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
Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review
Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne
Directed by Charles Martin Smith
I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.
Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.
Now let’s get to it.
First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.
Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.
I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.
Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.
It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!
And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.
Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.
This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.
And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.
Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!
In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?
That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.
Rockstar lighting for days.
Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.
Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.
More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.
Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcorn, and if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.
Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.
All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!
Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!
Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.
AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters
Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill
Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk
** NO SPOILERS **
It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.
To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.
That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.
Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.
Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.
Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.
Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.
But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.
But let’s backtrack a bit here.
Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).
And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.
Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.
With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.
Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.
I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.
Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!
Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.
Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?
On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.
That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.
In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.
While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.
Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.
Bring on season 12.
The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.
The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror
Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro
Directed by Nicholas Woods
The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).
The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.
The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.
The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.
The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.
The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.
- Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
- Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
- If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
- “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
- The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
- As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
- “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
- The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
- Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.
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