Bert I. Gordon seemed to specialize in making things big.
In fact, most of his contributions to the world of low budget horror and SF seem to involve photographically blowing something up to giant size, whether insects or people or animals of one sort or another, In fact, his first Seven movies — every one he did in the 1950s — all featured giant creatures. Forrest J. Ackerman called him “Mr. B.I.G.” and the name certainly fits.
But he branched out into other things in the Sixties, such as a Ray Harryhausen copy, a children’s adventure, some occult horror, and an X-rated sex comedy.
Along the way, though, he adapted one of H.G. Wells’ novels, The Food of the Gods, into yet another giant monster movie, Village of the Giants (1965) — and, we should note, yet another one of the teenager movies AIP was doing at the time, complete with Tommy Kirk.
However, that film only used the idea of giant children from the book, leaving him with more than enough material left to work with to make another film. Or, considering how little he’d used, quite a few!
By the Seventies, however, giant creature films were out of fashion, as were cheap SF films.
But nature gone wild films were doing very well. It was the era of films about out of control Frogs, worms (Squirm) rabbits (Night of the Lepus), bees (The Swarm), bats (Chosen Survivors ), and spiders (Kingdom of the Spiders ). So instead of Wells’ notions of evolution and the next stage of (giant) mankind, Gordon focused on the first part of the novel, in which the characters face a horde of dangerous creatures — wasps, earwigs, chickens and rats –grown to giant size by the mysterious “food.”
But as this is the Seventies, the food is not something developed by a scientist, but instead just sort of bubbles out of the ground. Somehow, it makes me think of The Stuff, although in this case it is normally unpalatable, but when mixed with animal feed by the farmer who discovered it, it makes his chickens grow to giant size. He plans to sell the stuff for a fortune.
As we expect from this sort of film, we’ve got a few aging name brand actors on hand, Ida Lupino and one-time Mike Hammer, Ralph Meeker. What is a little more surprising is that they are actually given fairly substantial parts.
Bert was never as good a filmmaker as Roger Corman, and it is hard to enlarge animal footage and make them seem all that threatening. The rats swarm all over things, but look far too cute, particularly the pink-eyed white rat who, we are told, is their leader (not that he really seems to be directing things). And the wasps don’t work at all — the enlarged real ones don’t even look real (I wonder if he tried photographing dead ones) and they’re transparent (or perhaps translucent is closer, as they are just a sort of grayish shape). I suppose it was too hard to try to remove the backgrounds from a flying insect with mostly transparent wings, and he just superimposed them. Considering that the giant creatures are one of the main talking points of the film, you have to wonder why he accepted these rather poor results.
He returned to Wells again a couple of years later for Empire of the Ants, which has even less to do the original story than this one does — and which has the problem that real ants really don’t do a lot that looks threatening. At least you can get rats to swarm with a bit of help. However, Bert had nothing to do with the “sequel”, Gnaw: Food of the Gods 2.
Somehow, this one is perhaps better looking than most of his Fifties output, and yet it seems quite primitive for the Seventies. Nor does it have as much of the fun some of his early films had: after all, this sort of Seventies film tended towards being rather grim and were definitely not intended to be particularly lighthearted.
This one is definitely in the midnight movie category. It offers a few thrills, a few intense and gory bits, and some goofy giant creature scenes without asking much from the audience in return.
And there are times when a film like that is very welcome.
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