Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Food of the Gods (1976)

Country: USA

H. G. Wells' Food of the Gods

Writer/director/producer/visual effects designer Bert I Gordon is living proof that one can be a jack of all trades and master of none. Despite Gordon’s obvious shortcomings there is a certain infectious enthusiasm to many of his films - especially his science-fiction efforts of the 1950’s. How can one not enjoy the absurd prospect of giant grasshoppers in the ludicrous Beginning of the End (1957), the odd poignancy of The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and the expectation of poorly realised mutant spiders in Earth vs. the Spider (1958)? As with many science-fiction films of the 1950’s the best thing about Gordon’s films were the titles. Nevertheless he managed to deliver distraction and entertainment, that is until Village of the Giants (1965) when his brand of gigantism (he also did a little people film - the awful Attack of the Puppet People [1958]) reached an apex of stupidity and boredom. Against the run of technology Gordon persisted with his visual effects, and more importantly persisted with the themes inherent in the subject of mutation. His science-fiction/horror efforts forming an interesting self-contained universe that might respond well to the auteur theory. In the late 1970’s he returned to his favoured landscape with The Food of the Gods (1976) and Empire of the Ants (1977), two films which took advantage of the ‘Revolt of Nature’ impulse that had been re-popularised in the wake of Jaws (1975).

Unfortunately one of the major problems of The Food of the Gods is that the visual effects are largely produced with techniques Gordon was using in the 1950’s. The chief visual effect here is simply the repetition of oversized reproductions. A film like this lives and dies by the realisation of its spectacle - simply put the laughable effects do a great deal of damage to any serious point Gordon’s screenplay is attempting to communicate. The film was based on a minor aspect of the H. G. Wells novel The Food of the Gods and How it Came to Earth which was first published in 1904. Naturally Wells’ scientific romance had lofty and allegoric ambitions, in this case to push forward a socialist agenda that can be mapped out in most of his literary work. Gordon naturally opted for the sensationalist elements of the novel, but curiously his film is totally devoid of the ecological sting common to 1970’s ‘Revolt of Nature’ pictures. The substance that creates gigantism is puked up by the Earth itself. This is not a case of mankind misusing technology or mistreating nature. ‘The Food of the Gods’ is a seemingly natural secretion which a select number of human beings react to. Mr and Mrs Skinner can be forgiven for mixing the material in with their feed, because ultimately they have no knowledge of its effect. Their actions are certainly reckless for it might well have been poisonous to their chickens. But this must surely be one of the few ‘Revolt of Nature’ films in which the natural world truly is the villain.

Of course we do get the obligatory caricature of capitalist greed in the shape of Bensington (Ralph Meeker), but thank god Meeker is on hand to provide the only interesting performance in a wasteland of bad acting. Our hero Morgan (Marjoe Gortner) is blandness personified (except when he’s killing things) but he handles the demanding action sequences efficiently. These include an attack by giant wasps (transparent ones at that!) and an encounter with an oversized chicken that has to be seen to be believed. Despite these events Morgan and his colleague return to the island setting after an utterly pointless return to the mainland. The location was Bowen Island in British Columbia, Canada and the photography by Reginald Morris of the wooded landscape is probably the highlight of the film. To be fair some moments in The Food of the Gods work quite well. The giant worms that attack Ida Lupino in her farmhouse kitchen are particularly effective. The surprisingly gory close up shots of giant rodents devouring their pray are made more impressive by the judicious use of mechanised heads. But in general these moments are exceptions rather than the norm.

At times the incompetence and stupidity of the film is baffling. Why include voice over narration from the lead character? He bookends the film with two statements, the first of which promptly gives the entire film a way! Was Gordon unsure that his audience would understand the complexities of his movie? What on earth is a dam doing on an isolated island surrounded by water? Why do the rats suddenly forget to swim just because of their increased weight? Where on earth does that convenient second story balcony come from on the Skinner’s farmhouse? And what is the point of the subplot involving a pregnant couple? This is in addition to the profligate lapses in plot and continuity. Furthermore The Food of the Gods leaves a sour taste in the mouth of anyone who wishes to bleat about animal rights. This film might have worked as a nostalgic throwback to Gordon’s efforts of yesteryear, but it is just too mean and unsavoury to work. The prevailing consensus on this film is that it’s a celluloid disaster, I saw nothing in its 90 minute running time to challenge that viewpoint.

© Shaun Anderson 2011


  1. Always been curious for this one, my favorite of these giant animal movies was always Squirm, the one about the giant worms...not the best movie in the world, but I loved the ending!

  2. Back in the 70s I used to pop home for lunch from the school and ITV was pushing this trailer heavily. It was a film I really wanted to see. So me and my dad went to the local cinema to watch this as I had noticed a Food For the Gods poster days earlier.

    First we sat through the B feature, and at our cinema this was often a documentary, I remember to this day it was a documentary about combine harvesters. Then after the intermission adverts I expected Food For the Gods. Instead there was another documentary. Anyhow I did find it strange that there were 2 b features that week. But after the second documentary the lights went up and it was end of the show.

    There were possibly no more than 10 people in the cinema that day.

    Anyhow as we left I got a closer look at the poster and it had the words "Coming Next Week" under the title Food for the Gods. So that explains how I got to learn something about corn and harvesting.

    I did return the following week and loved the giant insects, perfect film for the 7 year old me.

  3. @ Franco - I saw SQUIRM many years ago, and I revisited it on Friday, it was just as enjoyable the second time around. THE FOOD OF THE GODS is not without its moments, but they are few and far between.

    @ Nigel - Excellent anecdote, thanks for sharing it :-) I can imagine that FOOD OF THE GODS is a film that would be liked by a certain generation of cinema-goers who view it with a certain amount of nostalgia. This was a regular for me as a kid. It must have been screened quite a few times on British terrestrial television in the 1980's and early 1990's. Unfortunately any nostalgia I felt was utterly destroyed by the time the end credits rolled.

  4. What a nice piece of synchronicity: There I mention in a comment to you on my blog that I recently started getting a bit more curious about Ida Lupino. Half an hour later I discover that you just covered her FOOD OF THE GODS. Been meaning to watch this film forever and a day and will definitely be checking it out sometime soon now.

  5. I see we agree again on all points regarding this one, Shaun. The worm scene is, for me, the most disturbing part of the film. A shame the rest of it isn't as gruesome. Possibly the pregnant couple was to have been a bigger part of the film considering its alluded to that people are about to ingest the earthly eruption. PROPHECY explored prenatal contamination much more successfully.

  6. @ Holger - A very good print of the film, in fact I believe it is sourced from the MGM Midnite Movies DVD release is available on Youtube over 7 or 8 parts. I wouldn't be too swift in checking it out though! Remember you won't get that 90 minutes back!

    @ Brian - Yeah the worms were grotesque! You could well be right about the pregnant couple sub plot, but viewed now, it just comes across as pure padding. I put PROPHECY in much the same same league as THE FOOD OF THE GODS. It is probably marginally superior though. With PROPHECY you do at least get the sense that amid all its weaknesses and faults there was intelligence behind the film.

  7. Thanks for the heads up. And the warning. ;-)

  8. Not seen this one yet, Shaun. Love your write up though - I especially enjoyed reading about Gordon's infectious enthusiasm and your take on how his science-fiction/horror titles make a self-contained universe that might respond well to auteur theory.
    Of all the titles you mentioned, the only one Ive seen is Empire of the Ants - but that was years ago! ;)

  9. Many thanks James :-)

    Yes Gordon's horror/sci-fi pictures are remarkably consistent...both in theme and in look. To be fair, they are consistently average to poor in quality, but perhaps he is an auteur of sorts. I think EMPIRE OF THE ANTS is marginally superior to THE FOOD OF THE GODS. Both films are harmless fun in their own way.


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