*. You’re welcome to ask “How did it come to this?”
*. H. G. Wells’ novel The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth had been published in 1904, and while not considered one of his major works it’s nevertheless an entertaining, thoughtful, and provocative book that addresses a number of big social questions in a manner by turns comic and mystical. Earlier film adaptations of Wells had been groundbreaking classics, especially in terms of their effects: Island of Lost Souls (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), Things to Come (1936), The War of the Worlds (1953). So why was The Food of the Gods fated to become a punchline in the annals of cinematic crap and winner of a Golden Turkey Award for Worst Rodent Movie?
*. Ida Lupino is a really interesting figure in the history of Hollywood. Bored with acting, she took up directing in the 1950s (she may have got her start filling in for Nicholas Ray in On Dangerous Ground when he was ill). She’s credited as being the first woman to direct a film noir (The Hitch-Hiker in 1953) and would go on to direct more than 100 television productions. She had her own independent production company — The Filmakers [sic] Inc. — and wrote and produced social-interest films. And here’s where it ended up (this would be her penultimate film role). Being eaten by giant grubs and finally killed by a giant rat that breaks into her kitchen. A mercy given the kind of lines the script had saddled her with.
*. Ralph Meeker wasn’t as big a star, but after Kiss Me Deadly he was at least a name. He’d be getting near the end of the line here too. As for the leading man, I felt sure I’d seen him before but couldn’t place him. The name — Marjoe Gortner — gave it away though. That’s the child evangelist who was the subject of the Academy Award-winning 1972 documentary Marjoe. His first name is a combination of Mary and Joseph. I liked Marjoe (the movie) and always wondered what he’d gone on to do. Well, it came to this.
*. This was actually producer, writer, director Bert I. Gordon’s second kick at the Wells canon, and indeed at The Food of the Gods. He’d also produced (and written, and directed) Village of the Giants, which was just as loosely based on the same story. You’d think that after doing this kind of movie for so long — The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), Attack of the Puppet People (1958), and Earth vs. the Spider (1958) are among his other credits — he would have maybe gotten better with practice. But . . . it came to this.
*. So to wrap-up, for Wells, Lupino, Meeker, Gortner, and Gordon, it had indeed come to this. What exactly is this? Of course a terrible movie, but, I’m happy to report, one that’s so bad it’s good.
*. The plot has Gortner, a pro football player, going to an island to get in some hunting with a couple of his pals and running into various creatures who have had a freakish growth spurt triggered by some goo that’s come bubbling out of the ground on homesteader Lupino’s farm.
*. Nothing about it adds up. It is, for example, usually considered to be an example of the then-popular genre of eco-horror. Eco-horror was big in the 1970s, but today, when our environmental problems have only compounded, you don’t hear so much about it (Barry Levinson’s The Bay being one exception). So things begin with Gortner’s voiceover: “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.'”
*. With the filming taking place on B.C.’s picturesque Bowen Island there was plenty of room to make such an argument, but the strange thing here is that the Food appears to be natural, literally a gift from God, as Lupino’s character reckons it. In the novel it is produced in a lab. So what does any of this have to do with nature rebelling against man’s pollution?
*. Leaving the environmental message aside, The Food of the Gods is clearly an effects picture. It’s about supersized critters, after all. And here is where it really earns its “so bad it’s good stripes.” Gordon throws everything at us, from animation to mechanical dummies, to split screen effects, to creatures crawling over model homes and toy vehicles. Almost all of it is hilariously bad. The wasps look like scribbles on the film. The rats look like lab mice or refugees from Tales from the Riverbank. And the chickens! Is there any way giant chickens can be made to look scary? I couldn’t help but think of Woody Allen seeing the giant chicken in Sleeper and saying to himself “That’s a big chicken.” It’s funny because it’s true!
*. The chicken scene is also remarkable because after Gortner fights off the giant chicken (it is bigger than he is!) and kills it, he leaves the island and seems content not to bother thinking about it much anymore. Only his friend was also stung to death by giant wasps on the island too. So maybe he should go back and check things out. I mean, a six-foot chicken. That was weird, no?
*. The effects culminate in the final attack of the rats on Lupino’s farmhouse, where the survivors have barricaded themselves. Things look bleak until Gortner gets the bright idea to blow up a dam (with the gunpowder from a handful of shotgun shells!) and flood everything.
*. A dam? On an island? By that point, who cares? We’ve already had the eligible young lady bacteriologist tell the football-player stud she has just met that “This may sound crazy to you, but I want you to make love to me.” In a house surrounded by giant, man-eating rats? Why the heck not?
*. As with most so-bad-they’re-good movies this one can drag any time it slows down, but luckily that’s not very often. I think if you saw this as a kid it’s the kind of thing that would stay with you, but if you’re watching it today it’s only for its trash value. Now there’s a pollution rebellion to sit up and take notice of!