked from the rubes. After a few years as a penniless hippie, though, he decided to get back into the charismatic preaching game, making bank but feeling guilty about his double life and eventually coming clean about the hidden side of big-money preaching in a 1972 tell-all documentary called MARJOE, which won the Academy Award for best documentary that year. He went from that to a fairly busy 20-year TV and B-movie career, after which he retired from acting to become a promoter and organizer for charity sporting events. None of that really comes through in his acting in FOOD OF THE GODS, but I bet he’s pretty interesting at parties.
The other interesting person in the cast is Ida Lupino, in her second-to-last on-screen performance. She’s the only person in the cast who seems to realize that this would work much better as camp, but it’s a pretty boring character and she doesn’t leave much of an impression here. Her long career as an actress and director was anything but boring, however -- she had her first starring role at the age of 14 in 1932, and spent a busy ten years as an actress before her brassy refusal to take roles that bored her ran afoul of studio boss Jack Warner, who put her on suspension. The suspension proved to be a blessing in disguise, because it pushed her into directing -- first smaller social-issues film (including a very early film about out-of-wedlock pregnancy which earned her a radio conversation with Eleanor Roosevelt) but soon some genre films as well, leading her to be the first woman to ever direct a film noir (the cynical, all-male THE HITCH-HIKER in 1953) and to co-found an independent production company with her then-husband. She would go on to direct episodes of The Twilight Zone (becoming the only woman to ever direct an episode, and the only person of either gender to both direct and star in an episode), Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Untouchables and other popular shows of the time, while continuing to act on the side. That’s what I call leaning in.
Anyway, FOOD OF THE GODS is not a good movie, but now you know something interesting. Some good came of this, and sometimes that’s all you can hope for.
*It’s also pretty clear that those stunt rats are actually getting hurt, so if that sort of thing bothers you this probably ain’t the movie for you.
CHAINSAWNUKAH 2016 CHECKLIST!
Good Kill Hunting
Welcome To The Bottom Of The Food Chain!
There is stuff which is called “Food Of The Gods” (or, “God” anyway) in the movie, although that characterization is wildly inaccurate.
Yes, based very loosely on a “portion” of H.G. Wells’s novel The Food Of The Gods And How It Came To Earth
Yes, FOOD OF THE GODS II
There’s one listed as “in production” on IMDB, but you need pro to see it.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
Eco Horror, When Animals Attack!
None. I mean, maybe Ida Lupino? But she was never really in A movies. Marjoe Gortner was in a movie which won an Oscar, but it was a documentary about him.
BELOVED HORROR ICON?
WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK!
Oh hell yeah
GHOST/ ZOMBIE / HAUNTED BUILDING?
While these people do an almost inexcusably bad job of surviving, they seem to be idiots more than mentally ill.
Small animals into very large animals
MORAL OF THE STORY
Don’t feed your farm animals an inexplicable ooze that bubbles up out of the ground near your house. Don’t know why you would, but now you know not to.