You know, something bad happened to Bert I. Gordon. In the 1950s and 60s, he made films that were expected to be high camp (“Amazing Colossal Man,” “Beginning of the End,” “Attack of the Puppet People,” “Earth vs. The Spider,” “Village of the Giants” which inspired Irwin Allen’s “Land of the Giants”). In the 70s, however, Gordon seemed to try to make his films serious. As with this film and, later, “Empire of the Ants,” he found audiences had changed. Eco-horror with some message against nuclear power or industrial waste was the in-thing. Big studios didn’t accept his old stuff anymore. So, he changed the tone of his movies and offered it anyone who would fund him. You can see the results.
The movie is based loosely on H.G. Wells’ classic “Food of the Gods.” Gordon later butchered Wells again with “Empire of the Ants.” It revolves around a bunch of people who travel to the countryside and encounter giant, mutated animals and insects. The cast, like “Empire of the Ants” and other 70s eco-horror flicks, is filled with people who should have known better:
Marjoe Gortner (the psycho bag boy from “Earthquake”) Pamela Franklin (“The Nanny,” “The Legend of Hell House”) Ralph Meeker (“Paths of Glory,” “The Dirty Dozen”) Jon Cypher (Chief Daniels from “Hill Street Blues”) Belinda Balaski (“Piranha,” “The Howling”) Ida Lupino (“The Sea Wolf,” “High Sierra,” “Junior Bonner”)
I was upset that Ida Lupino did that crapstravaganza. That is, until I saw John Huston in “Tentacles,” Henry Fonda and Michael Caine in “The Swarm” and “Bradford Dillman in “Bug.” Sometimes our favorite, beloved actors and actresses had to take schlock like this to either put food on the table or stay active in Hollywood.
Anyway, the animals are mutating because they’re getting into Lupino’s “ambrosia,” a chemical mix she’s supposedly using to make her fowl grow bigger. In H.G. Wells’ story, the ambrosia, which means “food of the gods,” makes everything bigger, including newborn children of pregnant women. The movie seemed about to touch on that, but didn’t (although it was later shown in the very, very, very much unneeded 1989 sequel).
The acting is over the top. Franklin holds her own and Lupino seems to be having fun just being on the silver screen again after a long layoff. But, Gortner, a former brimstone evangelist, is unbelievable.
Ultimately, the undoing is caused by very poor special effects. The giant chicken attack will leave you rolling. Close ups of the head are actually done with a stunt actor in a chicken head trying to peck at people. The close-ups of the heads of the giant rats make them look like the stuffed toys they are. The sight of Ida Lupino beating at the giant plastic worm chewing on her arm will either make you laugh or have you crying as you fondly remember when she did much better films.
What makes this all worse is that Bert I. Gordon did a much better job with giantism in “Village of the Giants” in 1965. Could his talents have slipped this much in 11 years? Personally, I think he should have slipped a little camp into the film to take the edge off. When people think you’re giving them crap and trying to pass it off as serious, the results are almost always less than pleasant.