And You Call Yourself a Scientist!

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[aka Gnaw]

"Well, can you at least estimate the big rat’s weight?"
"I don’t know. Fifteen, maybe twenty pounds."
"How big was that rat when you left here last night?"
"About fourteen ounces…."

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Director: Damian Lee

Starring: Paul Coufos, Lisa Schrage, Frank Pellegrino, Colin Fox, David B. Nichols, Michael Copeman, Jackie Burroughs

Screenplay: Richard Bennett and E. Kim Brewster

Synopsis: At a small American university, animal liberationists break into the laboratory of Dr Edmund Delhurst (Colin Fox) and destroy his equipment and records. Dr Neil Hamilton (Paul Coufos), a botanist, is contacted by his former mentor, Kate Treger (Jackie Burroughs), who has injected a child suffering a growth deficiency with a synthetic growth hormone. The hormone has caused the child to grow to an incredible height and size; he has also become emotionally unstable and difficult to control. Neil takes a sample of the compound and of the child’s bodily fluids back to his lab to try and find an antidote. Neil experiments first with tomatoes, which grow to an enormous size in hours. Neil’s assistant, Joshua (Frank Pellegrino), argues that the hormone and ultimately its antidote must be tested upon an animal, to which Neil reluctantly agrees, allowing Joshua to bring a cage of rats into the lab. One of the rats is injected. When Neil’s girlfriend, Alex (Lisa Schrage), who is one of the animal liberationists, comes to see him, Joshua quickly moves the experimental tomato plants to disguise the fact that they are working with rats. The tomatoes are pressed against the wires of the cage, and the rats begin eating them. The liberationists break into Neil’s lab and discover that the injected rat has grown to the size of a dog. While trying to film it, the intruders knock over the rat cages. The small rats escape, while the giant rat attacks and kills one of the liberationists. When the police arrive, Neil tries to make the extent of the danger understood, but is thwarted by the university’s Dean (David B. Nichols), who is intent on hushing the situation up. Exterminators are called in, but become the rats’ next victims. As the deaths continue, Neil realises that the other rats have also become giants. Neil succeeds in creating an antidote, and he, Alex and Joshua resolve to go after the rats themselves.

Comments: For about the first ninety seconds of The Food Of The Gods II, I had some hopes that we might be in for a rational debate on the subject of medical research and animal liberationism. By the ninety-first second, however, the film had made its stance quite clear: both scientists and animal liberationists are dangerous extremists who should be exterminated without any further loss of time; an object which the screenplay almost achieves, with only a single representative of either camp left standing when the credits roll. Neil Hamilton, our hero, is presumably spared because he’s a botanist. "I work with plants, not animals!" he announces sanctimoniously. (Considering the guy’s called "Neil", I am tempted to respond, "Vegetable rights and peace, man!" Yeah, I know, I’m showing my age....) Still, it may be that this career choice was not as pure as is implied. Neil keeps a pet rat, which he calls Louise. Since "Louise" is very obviously male, it seems likely that Neil ended up as a botanist because he failed zoology.

Despite the film’s title and the reaction of one of the characters to the creation of the artificial growth hormone ("It’s the food of the gods, man!"), this film bears no relation to Bert I. Gordon’s hilariously awful 1976 romp beyond the sight of giant rats on the rampage. Instead of a natural substance causing havoc, we have the creaky old chestnut of scientists tampering in God’s domain, meddling with things man was meant to leave alone, yada-yada-yada. While the plotline of this film is as old as cinema itself, some attempt has been made to modernise the look of the laboratories, although they still contain those conical and round-bottomed flasks filled with coloured fluids that film-makers are convinced all scientists possess. The screenwriters have also taken a shot at updating the jargon ("A sequence analyser!" announces Edmund Delhurst, trying real hard to sound as if he knows what a sequence analyser is), but their notion of how scientists talk is a scream (see "Immortal Dialogue"). The rest of the film is filled with walking cliches; most notably the university’s wicked Dean, who might have stepped alive and breathing from Amity, Long Island. Intent on hushing up the rat-related deaths, he is ably assisted by a trenchcoat-wearing cop who sees no reason for calling for backup even though he has about eight faceless corpses on his hands. The giant rats, effective enough when conveyed through rapid cutting, screaming and splashes of blood, lose all credibility when we actually see them in close-up.

So, having established that the special effects, the characterisations and the dialogue are all wanting, does Food Of The Gods II have anything to recommend it? Well, yes, but only if you’ve got a sick sense of humour. The film-makers may well have realised their shortcomings, because they’ve gone for the nasty laugh on several occasions. We have a dream sequence, in which Neil Hamilton injects himself with the growth hormone, then has sex with a willing student, who at first rather appreciates his – ahem – "gigantism". There’s also the ultimate fate of corrupt scientist Edmund Delhurst, who accidentally infects himself with one of Neil’s compounds and for no readily apparent reason, turns into a huge walking boil. Best of all, though, is a scene that for some of us very nearly redeems all of what has gone before: in the climactic sequence, a horde of giant rats invades the university’s new swimming complex, and devours an entire synchronised swimming team….