Tuesday, May 5, 2015

THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976) / FROGS (1972) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)

THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976) / FROGS (1972) 

Label: Scream Factory 
Release Date: May 26th 2015 
Region Code: A
Rating: PG
Duration: 88 Minutes, 91 Minutes 
Audio: English LPCM 2.0 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (1.85:1), (1.78:1)  
Director: Bert I. Gordon, George McCowan
Cast: Ida Lupino, Pamela Franklin, Marjoe Gortner, Belinda Balaski, Jon Cypher, Ralph Meeker,  Judy Pace, Ray Milland, Joan Van Ark, Adam Roarke, Sam Elliott, Lynn Borden


Pro footballer Morgan (Marjoe Gortner) and his pals are hunting on a remote island off British Columbia when one of them are attacked by enormous wasps the size of a small dog with wings. Morgan and the others don't witness the attack and are unaware of the oddity of the death, aside from the unusually swollen corpse. When the autopsy indicates he was injected with a near impossible amount of wasp venom Morgan and his friend Bryan (Jon Cypher) return to the island to find some answers. Once there they stumble upon a small farm house in the woods where Morgan is attacked by an 8 ft. tall rooster that's kept out in the barn, just narrowly avoiding having his eyes pecked out by the gigantic cock.

Mrs. Skinner (Ida Lupino), the elderly owner of the farm,  after some prodding reveals that she and her husband have found a substance bubbling up from the Earth, ome goo with the consistency of runny oatmeal which when eaten enables the animals to grow to an unnatural size, as evidenced by the 8ft rooster. Morgan puts two and two together and deduces that wasps must have eaten the substance and are loose in the area,  but Mrs. Skinner refuses to believe that their discovery could be something awful, what she doesn't know is that Mr. Skinner was torn apart by a horde of flesh-crazed rats who have also eaten the magic growth substance. 

Now we have Morgan and Bryan on the island in addition to a young couple expecting a child plus an unscrupulous owner of a dog food company who is bent on obtaining the substance for his own profit, alongside his somewhat adversarial bacteriologist assistant. Not completely sure why the owner of a dog food company needed a bacteriologist on staff but I do know that white-afro wearing Marjoe Gortner needed a love interest and she fit the bill. 

The idea of giant-sized animals and insects ingesting a strange substance who attack humans on a remote island might sound familiar to anyone who watched director Bert I. Gordon's Empire of the Ants (1971) just a few years earlier. The campy special affects are achieved through various means to varying degrees of success, a series of miniatures sets with real rodents that are hilarious, full size puppets, and a series of composite shot effects, which may not be the most impressive but are a lot of fun, particularly if you love bad movies or are nostalgic for these awesome creature-features from the '70s.

I love love love this film and always have and I always will, it's just a blast and hard not to enjoy for the cult-classic that it is, a movie loaded with giant-sized wasps, chickens, worms and a horde of deadly rodents who lay siege to the farmhouse. I just cannot get enough of this one and I am damn happy to see it get an HD release from Scream Factory with some new extras and improved A/V.   

The Food of the Gods shares space on a single-disc Blu-ray with the eco-terror Frogs, the HD transfer offers up improved clarity and detail over the standard-def DVD, which should be no surprise. Not the most impressive eye-popping 1080p on the market but for an almost 40 year old b-movie this one looked pretty solid. The English LPCM 2.0 audio is nicely balanced with no distortion, optional English subtitles are provided. 

Special features include a brand new Audio Commentary With Director Bert I. Gordon moderated by Kevin Sean Michaels, a fun interview with Actress Belinda Balaski whom recalls actress Ida Lupino informing the director she had written her own death scene and was leaving the set in a few hours, having to scramble to get the scene finished before she left. Additionally there are radio spots, a trailer, a photo gallery and trailers for Empire of the Ants and Jaws of Satan, also available as a double-feature from Scream Factory 

Special Features

- New Audio Commentary With Director Bert I. Gordon
- New Interview With Actress Belinda Balaski (12 Mins) 
- Radio Spot (1 Min) 
- Photo Gallery (4 Mins) 
- Theatrical Trailer (1 Min) 

FROGS (1972)

Frogs is one of those films I caught on TV quite a bit in the early '80s but could just never get into at the time, an environmental horror film starring Sam Elliot sans his signature mustache, which was weird. Elliot is wildlife photographer Pickett Smith who is canoeing around the bayou snapping pics of wildlife and pollution when his canoe is overturned by the wake of a careless speed boater. The speed boat circles back around and pulls him from the water, inside are Clint (Adam Roarke) and his sister Karen (Joan Van Ark), whom invite him back to their island estate for some celebratory fun, as they're celebrating not just the 4th of July but the birthday of their wheelchair bound grandfather Jason Rocket (Ray Milland), a stubborn southern man. 

Soon after the creatures of the bayou seemingly begin to rise up against humanity, beginning with a deadly snakebite in the swamp.  In very short order the birds, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, alligators, snapping turtles and frogs are hunting the humans. The movie is a classic example of '70s slow-burn cinema from start to finish, deliberately paced with some decent tension and creepiness punctuated by a few death scenes involving swampy critters with an attitude.  

Sam Elliot's Pickett Smith is the voice of reason among the humans, but for the most part his warnings to vacate the island fall on deaf ears, particularly the patriarch Jason Crockett who is one grade a stubborn son of a bitch. The kills sequences are fun with some cool shots of frogs gathering in great numbers outside the family mansion, which is sort of creepy but only to a point. There are venomous snakes hanging from trees, and a pretty cool scene of tarantulas descending from the mossy canopy onto a victim who has immobilized himself with a shotgun blast to the leg, while it's not quite up to par with that one scene in Lucio Fulci's The Beyond is is creepy. 

I just happen to enjoy a good slow-burn and creature features, but this one is pretty damn slow with most of the scenes of animals stalking their prey just clips of snakes or spiders spliced into a scene separate from the victim, which hurts it, but there's no denying the building sense of dread and creepiness of this one, but it never quite pans out in the end. While I didn't care for it much as a youth it has grown on me quite a bit, but I can see how many would rather watch paint dry, it's slow. 

The disc from Scream Factory looks good, a definite step up over the MGM DVD from a few years back with improved depth and clarity, skin tones are accurate, but some compression issues take away from the overall score, not too shabby, but not a stunner. The English LPCM 2.0 audio  is clean and well-balanced, again not a stunner, but probably true to the source material and free of distortion, optional English subtitles are provided. 

Special features include a 10-minute interview with star Joan Van Ark who is candid about the film, her love of the director and he obvious pleasure of working alongside Sam Elliot. Funnily she mentions that she is often mistaken for co star Lynn Borden, and is often presented photos of Borden to sign. Other extras include a trailer, a radio spot and a photo gallery. 

Special Features

- New Interview With Actress Joan Van Ark (10 Mins) 
- Radio Spot (1 Min) 
- Photo Gallery (3 Mins) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 Mins) 

I am loving these Scream Factory double features which seem to be carrying on the b-movie tradition of the classic MGM Midnite Movies double-features, they're not all golden nuggets of cult-cinema but they are certainly entertaining slices of b-movie cinema and I am happy to see them being preserved in HD. The Food of the Gods is the clear winner of this double feature, director Bert I. Gordon mad quite a few entertaining movies and this is one of his best he made. Both films have decent PQ and we get some new interviews and an audio commentary on top of that, for the right price this is a fun double-feature of angry and over sized critters. *** 3/5