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The Nostalgic Attic: Food of the Gods II (1989)

30 June 2014

Food of the Gods II (1989)

"No, obesity-breath. This is no ordinary flamethrower. See, I modified this baby myself. I just find the rat, aim, and... kazoom."

One of the reasons as to why I started this blog (back when it was solely for film reviews) was that I was sick of reading 3 or 4 line reviews of films that I felt needed a bit more analysis. You know, the 'I saw this film ten years ago on video, and I don't remember much, but boy was it crummy' kind of reviews that you tend to find on sites like IMDB, especially if you are a viewer of older, less well remembered films as I am. The ratings too can really irk me. I'm a firm believer in not putting a numerical rating on anything I watch; firstly, I don't think that people should just jump to a number on a review and make a decision on whether to watch it or not, and secondly, without context that rating means absolutely nothing. Just because I rate Taxi Driver and say, The Evil Dead the same, does that mean an individual can come to the conclusion that both films are of the same quality or possess the same entertainment value? Of course not, and it's why I don't do it. But sometimes a film gets such a low rating that I have to wonder if those scoring it have actually even seen it. Which brings us to Food of the Gods II.

The brilliant doctor, Neil Hamilton (Paul Coufos; Chopping Mall, 976 Evil II) gets a call from his old scientist pal, Dr Treger (Jackie Burroughs; The Dead Zone), who has been doing some secret experiments with growth hormones on a young feeble boy. The boys growth rate has rocketed off the scales, however, leaving him an 8 foot monster of aggression. Neil takes the challenge of finding an antidote, bringing some samples of the serum back to his lab in the pleasant surroundings of the University where he works. First, he tries it on plants, resulting in some giant tomatoes that gets declared to be, "the food of the gods!" by his enthusiastic lab assistant.

Meanwhile, a group of animal activists are campaigning against the University over the use of live creatures in the lab tests by one of Neil's colleagues, the shady Professor Delhurst (Colin Fox), who claims to be trying to defeat cancer, but is in fact out to extinguish baldness. Some of these activists break into the lab that night, and on discovering his gory handiwork, they take pictures and smash the place up. The next day, Neil brings some rats to the lab, but only injects the white test subject to see the results. Unlucky for him that his assistant leaves the other rats so close to the ever-growing tomatoes, which they manage to gnaw at through the bars. Once again, the activists learn that there are now rats in Neil's lab, so they break in to do the same to his work that they did the previous night. They are completely unprepared for the giant, four-legged monstrosities that attack them, and the leader of the gang is chewed to bits while the others barely make it out alive. The giant, mutant rats escape; but will the police, the exterminators or Neil be able to stop them from spreading beyond the campus walls? Will Delhurst find that cure for baldness? And just what will become of the angry, 8 foot boy?

I'll say it now so that there's no confusion; Food of the Gods II is an absolute blast from start to finish. We really get a lot here; plenty of humour, plenty of gore and great special effects, and a fairly good dose of sex, too. On top of that, the script is funny, with some real odd-ball characters to liven it up, and a tone that, despite the context of animal rights, doesn't take itself seriously, and isn't afraid to poke some fun at these conventions. This tone is set early in the film with the jaw-dropping introduction of the hulking child, Bobby. The edit to him entering the room and his explosive torrent of profanity at the doctors keeping him prisoner have that rare, 'what the fuck!' quality that has you reaching for the rewind button on the remote; a quality that we seldom get these days. There are several great moments like this throughout the film; Neil's gigantism dream, for example, or the gloopy result of Delhurst testing the serum on himself. The climax is stuffed full of so much gore, deaths and giant rats that it's hard to keep up with. And even in this climatic chaos we still get those moments, like when the random guy with the gun just starts shooting innocent people... it really has to be seen to be believed. I know I've referenced several incidents in the film here, but I really won't spoil anything for you, these delights are best discovered yourself when watching it.

To go with these barmy scenes we get some other fun characters to keep things zipping along. The rat exterminator does a pretty mean Clint Eastwood impression, and is a real highlight in the middle section of the film. Same goes for the odd foreign chap having sex with the girl in the bushes- he has to go pee, but swiftly gets his bare arse munched by a rat, which sends him running and screaming headfirst into traffic with his trousers still down. These moments (and many more) have such a bonkers sense of reality that they seem off kilter with the more serious tone of Neil's scenes, but somehow it all manages to work well enough. Coufos himself isn't the best leading man, but he's likable enough, though he plays his part fairly straight. But it's this straightness that stops the film falling into goofy spoof territory, and despite the 'giant killer rats' plot line, the film has a lot going for it that 'spoof' just would just sell it short.

The film is far from perfect, though, but that's to be expected. As mentioned, Coufos is a bit stiff as the lead, but some of the minor characters (such as the animal activists) are borderline que-card readers. They add an unintentional hilarity to the opening scenes, though, so this might be a plus for crowd viewings. There is also a little bit too much running around sewers in the later parts of the second and third act, which could have been trimmed down a bit. Due to the scatter-gun nature of the ideas being thrown around here, you never really get to root for any particular character, meaning it does tend to go from one strange set piece to another - but once again, it means the film keeps ticking along, and you won't be watching the running time. What sets a film like this aside from the likes of say, Re-Animator, is that the central character dynamics work so well, which is down to the handling of the material by a director with a solid theatre background like Stuart Gordon. And though there are plenty of bonkers scenes here that could have been from a Gordon flick, it does lack that heart that you expect from his work

The effects range from 'OK' to fantastic - the giant kid and the dream sequence are stand out moments that warrant a viewing alone - but there is plenty of flowing red gore to keep you going, too. Throats are torn out, faces chewed off, even limbs ripped from sockets... and the rats look fairly good for the most part. Sometimes the film makers have cleverly used miniature sets that still have the desired impact, and the close ups of the mutant rat heads attacking people aren't quite as silly looking as they could have been. The music is a mixed bag - early on in the film we get strange cuts between classical and electro riffs, which seems at odds initially, but the score gets quite good towards the end.

The film was directed by  Damian Lee, and he does a solid enough job for what he has to work with. The pacing is spot on, and the action lively. There are some nicely done camera shots too, involving the rats POV chasing people, and you feel immersed in the film throughout. The important thing is though, that it isn't a weird or funny film by mistake, it all feels natural, scripted and intentional. It is a pity then that we do lose something without those great central characters, but not every film can be From Beyond, nor does it have to be. As it stands, Food of the Gods II is a much-maligned film, and for no discernible reason. It has a current rating of 3.0 on IMDB, which is absolutely shocking. This one really does need a re-evaluation, or as much of one that a straight-to-video film from the late 80's can ever get. For my money's worth, it's as much fun as other well-remembered flicks from the era, filled with strange moments, gore and good humour. If you are the type of genre fan who likes to pick something trashy to watch with a room full of like-minded fans and a few cold beers, then this one was made for you. And just who could pass up that fantastic box art on the video shelf?

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At 30 June 2014 at 10:58 , Blogger Wes M said...

Kazoom indeed ! Mighty stuff as always John. How did I miss this one back in the day ? I remember the sleeve well, and the trailer voice over ("for those with a taste for terror), but the film itself got away. Was all the gore left in the Guild tape ? This one really sounds like The Borrower in the sense of a hokey concept enlivened by plenty of eccentricity and inventiveness. The trailer doesn't give much away but I love the hyper speed shots of people ambushed in a dead-end corridor, and the shot of the giant boy is seriously creepy... You bring up a very good point about the imdb and its ratings system - and I must admit I did double-check to see if the film actually did score a 3 - which is shockingly low, considering Bruno Mattei's horrible Rats: Night of Terror was awarded 4.2 Hmm.... Italian trash is more chic than American trash it seems. Personally, the imdb is good for checking aspect ratios and other technical details, but little else. I wonder might the low rating be explained by the film's apparent obscurity - the original Bert I. Gordon film is hardly one to set pulses racing, and by chance I grabbed my copy of the Deep Red Horror Handbook and what do you know - there's no mention of the film in the body of reviews, or the Eco-Horrors essay. So good job on resurrecting this one ! I'll see it if it comes my way for sure...

At 30 June 2014 at 11:54 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Wes, it's a video cover I remember distinctively! The kind of tape that would have been perfect in an all night video marathon. The tape seems uncut to me, and really, there isn't anything too shocking or strong here - no lingering gore shots, or questionable sex scenes in the vein of Re-Animator - but it all has a fine sense of madness that works on its own terms, and trying to edit anything out of it would be pointless.

Yeah, I used to like IMDB simply as a reference point, and back in the day (way, way back) I used to haunt the horror boards there. Beyond that, the reviews are about as useful as amazon half the time, which isn't saying much...

Interesting that this one didn't register in your book, this one has enough entertainment to keep anyone interested. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! I know there's a R1 DVD of it out there, but unsure of how it looks. P.S, I happen to think Rats: Nights of Terror is a hoot, but yes, it is garbage! Entertaining garbage, though...

At 30 June 2014 at 12:24 , Blogger Wes M said...

You know what, I watched Zombie Creeping Flesh recently, obsessively searching for a line of dialogue I thought was in the movie and ended up needlessly watching the entire show and I dunno maybe it just wasn't doing it for me that night, but Zombie Creeping Flesh is a grind ! Anyway, the line was not from but from Godzilla 2000 (?) so it was a wasted journey ! I gotta say I have a better time with Zombie Holocaust and Burial Ground... All of this has nothing to do Food of the Gods II I fear !

At 30 June 2014 at 13:03 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Yeah, I always found ZCF a strange one, fairly uninspired really. ZH and Burial Ground are much more entertaining... What was the line, incidentally?

At 1 July 2014 at 00:39 , Blogger Wes M said...

It's kind of silly now when I think of it, but I remember hearing a line in, what I thought was Zombie Creeping Flesh where the mercenaries first encounter the zombies and open fire on them, with no effect, prompting one of the gunmen to declare that their bullets are going thru them like "crap through a goose" which y'know is a terrible line... What was the dubbing editor thinking ? So flash forward to an afternoon screening of Patton and that long opening sequence where George C. Scott delivers Patton's famous D-Day invasion speech, which includes the line "We are going to go through him like crap through a goose, like shit through a tin horn!" which caused a big laugh from me - anyway, I was sure it was Zombie Creeping Flesh but not so ! The line turns up in Godzilla 2000 which I've never seen, so I'm sure it's in an Italian film too !

At 1 July 2014 at 00:54 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Weird, what a strange line to get in your head! There is an approximation of it in Animal House, too, when the dean tells Delta House that they'll "be out of here quicker than shit through a goose", which always had me in stitches!

At 1 July 2014 at 01:21 , Blogger Wes M said...

Some lines no matter how incidental they might sound really do put the hook in you - I love that line from Zombie Flesh Easters when Olga Karlatos says to Richard Johnson "You won't be happy until I meet one of your zombies" - which she does...

At 2 July 2014 at 19:25 , Blogger Craig Edwards said...

I saw Gnaw in the theater in my college town of Carbondale Illinois - and don't remember much except that I enjoyed it (oh no! A snippet review!) But your enthusiasm for it makes me want to see it again now!

At 3 July 2014 at 01:18 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Craig, it would be perfect for one of your weekend-long movie fests. I think the DVD is very cheap over your way, though I can't vouch for quality of the disc. But hey, it has to be an improvement on tape, eh?


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