Food of the Gods / Frogs (Blu-ray)


Food of the Gods / FrogsStarring 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

  • Food of the Gods
  • Frogs
  • Special Features
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