Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Scream Factory - FOOD OF THE GODS & FROGS + EMPIRE OF THE ANTS & JAWS OF SATAN on Blu-ray ""

Sunday, May 17, 2015


FOOD OF THE GODS (1976; Bert I. Gordon)
Who do you get to direct your giant-animals-attack movie if you're Samuel Z. Arkoff? Why Bert I. Gordon of course. He of such classics as THE BEGINNING OF THE END (with giant grasshoppers) and THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN.
How would I sell this movie to you? So many ways. "Marjoe Gortner fights a giant chicken", would be one place to start. Or "Watch as Ida Lupino screams in pain as a bunch of giant maggot worms bite her in the arm". At one point in the film, an old man is besieged by giant rats and retreats to his VW Bug. In the next shot, live regular sized rats can be seen pouncing on a toy car. It's just the way Bert I. approaches special effects. Back in THE BEGINNING OF THE END when he was placing grasshoppers on postcards of buildings to appear as though they were scaling them, he was establishing his style. It's silly, but I kinda love it I must say. There are different ways to go about this kind of thing (or there were, pre-CGI). Another giant killer rat movie that I adore is DEADLY EYES (also a Scream Factory release by the way). In that production the filmmakers chose to dress dachshunds as rats and I've always found that pretty effective (if also silly). Bert I. Gordon prefers to use toys and I can't fault him for it. All these approaches to effects are rather quaint now and endearingly so as far as I'm concerned.
Also, casting Marjoe as your lead is an interesting choice. Definitely an "only in the 1970s" phenomenon. And I enjoy that sort of thing, especially in comparison to the model/statuesque leads we're subjected to nowadays. Marjoe's just an odd-looking dude with a near-Afro mop of fiery-red curly hair. He also has a proclivity towards making strange faces when in the throes of physical strain (type "Marjoe Gortner" and "MASOLEUM" into google for some of his best). Don't get me wrong I like the guy despite his flailing charisma. I should mention that this movie is based on H.G. Wells and that this wasn't the only time AIP and Bert I. and said author would cross paths (see below).
Special Features:

FROGS (1972; George McCowan)
Sam Elliott is a freelance photographer grabbing some shots for a pollution spread in a magazine when his canoe is abruptly overturned by a drunken speedboating rich dude (played by cult actor Adam Roarke). After some feather unruffling, Elliott is invited back to the rich fella's stately manor which is overseen by a grumpy Ray Milland. From there unspools one of the more unlikely (but still fun) animal attack movies ever made. What's funny is I couldn't remember how the frogs killed people in this flick. In fact, I couldn't recall how anybody died. To my surprise (SPOILER) there is very little frog-related death in the movie at all. There's lizard, snake and alligator related death and even spanish moss/spider related death, but not much from the frogs. They do hang around a WHOLE lot though. There are ever-present and always in good sized groups. Not that any of this is an issue for me really, I always enjoy the ambience and general mood of the nature-gets-revenge movies of this era. I gotta hand it to AIP's marketing department though (not that they probably even had one). That image of the frog with the hand hanging out of its mouth is truly a keeper and I'm sure sold a ton of tickets when the film was released. What I'm saying here though is that there is a remake to be dug out of all this and it better have frogs eating people. I'm just saying.

EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977; Bert I. Gordon)
Meanwhile, back in Bert I. Gordon-land, Joan Collins was trying to sell some island-front property called "Dreamland Shores". Unfortunately, some toxic waste dumped at sea ended up washing up on the beach and the local ants got all covered in it. And what happens when you have radioactive material in a Bert I. Gordon movie? Stuff gets big of course! And in this case it's the ants that  grow to annoyingly large,people-chomping kinda size.
I have to give Bert I. Some credit on this one. The effects, though still a little silly, look better than in FOOD OF THE GODS. He's able to incorporate matte shots and whatever puppetry they use for the live-action shots to make for better and more "realistic" looking terror. This movie takes an interesting and somewhat unexpected turn in the last third that I had totally forgotten about. It's a little Twilight Zone-y and silly, but it's fine. EMPIRE OF THE ANTS is not on par with THEM!(which is one of my favorite sci-fi films of all-time) as far as giant ant movies go, but it's an enjoyable Bert I. Gordon effort for sure.

Special Features:
-This disc features an audio commentary from Director Bert I. Gordon, which I liked. Hearing thoughts on filmmaking from an old-school guy like him is always a pleasure.

JAWS OF SATAN (1981; Bob Claver)
Of the Four films that encompass these two sets, this is the one that was the hardest to see for quite a long time. This film has a few titles that it goes by and the print Scream Factory used has "King Cobra" at the head. It is interesting to me that there aren't more killer snake movies. I mean snakes were used all the time at many points in the history of movies to create a sense of dread and certain death. I mean think of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK for instance and you'll remember how snakes used to be treated with great fearful respect. You don't see them as much in films today unless they are some giant, mutated cross-breed that shows up as the monster in made for Sy Fy channel movie. What happened to good old-fashioned hordes of them as a means of generating terror? Anyway, JAWS OF SATAN doesn't deal with hordes of snakes, but rather one big scary one and a few of his minions. And this snake has a bit of a secret, but he is certainly hard to stop. He opens padlocks and doors by himself so as you can imagine, it's hard to keep him locked up and on top of that he seems to have a power over other local snakes which brings about many attacks. There is a religious angle to this story that is a bit unexpected for an animals attack film, but nonetheless interesting. The movie also has some JAWS-esque plot underpinnings (a small town mayor, a big event, an outside animal expert, wanting to keep the snake bite deaths under wraps) which is kinda fun. I always love a decent JAWS-knockoff. And of course it's quite neat to see lots of live snakes in scenes with real actors (often the leads). They'd be all CG now of course. The powerful thing about snakes though is their unpredictable, could-strike-at-any-moment behavior. It makes for highly suspenseful, cringe-inducing scenes and that makes for good-time cinema.

By the way - A very young Christina Applegate makes an appearance a few times in the movie and Dean Cundey is the cinematographer (both of these things are cool).

Both of these double features can be purchased via Shout Factory's site or Amazon:

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