Starring Pamela Franklin, Sam Elliott, Belinda Balaski, Joan Van Ark, Lots of frogs
Directed by Bert I. Gordon, George McCowan
Distributed by The Scream Factory
In a past review I lamented the lack of little creature features; films like Ghoulies (1984), Troll (1986) and Gremlins (1984). There’s another subgenre of horror that hasn’t seen much activity in a good long while either: nature fights back. After societal concerns about pollution, health, environmental impacts and animal extinction gained significant traction in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, horror followed suit by using those statistics as a framework from which to build low-budget feature films. These pictures almost always followed the same general plotline – show man’s inability to respect nature, give nature some sort of upper hand, kill man – but don’t kill every man because the film should offer some hope that man has time to change. What I’ve always liked about these nature revenge flicks is that they’re usually right – man does wantonly destroy the environment, so it isn’t hard to believe that animals (those things which live in the environment) would seek out humans and just start killing.
While the thought of this might sound potentially thrilling for a film, what stops many of these movies from being anything more than a fun ‘70s distraction is the main selling point: the animal attacks. There are two reasons why – either animals this large don’t exist, or if they do you won’t find an actor willing to be attacked for real. On the latter point, check out Drafthouse’s release of Roar (1981) this summer for a thousand reasons why, if you actually can find an actor willing to play alongside deadly animals, it is not a good idea. In the case of Scream Factory’s newest releases – The Food of the Gods (1976)/Frogs (1972) and Empire of the Ants (1977)/Jaws of Satan (1981) – the low budget skirmishes are reduced to a combination of rear screen projection and shaky close-ups of an animal prop “attacking” a person.
But who cares how bad the effects are, right? That’s half the charm! The other half is watching actors, either past their prime or just starting off, do every possible idiotic thing in the book before being slaughtered. Sure, ostensibly these films serve as a warning that man needs to get his shit straight and quit ruining the planet, but, really, they work best as an exercise in Darwinian selection. Is there a vicious, oversized creature in your midst? One which you could probably run away from very easily, if only… you didn’t… stop in your tracks… and do nothing… but widen your eyes… and slowly wait for this thing… to kill you. Every. Damn. Time. Outside of the lead actors that are assured a life lasting till the credits, every other actor or actress shrieks loudly before patiently waiting to be murdered by a huge wasp, or a massive ant, or some other embiggened creepy crawler. I guess they have to, though, because if anyone acted rationally these movies would end in six minutes. Based on how bad some of them are, that might not be such a bad idea.
Director Bert I. Gordon (appropriately nicknamed “Mr. BIG”) returns to the subgenre that made him famous – turning smaller creatures larger – with the first of two films on this double bill, The Food of the Gods. Even if you haven’t seen the film, you may be familiar with the slightly-iconic one-sheet poster, featuring a man-sized rat holding his prey – a pretty woman – up in a tree. This would be American International Pictures’ first foray into the tales of H.G. Wells, with more titles to follow after this one’s success.
The story finds a group of football players heading out to a remote island for a weekend getaway before a big game. During a walk through the woods one of the men is attacked and killed by a giant wasp; an attack no one witnesses. The men bring his body home but return to the island to finish out their retreat. After being accosted by a giant chicken, the men and their ladies meet the Skinners (Ida Lupino and John McLiam), an elderly farming couple who have stumbled upon magical ooze that produces huge results; they call it “The Food of the Gods”. Soon after it’s revealed that rats have gotten into the special liquid and are now as big as a large dog… or bigger, it depends on the scene – consistency takes a back seat here. The group is under siege from the rats and they all have to band together in the farm house and come up with a plan to stop them.
That’s about it. The story starts off suggesting this yogurt-y ooze has made all kinds of animals big and now they’re on a quest to attack mankind. Yet after the wasp and chicken encounters the film just sticks to the rats. There are a few more animal cameos, true, but they amount to very little. All of the focus is placed on the rats trying to eat everyone. Gordon does a commendable job of blending the footage of rear projection shots with the practical FX close-ups – even if it looks like the film is bouncing from showing rats jumping all over a Lincoln Log playset to a furry Halloween mask being jabbed into an actor’s face. All kidding aside, these effects probably required a great deal of passion and effort to pull off in an age where there were few options, a quality that isn’t felt when watching a CGI rat like they’d do today. The Food of the Gods posits a world where man isn’t at the top of the food chain, and it is indeed a scary prospect, campy film or not.
Frogs managed to piss me off a bit. This is another AIP picture, though it was not helmed by Gordon but George McCowan, who is known for his extensive directorial work on television and… not much else. What irked me so much was the poster, which made the promise that a frog would eat a man; a frog did not eat a man in this film. Is it asking too much that the producers should have a large fake frog created and then shoot a single scene of it eating someone? Hell, it would have been perfect to have it appear and eat Ray Milland at the conclusion. But no; this film wants to stretch the credibility of nature besting man to its very limits instead.
There’s no toxic waste here; no special goo; no radioactive elements. Nope, Frogs simply suggests that the animals of a swampy Florida island are tired of being polluted with pesticides, leached in by the constant spraying ordered by old man Crockett (Ray Milland), who feels man is superior to all other living things. Pickett Smith (Sam Elliott, sans mustache) is a local photographer out taking shots of the water’s pollution when Clint (Adam Roarke) whizzes past on a speed boat and knocks Pickett into the water. Clint apologizes and takes Pickett back to the Crockett estate, where he is welcomed by the family members who have come for a yearly gathering. Pickett strikes it up with the family and stays for dinner, but before he leaves in the morning Crockett asks Pickett to check on his worker, Grover, who was sent a ways up the road to do some pesticide spraying.
Pickett finds Grover and – surprise surprise – he’s dead. He returns to let Crockett know about his man’s fate and winds up staying a bit longer to help survey the scene brewing outside. All of the swamp’s lizards, snakes, leeches, birds and frogs have made it their mission to descend upon the Crockett estate to wreak havoc on the elitists who have shown a total lack of respect for the world around them. What follows is nearly an hour of people ignoring all forms of rational logic to be placed in situations where animals they could easily escape from wind up delivering a coup de grace.
The only thing Frogs has going for it is Sam Elliott’s Southern charm and assuredness, and Ray Milland’s John Hammond-like performance as an elderly patriarch who prefers to ignore all warning signs around him and staunchly remain optimistic that things are not going to hell. The animals responsible for attacking everyone aren’t mutated or large; they’re just pissed off. Still, when you see a snake coiled up, ready to spring just feet away, run! Don’t just stare at it, scream and (presumably) hope it simply goes away. Good god, these people are all so stupid that nature did the world a favor by killing nearly all of them. Despite getting top billing, the most the film’s frogs contribute to the picture is by croaking the score, since composer Les Baxter barely wrote anything to be used. Would it have been so hard to have one big frog show up late in the film? This is very bothersome.
As easy as it is to pick these two creature features apart, the fact is that, together, they’re ripe for helping viewers laugh their way through a lazy Saturday afternoon filled with good booze and a purple haze. You can’t even begin to try taking either seriously. At least Gordon did his best to make pictures filled with oversized everyday animals; it’s hard to work up the slightest bit of tension if your film is relying on frogs, salamanders and leeches to frighten. Watching The Food of the Gods and Frogs is less about trying to appreciate the features and more about getting yourself into a drive-in mind; a place where quality is secondary to campy enjoyment.
As long as they aren’t screwed with too much, in general every film from the ‘70s produced by AIP tends to look similar to its catalog brothers. The Food of the Gods is presented in 1.85:1, while Frogs is slightly opened to 1.78:1, and the results for both are nearly identical. The prints used here were kept in great shape, meaning there is only minor dirt or damage that appears sporadically; maybe a frame or two at most. A healthy grain structure remains untampered. Colors are nicely saturated, black levels are usually dark enough and definition & detail are evident without being overly showy. There have been a lot of complains about compression issues on recent Scream Factory titles, something that wasn’t noted in either case here.
Likewise, each film gets an English LPCM 2.0 mono track, both of which are on par in terms of fidelity, depth, cleanliness and levels. The sound quality is typical of AIP – they had making movies down cold – and the usual bad ADR work is here, too. The Food of the Gods has a percussive, synth score, while Frogs lives up to its name in the audio department since all that is heard on the track the nearly the entire time is the sound of frogs. That film has an extremely sparse score. Subtitles are available in English for both movies.
The Food of the Gods bonus features:
Director Bert I. Gordon delivers an audio commentary, moderated by filmmaker Kevin Sean Michaels, which is not what you’d call lively. Michaels has to prod Gordon like a cattle, constantly coaxing the legendary director to break into conversation. To be fair, Gordon is in his 90s but it still takes him a very long, slow time to get chatty.
“Interview with Actress Belinda Balaski” has the actress discussing the research she did for her role (knowing how to be pregnant), location woes, working with Ida Lupino and so forth.
A theatrical trailer, radio spot and photo gallery are all included as well.
Frogs has the following extras:
“Interview with actress Joan Van Ark”, she discusses this being her first feature and recalls some tales from the set. She’s very giggly.
The film’s theatrical trailer, a radio spot and photo gallery are also included.
THE FOOD OF THE GODS Special Features:
- Audio commentary with director Bert I. Gordon
- Interview with Actress Belinda Balaski
- Theatrical trailer
- Radio spot
- Photo gallery
FROGS Special Features:
- Interview with actress Joan Van Ark
- Theatrical trailer
- Radio spot
- Photo gallery
Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor
Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.
On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.
The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.
While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.
What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.
While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.
IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.
The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell
Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law
Directed by John Law
I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.
The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.
The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.
The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.
Join the Box of Dread Mailing List
PG-13 or R? The Strangers: Prey at Night Gets Official MPAA Rating
Artist Reimagines Superheroes as Tim Burton Illustrations
Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
New Alien First-Person Shooter Video Game in the Works
Poster Debut: Nicolas Pesce’s Piercing Starring Mia Wasikowska and Christopher Abbott
Steve “Uncle Creepy” Barton’s Best Horror Films of 2017
Gender Bashing: The Exorcist Series and the Male Body in Possession Horror
Zak Bagans’ Paranormal-Themed Documentary Demon House Acquired: Aiming For March Release
Julie, Sweet Julie: Why Return of the Living Dead 3 Is One of the Most Inventive Sequels Ever
Decade of Horror (2010-2017): What Have We Learned in the Past 7 Years?
Top 10 Lists5 days ago
13 Lesser Known Found Footage Films That Just Might Restore Your Faith in the Genre.
Editorials4 days ago
Why Brad Anderson’s Session 9 Scared the Hell Out of Me
News3 days ago
An Early Draft of Halloween 6 Has Been Released And It’s… Interesting
News5 days ago
Exclusive Delirium Clip Goes Running Through the ‘Net!
News3 days ago
Universal’s Bride of Frankenstein Reboot Back on Track With Gal Gadot?
News3 days ago
Zac Efron Looks Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile as Ted Bundy
Dread Central Presents5 days ago
Dread Central Presents’ Villmark Asylum Now on Amazon Prime!
News5 days ago
Blumhouse Wants to Reboot Friday the 13th Next