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Food of the Gods II

(AKA Gnaw) 1989, Starring Paul Coufos, Lisa Schrage, Ral Andrews, Stuart Hughes, Karen Hines. Directed by Damian Lee.

Canada's straight-to-video king Damian Lee, has done it again with Food Of The Gods II. If you've ever seen the original Food Of The Gods, you know what to expect: giant rats, and lots of them. Lee manages to combine these vicious rat attacks with bizarre sexual growth fantasies and synchronized swimming in a warped tribute to the original. Like in Abraxas, Guardian Of The Universe, director Lee doles out the low budget thrills with entertaining and often hilarious results.

Food Of The Gods (the first one) is one of AIP's craziest films. One of the oddest things about it was the blatant butchering of the rats. Forget about "no animals were harmed in the filming of this production," it appears that director Bert I. Gordon got a big tub o' rats, gave a mentally unstable grip named Skeeter a pellet gun and just rolled camera. But that was the seventies, and we don't do that anymore. Even in low budget movies.

You see, now we're all concerned about animal rights. If you want proof, just watch the first scene of Food Of The Gods II, where we are introduced to a troubled University campus. A bunch of demonstrators are protesting the stodgy Edmund, a professor using animals in his cancer research. But that's not all, he's also secretly using animals to try and get rich by finding a cure for baldness. To contrast Edmund's evil is our hero, Dr. Neil Hamilton. Dr Neil does all his research on plants, and even dates Alice, one of the girls who was protesting Edmund. He is sensitive to issues.

Meanwhile, the protestors have broken into the evil doctor's lab. Upon seeing some imprisoned animals, they smash his computer, burn his files and generally destroy everything. Alice pleads with the rest of the group "but you said you were just going to take pictures!"

Then one of Dr Neil's scientist friends shows him a giant little boy who has been treated with a growth hormone, and asks him to help find an antidote. Dr Neil quickly gets busy in his lab, launching the film into a montage of science in action. Beakers! Green liquid going through tubes! Dry ice! Computer models! When Dr Neil finishes "doing science," he injects some hormone into a tomato plant. And it grows big! Think of the possibilities!

But Dr Neil's life isn't all giant vegetables and hot activist girlfriends he has some hard decisions to make when his assistant Josh suggests they try some growth experiments on some lab rats. Dr Neil finally lets him bring in some rats, but things get hairy when Alice drops by the lab unannounced. Josh does some quick cover up by hiding the rats behind the tomato plants until they leave. Then, in a bizarre editing decision, shots of Dr Neil and Alice having sex are inter-cut with shots of the rats eating the giant tomatoes.

The next night, the protestors break back into the building. It seems they weren't happy destroying the evil doctor's lab, they decide to see what's happening in Dr Neil's lab too. This time at least they brought cameras, and they are glad they did when they spot some rather large rats in cages. Of course what else is there to do in this situation than accidently set them free? And our bumbling do-gooders do just that, getting two members killed in the process.

When word gets out about the possibility of a giant rats infestation, the Dean calls in a gum-smacking, trenchcoat wearing cop. His main job appears not to be solving any crime, but to contradict Dr Neil. "Yeah, a giant rat, sure." "Evacuate the campus? Gee I'd love to, but I got a murder to solve here pal!" That kind of thing. The dean does manage to bring in a couple of stereotypical exterminators. One is big and dumb, and the other talks about how people need to take more pride in their work as he chomps on a cigar and caresses his self-modified flame thrower.

Needless to say, there are lots of deaths at this point in the film. There are lots of basements, sewers and deserted parking lots where lonely janitors, drunk students and security guards are wandering aimlessly. One of the exterminators even dies, as does the evil doctor's assistant.

You would assume that Dr Neil is at the forefront of this investigation, diligently striving to prove that giant rats are in the sewers despite the challenges of the dean and the cops. But no, he is asleep at his desk, daydreaming about sex with one of his slutty students! And not only that, he is dreaming that he is growing while having sex! It's like some perverse Bert I Gordon movie gone horribly wrong, and if anything in this film will give you nightmares, it is probably this sequence.

Meanwhile, the evil doctor Edmund sneaks into Dr Neil's files and takes some of the growth hormone. Thinking that it is the elusive cure for baldness, he begins experimenting with the green goo under a microscope with some animal cells. Excited by the growth possibilities, he accidently cuts his hand and gets some goo in his wound. Then he swells up and pus starts shooting out of his face. While he is struggling with his bubbling skin, he turns his head and his toupee falls off! Ha ha! That man in the throes of death wanted to cure baldness for himself! Why Lee thought this would be a good time for such a "hilarious" joke is anyone's guess. Edmund collapses to the ground, looking a lot like the Toxic Avenger, and dies. By this time Dr Neil has figured out that the growth hormone is missing and comes in Edmund's lab to find him reduced to a pile of pus. In case you thought that Lee's excellent ear for dialogue is restricted only to Abraxas, Dr Neil address the festering pile of liquid: "God, you look awful."

But where will the rodent madness end? Perhaps at the opening of the University's new pool, during a synchronized swimming competition. The swimmer's routine isn't half over before the rats appear from under the water, taking on first the swimmers, and then the rest of the audience. Now ignoring the fact that these giant rats were supposed to get into this pool via the sewer, the stands are jammed full of enthusiastic spectators. Even the CFL doesn't get crowds as big as this swimming meet has.

While Food Of The Gods II is not quite as accomplished as Lee's better known films like Ski School or Abraxas, it has it's moments. I saw a boom mike in a few shots, and the pure weirdness of jokes while people are melting or giant mutant sex seem odd in the context of the rest of the film. But what's here is very much a Damian Lee movie, complete with cheesy synthesizer score.

Again, Lee does not set the film in Canada. Cars bear New York license plates, but the film was obviously made in Ontario. On the exterminator's van I spotted a Canadian Tire "Don't Drink & Drive" window sticker with the familiar upside down triangle blacked out! But regardless, this film ducks the traditional 80s horror film conventions. Extremists die, not sexually promiscuous teens. And not just the liberal protestors, but also the right wing Dean, and the evil doctor. By avoiding the ridiculous morality tale of the teen horror movie, Lee harkens back to not only the first Food Of The Gods film, but it's low budget forefathers like The Giant Gila Monster and The Amazing Colossal Man.

This "tribute" extends to Lee's giant rat effects. Although it was probably a budget decision, Lee is not afraid to have rats clawing over miniature sets or (like in the original) use giant hand-puppet rat heads to chew on victims in close-ups. And they work as well as they can, considering they are obvious. What doesn't work as well are the blue screen effects which come off as phony.

While some Canadian films from the 80s are so boring that I want to doze until the next plot point, Lee's movies are different. They are cheesy, low budget and silly yes, but they are exciting enough to watch. And if you think that "Based on an HG Wells story" was a ridiculous credit to run in the original Food Of The Gods, you ain't seen nothing yet.

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