Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gnaw: Food of the Gods II (1989)

... aka: Food of the Gods Part 2
... aka: Gnaw
... aka: Gnaw - Food of the Gods: Part 2

Directed by:
Damian Lee

After I saw Bert I. Gordon's masterpiece The Food of the Gods, I stayed up many a night hoping, praying that there would one day be a sequel. I said to God "Could you please make sure the sequel has nothing to do with either the original film or the H.G. Wells novel of the same name. I would like it to focus around only giant killer rodents this time as I do not want giant worms, giant chickens or giant wasps ruining my giant rat fun. However, it is OK if it includes an angry, foul-mouthed 8-year-old giant with a large rubber hand. It must also have an 80s synthesizer score, a man in a cow mask repeatedly screaming "Animals have rights!," a guy in an awful toupee trying to find a cure for baldness by butchering dogs and Clint Eastwood, or at least someone imitating him if he is unavailable for filming. Could you please also throw in a scene where synchronized swimmers get eaten? Thank you very much for your time." And then I waited... and waited... and waited some more, but nothing. After awhile, I had no other option than to give up hope, renounce God for not listening to me and try to move on with my life. It wasn't easy. In the back of my mind I could never completely forget my yearning for a giant rat sequel. It was always nagging at me, eating at me, gnawing at me... My obsession ended up costing me my marriage, as my wife quickly tired of me talking about the film every night in my sleep, as well as my job after my boss discovered the collection jar I set up to help little Timmy get a kidney transplant was actually a ruse and I was planning on using that money to personally finance Food of the Gods II myself. Little did I know, but all this time the film already existed under the title of "Gnaw." Doh!

Note: If you detect a hint of bullshit in the air, it is only to prepare you for watching a film filled with even more ridiculous bullshit than I could ever dream of mustering up.

Neil Hamilton (Paul Coufos); a professor and researcher at some Canadian college who's experimenting with plants, receives an urgent phone call from former teacher and mentor Dr. Kate Treger (Jackie Burroughs), who has run across a little problem. Well, a big problem actually. It's not that her new super growth hormone 192 Methyanol is unsuccessful. It's just that it works a little too well and has turned a sweet, vertically-challenged little boy named Bobby (Sean Mitchell) into a vulgar, volatile 12-foot-tall brat who suddenly has a four-letter vocabulary and won't stop growing. Though Neil specializes in botany, Dr. Treger believes he's the right guy to whip up an antidote. He takes samples back to the college and immediately begins working on a cure. Meanwhile, at the same college, smarmy scientist Dr. Edmond Delhurst (Colin Fox) has been receiving government funding for cancer research but is instead using radiation on monkeys, dogs and beavers (!) to make them lose their hair so he can give them "scalp transplants" (?!) Student and animal activist Alex Reed (Lisa Schrage), who just so happens to also be Neil's girlfriend, along with her likeminded friends Mark (Real Andrews), Angie (Karen Hines) and Al (Stuart Hughes), break into Delhurst's lab, destroy his files, formulas and research data, take photos of the animals and then plaster their university with anonymous fliers the next day about what's really been going on. The Dean (David B. Nichols) can't prove who actually did it but threatens the four with expulsion if he ever does catch them.

Neil manages to whip up his own growth hormone, with hopes of deconstructing and reversing it. He first tries it out on some tomatoes; which grow to five times their original size in a matter of hours. His assistant Joshua (Frank Pellegrino) brings in 35 rats to test the formula out on. Though Neil is anti-animal testing, he decides to try it out on one of them because a child's life is at stake. Joshua accidentally leaves the hormone-laced tomato plant next to the cage and the hungry rodents chow down. The animal activists (sans Alex, who is busy screwing the professor) break into the lab and end up accidentally releasing the monster rats, who chew off Mark's face and then immediately head into the sewers to hide out. The king size rats make short work of a pest exterminator, a janitor riding some kind of motorized scooter and Al and Angie, who moronically go down into the dark sewers looking for "proof" of giant killer rats armed only with a tennis racket (!) and a net. They rip off a scientist's arm, cause a car accident by sneaking into the backseat and bite a Mexican guy on the ass while he's taking a pissing and singing "La Cucaracha," prompting him to to run out into a busy highway and get run over. Many others are also killed and a police lieutenant (Michael Copeman) shows up but he doesn't really do anything.

The Dean turns out to essentially be the same character as the mayor in Jaws and doesn't want the school shut down because of the grand opening of a new sports complex, which will attract rich alumni (and their donations). All the rats see is an all-you-can-eat buffet and promptly invade the place, leading to scenes of giant rat tails flailing in the pool, swimmers and spectators getting attacked, screaming people running amok, police gunning down innocent people, a frantic man getting his hands on a gun and shooting at least a half dozen people in his rampage, the Dean getting pushed off a balcony and all kinds of other chaotic hilarity. Not enough for you? Good news, there's more! During perhaps the film's more bizarre scene, Neil has a bad dream where he's fucking a girl whilst simultaneously growing into a giant (!) When Dr. Delhurst accidentally contaminates himself with a combination of hormone and dog's blood, he melts down into something that would look more at home in a Troma movie. Frank Moore (from Cronenberg's RABID [1977]) shows up as Jacques, a cigar-smoking, Eastwood-impersonating Rat-A-Tak pest extermination with a flamethrower. And lest I forget Louise, Neil's beloved white pet rat. Louise responds when "Three Blind Mice" is played on a flute, ends up getting injected with the hormone and decides to go after Alex because she's jealous the coed is gonna steal her man!

This film is extremely difficult to evaluate. On one hand, most of the acting and dialogue ("If this university is shut down because of giant rats, no one is gonna send their kids here!") is terrible, some of the attempts at comedy are embarrassing, it can't settle on a tone and the whole thing is utterly stupid and ridiculous. The boom mic is visible numerous times and you can even see hands pumping special effects ooze into an actor through tubes at the bottom left corner during the meltdown scene  Several cast members have been dubbed over for some reason, including Schrage, who was great in Prom Night II (1987) but comes off horribly here thanks to the awful dub. On the other hand, the production values are decent, it's well-photographed and edited, the special effects (cheesy as they may be) are fun, there's a lot of blood and gore and the whole thing is fast paced and brainlessly entertaining. Some of the cast members (like Fox) seem to be in on the joke and camp it up like nobody's business, while others appear to be taking the proceedings completely seriously. All in all, I can't say that I was ever bored, and that has to account for something, right?

La malédiction des rats (Curse of the Rats) [France]

Denti assassini (Killer Teeth) [Italy]

Die Stunde der Ratte (The Hour of the Rat) [Germany]

A Praga assassina (The Prague Killer) (?!) [Brazil]

Filmed primarily in the winter of 1987 on the York University campus in Ontario, this has a 1988 copyright date and received a very limited theatrical release through Roger Corman's company Concorde Pictures in 1989 before hitting video and cable TV. In 2004, Artisan released it to DVD.


Scarecrows (1988)

... aka: A Maldição dos Espantalhos (The Curse of the Scarecrows)
... aka: Paratroopers
... aka: Zona restringida (Restricted Zone)

Directed by:
William Wesley

In preparation for this review I decided to do a brief history on the killer scarecrow subgenre. It was then that I realized there really isn't much of a history to the killer scarecrow subgenre. To my knowledge, the first walking, talking, "living" scarecrow on film is the same one created by L. Frank Baum for the children's book The Wizard of Oz, which has had multiple screen versions dating as far back as a 1908 silent short. That character would most famously be played by the wonderful Ray Bolger in the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. While a few genre movies would use scarecrows as a plot device (Hammer's NIGHT CREATURES aka Captain Clegg instantly comes to mind), it wouldn't be until 1981 that an inanimate scarecrow would supernaturally come to murderous life and be front and center in a horror flick. That film was the very good made-for-TV movie DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW, which scared the stuffing out of many children who happened to see it on TV back in the day. From all indications, Scarecrows may be the second film to center around a killer scarecrow and the very first to feature multiple killer scarecrows. 

Throughout the 90s, killer scarecrows would make sporadic appearances in films like Dark Harvest (1992) and Night of the Scarecrow (1995). Then, in the 2000s, there were suddenly tons of them from out of nowhere; all likely made in response to the success of Victor Salva's popular Jeepers Creepers (2001), which wasn't technically a killer scarecrow film but featured a monster that frequently posed as a scarecrow. Among the later scarecrow titles were Psycho Scarecrow (2000), Kakashi (2001), Scarecrow (2002), Dark Harvest (2004) and its two sequels, Scarecrow Gone Wild (2004), Scarecrow Slayer (2004), Hallowed Ground (2007), Messengers 2: The Scarecrow (2009), Rise of the Scarecrows (2009) and the list goes on.

A heavily-armed, five-member commando group managed to somehow hold up Camp Pendleton and get their hands on 3 1/2 million dollars worth of cash; leaving three dead marines in their wake. Afterward, they managed to hijack a cargo plane, forcing the pilot Al (David James Campbell) and his teenage daughter Kellie (Victoria Christian) to deliver them (presumably) to the Mexican border. On their way, Bert (B.J. Turner) gets greedy and decides that he wants all of the money for himself. He tosses the crate containing the money out the hatch, parachutes out and leaves behind a grenade. The others manage to toss the explosive out just in the nick of time, but now they have an all-new objective: find Bert and find the money before he's able to get away with it. Three of them; calm, bald, quiet tough guy Corbin (top-billed Ted Vernon, who also financed the film), manic Curry (Michael David Curry, who seems to have carefully studied Joe Pilato's performance in DAY OF THE DEAD prior to acting in this) and big dumb oaf Jack (Richard Vidan), all parachute out. The lone female robber, Roxanne (Kristina Sanborn), then has the pilot and his daughter land the plane in a field with hopes of meeting up with the others later.

As everyone scours the grounds below picking up "very ugly vibes" while looking for that "no good, double crossing, scum-sucking son of bitch" Bert, they come to the realization that they're on a condemned, fenced in plot of land. There's only an abandoned farmhouse, a graveyard and overgrown fields full of, you guessed it, scarecrows. It isn't long before the solemn guardians of the fields come springing to life armed with sharp tools of butchery (knives, pitchforks, scythes, axes, meat cleavers...) to start knocking everyone off one by one. The general idea here is that these scarecrows kill victims, dismember them, gut them, stuff them, sew them back together and then bring them back to life to add to their legion. Why? Well, your guess is as good as mine. How were the scarecrows able to come to life? No clue. What do the scarecrows hope to accomplish? You got me. Why do they keep showing the same photo of three men on the wall of the abandoned house and who are they? Dunno and dunno. The script doesn't bother explaining any of that and it's left up to us to fill in the blanks on our own.

Scarecrows has a minor cult following and all I could think during the entire first half was "Why?" It's slow-moving, there are probably 100 shots of the same three scarecrows repeated endlessly, the acting is amateurish, there's next to no plot or characterization and the dialogue - half of which seems to consist of the characters saying each others names into their headsets  - is utterly useless. The entire film is set at night and is extremely dark, which alternately works in its favor and works against it. Thankfully, it manages to pick up a bit in the second half and becomes rather enjoyable. Mind you, the aforementioned problems don't just suddenly stop; they simply become less of an issue when the action and bloodshed come to the forefront. For the modest budget of just 425,000 dollars, it's atmospheric and looks fairly slick thanks to cinematographer Peter Deming. There's also a good music score from Terry Plumeri, fine makeups from Norman Cabrera and effective scarecrow designs. And yes, there's plenty of gore in this one, too...

Torsos and faces are stabbed, stomachs are gutted, hands are speared with pitchforks and slowly sliced off with rusty saws, fingers are bitten off, heads and arms are hacked off and so forth. Some of the victims return from the dead as stitched-up scarecrows themselves (stuffed with the cash they're so desperate to find) to attack the others. It was all enough for the film to run into ratings problems upon release, so original VHS distributor Forum Home Video released both R and unrated / uncut tapes. The latter runs 4 minutes longer. There's now a nice-looking, uncut DVD through MGM. Apparently director Wesley recorded a commentary track for that release but they opted not to include it.

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