The literary works of legendary science fiction author H.G. Wells have seen many cinematic adaptations, from such classics as the 1933 Universal horror film The Invisible Man to goofier and fun outings like Ray Harryhausen’s First Men in the Moon, but we will not be looking at such lofty adaptations today, instead, we will be checking out Bert I. Gordon’s The Food of the Gods, which at best could be called an “In Name Only” adaptation.
Legendary B-movie filmmaker Bert I. Gordon made name for himself by producing a series of low-budget giant monster films with such titles as The Amazing Colossal Man and Earth vs the Spider, so him tackling the H.G. Well book “The Food of the Gods and How it Came to Earth” must have seemed like a foregone conclusion at the time, but not only did he attempt to adapt that classic story he actually did it twice. In 1956 Gordon made an American teensploitation film called Village of the Giants, which pitted a group of giant-sized teenagers against the adult population, and while that film can be considered loosely based on the H.G. Well story the same can not be said about his second attempt, The Food of the Gods, which bares almost no semblance to the source material. This swing at the bat is more of a “Nature Amok” picture than it is an adaption of Wells’ satirical work of science fiction, not only were there no giant people in this movie – the key component and conflict in the book – any social satire from the novel were simply replaced by people being eaten by giant animals.
The protagonist of this film is a football player named Morgan (Marjoe Gortner), who along with his teammate Davis (Chuck Courtney) and the team’s press agent Brian (John Cypher), decide to take a little hunting trip only to find themselves the ones being hunted. The film does give us a little bit of classic foreshadowing with Morgan’s opening narration informing us that “My father used to say, “Morgan, one of these days the Earth will get even with Man for messing her up with his garbage. Just let Man continue to pollute the Earth the way he is, and nature will rebel. It’s gonna be one hell of a rebellion.” That bit of expo-dump clearly puts this film in the subcategory of “Eco-Horror” and the isolated island they visit is a perfect location for a group of disparate strangers to band together against a bunch of giant killer animals, a situation that is kicked off when one of the three friends is killed by giant wasps.
The basic plot of this “adaptation” stems from a mysterious bubbling food that local farmers Mr. and Mrs. Skinner (John McLiam and Ida Lupino) discover causes their farm animals to grow when ingested, and believing this substance is a “Gift from God” Mr. Skinner heads to the mainland to find a buyer so that the two of them can become rich from this all-natural miracle food. Unfortunately, some of the local pests have gotten into this “Food of the Gods” and soon giant wasps, grubs and rats are rampaging all over the woods in search of some nice human morsels. Watching this film one must believe that Bert I. Gordon never intended for anyone to take any of it seriously, especially considering the script includes such comical lines as “Where in the hell did you get those goddamn chickens?” which was brilliantly delivered by Marjoe Gortner to co-star Ida Lupino, and you can’t help but believe that everyone was in on the joke.
To round out the cast of hapless humans we have an expectant couple, Thomas (Tom Stovall) and Rita (Belinda Balaski), whose Winnebago has broken down and left them stranded on this island of the damned, then we have Jack Bensington (Ralph Meeker), who has been sold the bill of goods on this remarkable mystery food by Mr. Skinner and has brought along his company’s bacteriologist Lorna (Pamela Franklin) to verify the findings. There really isn’t much of a plot to this film, which is to be expected with this kind of thing and most of its 98-minute time consists of people running around shouting at each other or shooting at giant whatevers and not much else. As a producer, writer, and director, as well as a special visual effects artist, it cannot be denied that a Bert I. Gordon film is a Bert I. Gordon film, and if not everything on camera makes perfect sense one can be a little forgiving due to the sheer willpower put behind such a production, that all said, Marjoe Gortner’s character is such a pompous jackass, who gets his friend killed for no reason, that it’s really hard to rally behind what is happening on screen and I found myself starting to side with the rats.
Note: Marjoe Gortner played a lunatic National Guardsman in the disaster epic Earthquake and his character here is just as nuts, so I kept hoping George Kennedy would show up and shoot him.
The special effects utilized to bring off these giant creatures were a mixed bag, anytime an optical effect was required things tended to be a little transparent, but the full-scale rat puppets used to attack the actors were really quite impressive and Bert I. Gordon was not one to skimp on the gore and thus we get some nice bloody scenes of people being mercilessly gnawed on by the giant rats. It should also be noted that horror movies of this era often had one or two veterans from Hollywood’s Golden Era to add a little prestige to the proceedings, and as was the case with Olivia de Havilland in The Swarm this entry offers up Ida Lupino to class up the joint and she does a fairly good job here, even if she wrote her own death scene so that she could leave the production early and go home, despite the fact that the original script she was one of the final survivors.
• The credits state that the film is “Based on a Portion of the Novel by H.G. Wells” which is probably their way of saying “We didn’t finish reading the book.”
• Morgan doesn’t want to tell the District Attorney that their friend was killed by “something large” because he’s afraid they’d think they were crazy, but a quick trip to the Skinner farm would easily verify their story. Did he think Mrs. Skinner was going to go and hide her giant chickens?
• Brian tells Morgan that the coroner had informed him that “From the amount of poison in his body, he estimates that Davis was stung by no less than two-hundred and fifty wasps” but did the coroner not notice that the body didn’t have two hundred and fifty stinger holes? And I’m betting the stinger of a giant wasp would make a rather and noticeable nasty hole.
• Brian thinks Morgan’s idea of driving around in an open jeep on an island infested with giant rats is a rather stupid idea, which it is, in fact, Morgan’s whole sanctimonious attitude probably causes more problems than it solves. If he’d simply notified the authorities in the first place none of what follows would have happened.
• Morgan’s plan to electrify the wire fence that spans the island, so as to keep the rats at bay, was as futile as it was stupid because the fence runs right into the water on each side of the island, so the minute he turned on the generator it’s obvious that it would immediately short it out.
• Morgan’s second plan to defeat the rats involves blowing up a nearby dam, thus flooding the area and drowning the rats, but the dam we see is about ten feet high and at most, it would cause an ankle-deep flood because it’s not like this island is a valley.
One element that really harms this “Animals Amok” entry is that the rats Bert I. Gordon used were not all that terrifying, while the puppeteered worms and wasps were properly horrifying the rats Gordon utilized were all rather cute looking, like the ones you’d find at your average pet store and not the nasty ugly variety known to populate the New York City sewer system, thus the sight of these cute little critters scampering around miniatures sets was about as scary as that old children’s show Tales of the Riverbank with Hammy Hamster.
Where this film remains unique is in the fact that while it falls into the category of the eco-horror genre it doesn’t really have the typical environmental stance often found in such pictures – pesticides or mad science has nothing to do with these giant creatures – and though we do get an evil capitalist the only death he’s responsible is for his own. Now, the book was about people becoming giants and animals being affected was just the first part of the story, but the movie does end with the mysterious goo being consumed by dairy cows and the closing scene is of schoolchildren unwittingly drinking the tainted milk, so this film could be called a prequel to the novel, if you close one eye and squint. Basically, as an adaptation of the novel this movie is a bit of a joke but it’s also a fun eco-horror film that you and your friends can have a good time watching over pizza and beer while dumb people are eaten by large carnivorous Muppets.
The Food of the Gods (1976)
Movie Rank - 5.5/10
Bert I. Gordon’s horror flick The Food of the Gods is no masterpiece, and certainly not a proper adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel, but the rat attacks are actually quite fun to watch and for that alone, I give this film a recommend if you are in need of a good laugh.