Wednesday, October 12, 2016

HubrisWeen 2016, Day 7: Gnaw: Food of the Gods II (1989)

I may have mocked Alligator II: The Mutation a little bit for being a sequel that came down the pipeline 11 years later, but it's in good company with today's film that waited a lucky 13 years until it came out. Normally I would assume that this film actually started out as its own movie before someone decided to apply the name of a prior film to it, but apparently it was actually intended to be a direct sequel in the early stages of development.

I not sure why anyone would feel that a sequel to a Bert I. Gordon film from the previous decade was necessary, but I'm not a bigshot Canadian film producer, now am I?

The film delightfully opens by having its title gnawed on, before rolling credits over solarized footage of rats running around. Then a man in a cow mask appears, shouting, "Animals have rights!" He turns out to be the leader of an animal rights protest in front of some university lab or other, and immediately gives me hope that this film will follow the same pattern as 28 Days Later and involve some PETA-style eco-terrorists getting devoured by the mutant lab animals they tried to set free.

Professor Edmund Delhurst (Colin Fox) then walks through the scornful crowd of protestors on the way to his lab. The man in the cow mask, who removes his mask at this point to reveal that he is Mark (Real Andrews) claims that Delhurst isn't a scientist, but "an undertaker." Because of all the animals he kills, you see. Delhurst turns and very melodramatically shouts that over the next decade two of the protesters will die of cancer and he is doing everything in his power to drastically reduce those odds, before heading into the lab.

This makes Mark call him an asshole, naturally. Inside the lab, though, the focus seems far more on plants than animals. Although, thanks to the lack of any establishing exposition, it's entirely possible this is a completely different lab. Next to rows of plants under grow lights--and across from some apparently boiling pots--Dr. Neil Hamilton (Paul Coufos) is looking through a microscope while a white lab rat proceeds to steal the scene instantly because the creature is some kind of teleporter. It starts the scene perched on the microscope as Hamilton looks through it, and then appears on the back on Hamilton's neck in the next shot. Hamilton is chiding his lab assistant, Joshua (Frank Pellegrino) for being late when a phone call comes in for Hamilton.

We only hear Hamilton's end of the conversation, where he addresses someone named Kate. Whatever she says makes him decide he needs to be on the next flight over to her. Joshua assures Hamilton that he'll get someone to cover his lectures and then plucks the white rat off Hamilton's back, also promising to feed his "little girlfriend."

Dr. Kate Travis (Jackie Burroughs) greets Hamilton outside of a fancy mansion after he drives up. Together they go upstairs to an attic bedroom, where Travis introduces him to Bobby (Sean Mitchell). See, Bobby is a bit of an unusual child in that he is maybe 10 years old and about 7 or 8 feet tall. It's a fair bit of either forced perspective or split screen to introduce us to Bobby. We can tell that his abnormal size is not the only thing wrong with Bobby because he greets Hamilton with, "I'd like you to get the fuck out of my room!"

Sometimes milk does a body too good.
As Bobby screams insults at them from across the room, Hamilton and Travis discuss his case. Bobby was brought to the clinic that Travis runs out of this mansion because he had a growth deficiency. She gave him a new growth hormone she developed and, well, something went wrong. Hamilton is horrified that she used an experimental hormone on a child but she explains that she had successfully used the hormone on other patients before and was planning to go public with it soon, but she thinks something in Bobby's blood has caused it to go awry. His behavior is also linked to his size, as he was a very sweet boy when admitted,

Travis called Hamilton because he was her best student. He objects that his focus is on plants and the boy needs to be taken to a hospital, but Travis tells him that Bobby's parents don't want him moved and they're very powerful. They fear the boy becoming a media freak. So Hamilton agrees to help, so long as she provides him with samples of all the boy's bodily fluids that he can analyze at the University labs.

Meanwhile, at said labs we see Delhurst with a very lethargic monkey with a bald spot. It seems Delhurst and his assistant are using radiation to cause lab animals to lose their hair and then attempt to regrow it. His assistant thinks they need to give up because they're just killing the animals with cancer. Delhurst counters that the university wants them to study cancer and curing baldness is just a hoped-for bonus. As the assistant hauls away a dead dog, we see Mark and several other eco-terrorists breaking into the lab, including Alex Reed (Lisa Schrage). They find a live dog strapped to a lab table with a hold in its side and a monkey locked in a way-too-small cage on a nearby counter.

Okay, I get that the scientists are supposed to be cruel dick bags, but that doesn't make any sense. The monkey looks like it could easily shake the cage right off the counter and possibly escape.

At any rate, Mark, Alexm, and the others are apparently students at the university angry that their tuition goes towards cruel experiments. Alex wants to rescue the lab animals but Mark assures her they'd never get past security: they're just here to collect evidence. Or at least, that's the story Mark told them. He produces a hammer from his pocket as he approaches a computer, saying that to do experiments you need a lab and research data. Alex objects that he said they'd just take pictures, but Mark says he lied and then begins smashing the computer.

Yeah, that's definitely the way to stop experiments you don't like: forcing the scientists to start all over because you destroyed their data! Sadly, most PETA types are this obnoxiously self-defeating in reality.

Well, Mark doesn't stop there. He uses a golf club to smash up the whole lab, scatters and burns various documents, smashes floppy disks and burns them in a sink. Alex, for her part, takes one Polaroid shot of a sad monkey--and we next see that monkey in a photo next to a headline on the school's newspaper, The Expositor, reading "Animal Experiments Exposed." This newspaper has been posted on the walls of the University hallway. Hilariously, an enraged Dean White (David B. Nichols) storms down said hallway pulling every other newspaper off the wall as he goes. In the Dean's office, he has collected Mark and his crew of eco-terrorists and, as Delhurst looks on, the Dean assures them that if it is proved that they had anything to do with the vandalism they will be expelled immediately.

Delhurst comes to Hamilton in his lab then, asking for help. As he lustfully eyes Hamilton's shiny new sequence analyzer, he explains that since Hamilton's research is similar to his own, granting him access to Hamilton's materials would really get him back on track after the destruction of his lab. Hamilton apologizes but he's under a deadline and can't spare the resources. Delhurst angrily objects that Hamilton has been tinkering to "produce, well, produce that only Lilliputians could appreciate!" Hamilton still refuses, and Delhurst swears he won't forget it.

Well, now it's time for a science montage! Hamilton goes to work on sequencing the samples from Bobby, set a rocking tune that badly wants to be a John Carpenter theme when it grows up. Lots of spinning centrifuges, beakers of colored liquid, and Hamilton punching the air in victory follow. Hamilton then takes an extract he's produced from all the sciencing and--injects it into a tomato plant. Um...why does he do this, exactly? He's supposed to be analyzing a human growth hormone. Despite what The Revenge of Dr. X may have taught you, humans and tomatoes aren't closely related.

Well, as Hamilton explains to a shocked Joshua, the gigantic tomato plant in their lab became that way only a few hours after he injected it with the growth hormone. He refers to the creation of the hormone as an accidental concoction, like "trying to create a martini and ending up with LSD." He plans to break it down further and find out what causes it so he can stop Bobby's growth. Joshua objects that he needs to think bigger than that when it comes to the applications. "This is the Food of the Gods," Joshua declares.

Uh-oh, he said the title!

Joshua explains that this could solve world hunger and they should begin testing on animals right away. However, Hamilton says that he's just focused on finding a cure and he only works with plants anyway. Joshua storms off in a huff, saying that Hamilton is just afraid Alex will find out. Speak of the devil, as Hamilton leaves the lab a short while later he runs into Alex in the hall. She says she was just coming by to see him, but he points out she walked past his door. She covers by claiming she was thirsty and goes to a water fountain, dodging his question about whether she knew anything about the destruction of Delhurst's lab the night before.

However, when a student named Mary Anne (Kimberly Dickson) tries to chat up Hamilton, Alex quickly--and obviously--moves between them. She teases him about planning a "late night cramming session" but he assures Alex that he wouldn't dream of another woman. Except she then excuses herself from whatever he actually wants to do right then because she claims to have an appointment, but will see him later that night. So Hamilton apparently sulks in his office next to his lab while his white rat runs loose (!) and eats his tiny produce and knocks over glass containers. Apparently he eventually decides this is not such a good idea summons the rat to him by playing "Three Blind Mice" on a recorder. He joke she better put her to bed before she wrecks anything else.

Joshua then shows up with a cage full of rats. Hamilton is still reluctant, but Joshua rightly points out that the rats could help him find an antidote better than a tomato can and it's not like he's testing eyeliner on them. Hamilton relents and starts by injecting one rat and moving it into a separate cage. Joshua also moves Hamilton's beloved pet rat away from the others because he notices she's coming into heat. When Alex shows up then for their date Hamilton makes every effort to hide the rats from her view--and Joshua helps by moving the giant tomato plant in front of their cage, Unfortuantely, Joshua leaves the lab right after our heroic couple does, so he doesn't realize that he left the tomato plant within reach of the rat cage.

As Alex and Hamilton make love--with his beloved white rat oddly watching from the bed frame (!)--the rats devour the huge tomatoes. Just in time to cause the maximum amount of damage, Mark and his crew break into the lab. His comrades want to know why they're busting into Hamilton's lab, since he only has the one pet rat. However, Mark has gotten wind of the rats that Joshua got. So they find a lab with a cage full of rats eagerly devouring a tomato plant, and one cage with a rat the size of a French bulldog.

They set up lights for filming, but one of the crew has to crawl behind the cages to plug them in and when the huge rat reacts to the light by shrieking, he wigs out and manages to knock the cages over onto Mark and then rolls off the counter onto them as well. The rats break out and begin attacking the trio. In their panic, the other two leave Mark behind only to discover too late that they need his counterfeit security card to get him out after the door closes behind them. Well, when they try to go back for him he's a little too busy getting his face eaten by the big rat to be any help.

Well, one of his companions tries and fails to get Mark out through a barred window. However, the broken window lets the big rat out and then, as Mark's friend sits below the window wailing in grief, the little rats follow suit and swarm onto his head. We then see Mark's body being rolled out on a stretcher, for it to be dramatically revealed to Hamilton, Alex, and Lt. Weizel (Michael Copeman).

Jared Leto's attempt to go method for Two-Face went disastrously wrong.
Weizel is there to investigate the death and he's somewhat skeptical of the story that the surviving vandals tell him. (Guess that rat swarm failed to eat the other guy) After all, the rat was still normal sized when Hamilton left. However, Hamilton believes them and asks how big the other rats were--which results in the female activist slapping him before she and her friend storm out. Oddly, Weizel lets them go after this, given he was just threatening to hold them and one of them just assaulted the man whose lab they broke into.

Weizel is curious why a plant scientist was experimenting on rats and Hamilton explains he was testing a growth hormone and it's imperative that they recapture the rats because it's possible all of them may have ingested the hormone. Dean White appears and shuts that conversation down, assuring both men that he's already called for exterminators and that the grand opening of the university pool is coming up and he won't let anything spoil that, so they're going to keep this as quiet as possible.

What's that? You didn't expect that I'd be reviewing two giant rat movies that rip off the Jaws / Piranha plot? Well, I must admit it caught me a bit by surprise as well.

Well, in come our exterminators in their "Rat-A-Tak" van. One of them is fat and lazy, hyuk hyuk, so he just sits in the back of the van to watch the game while his companion goes to find the big rat with his custom flamethrower (!) after telling his partner that he's what's wrong with "this country." Sorry, but the American flag inside the van isn't fooling anybody. He then almost accidentally immolates a homeless man who asks if he's got a light. Meanwhile, the surviving two of Mark's group decide that the best way to honor his death is to go and find proof to reveal the corruption that got him killed.

So into the sewer they go to try and catch the rat. Meanwhile, Hamilton and Joshua are in the lab and Hamilton has discovered that the tomato plant basically retained the hormone, unchanged, and that the rats definitely ate it. However, since he knows the mutated plants and animals retain the hormone in their tissues unaltered he believes he can find an agent to counteract it in both Bobby and the rats.

Alex arrives then, staring at the spot where Mark was found as a janitor cleans up the blood. She confronts Hamilton about the tests, blaming him for Mark's death. As Hamilton points out, however, nobody asked Mark to break into the lab. However, Alex can't get past the fact he was "torturing" animals. Can she be eaten? I really want her to be eaten.

Meanwhile, the other two activists have gotten themselves lost in the sewer. As Delhurst's lab assistant goes to the library to do some studying, the fat exterminator hears a noise and goes to investigate--getting himself chased by a roving POV camera until he finds himself cornered in a maintenance hallway and the POV catches him. (Note that the POV implies the rat is at least four feet tall) The lab assistant hears his screams through a vent in the library and goes to investigate. Another sound draws his attention and he finds a copy of Animal Farm has been knocked off a shelf...

...and then the giant rat knocks the bookshelves over and pins him. He tries to beat it off with a book as it latches onto his arm, but he still ends up being disarmed. The exterminator with the flamethrower arrives on the scene in time to see the rat about to flee into the open vent, now the size of a German Shepherd. He gets it with the flamethrower before it can escape, however.

"Look, I had a few overdue books, okay?"
Back at the lab, Hamilton is still letting his pet white rat run loose unsupervised. Now I'm starting  to blame him, too.  At any rate, he thinks he's found the agent he needs after yelling meaningless technobabble at a computer animation of DNA. However, a call comes in from the Dean just then about the rat. Hamilton and Alex arrive and he gets accidentally shown the assistant first, who's had his face completely eaten off. When he looks at the rat he declares it's not the one he injected because that one had a yellow spot on its neck. Weizel and Dean White argue that Hamilton is delusional and the issue is resolved. Meanwhile, Delhurst arrives and first asks how Hamilton did it and mentions the scientific possibilities, while a disgusted Alex points out that he doesn't even care about his dead assistant.

Meanwhile, the remainder of Mark's gang have managed to get separated. The woman finds the pack of giant rats in her tunnel and flees, screaming, so the two get reunited just in time to be swarmed and devoured by the giant rats.

An alarm goes off at Dr. Travis's clinic, waking her up. She discovers Bobby has broken out of his room and run off into the woods. Guards with dogs chase Bobby down, as a car carrying another guard and Travis cuts him off. Travis barely manages to stop the guard from shooting Bobby, sending his shot wild. Bobby's reaction is to just calmly say, "I hate you, Dr. Travis," and spit at her.

She calls Hamilton, telling him that they're running out of time because Bobby won't stop growing and his strength is making him dangerous. She's had to sedate him. Hamilton ensures her that he can have an antidote if she gives him one more day. He then heads off with Joshua, a Rottweiler, and a couple assault rifles to find the rats and destroy them. On the way in to a campus building they pass Mary Anne after her drunk date, Carlos (Eduardo Castillo) has excused himself to go pee behind a bush. Mary Anne tries to chat up Hamilton and get him to bring her along, but he just politely tells her she can't come. So she goes to look for Carlos and literally trips over him because he was apparently lying on the ground waiting for her to come find him,

In the access tunnels under the campus, Hamilton and Joshua think they have found a rat but it's just the weird janitor on a motor scooter who assures them nothing is going to sneak up on him. On the surface, Mary Anne and Carlos are getting hot and heavy on the ground--even though I can't imagine anything less sexy than doing it on the ground near one of you just pissed, Unfortunately, he has to pee again and he wanders a ways off with his pants around his knees to sing "La Cucaracha" while peeing. Unfortunately, a giant rat then bursts out of the bushes and--defying expectations--bites him on the bare ass. Carlos flees as best he can, screaming, as Mary Anne oddly assumes he's just being an asshole. And so, poor Carlos gets a truly undignified death as he stumbles out in front of a car.

In the tunnels, Hamilton and Joshua find the gnawed torso of the dead exterminator and Joshua vomits. Further away, the janitor hears the rats squealing like pigs all around him. He speeds away on his scooter when one bites his leg. Hamilton and Joshua have just realized the area where they found the remains of the exterminator leads into the sewer and the dog will be no help tracking the rats in water. Hearing the janitor scream, Hamilton rushes toward the sound. Naturally, this allows the janitor to appear seemingly okay, in order to dramatically collapse and reveal his back has been ripped open.

Meanwhile, two other students go to their cars and one discovers a rat was waiting in his backseat to ambush him once he drove off, so he could have a fatal accident with his companion. At the site of the accident in the morning, Hamilton and Weizel discuss the fact that the campus should be shut down. Weizel declares it's not his call, and Dean White appears on the scene to argue that it was nothing but a car accident--despite one victim missing his liver. Hamilton also mentions Carlos, who had "half his ass bitten off." The Dean declares that to be for the police to decide and tells Hamilton that he knows what keeps the University running and the pool building will open on schedule that evening, when loads of wealthy alumni will be present.

Hamilton returns to his lab to find Delhurst snooping in his files and throws him out. He then sits agt his computer and...decides to inject himself with the growth hormone. Suddenly, Mary Anne shows up and the two instantly disrobe and begin having sex on top of his plants. She doesn't notice that suddenly his hands are gigantic. And then suddenly both of them are freaking out because Hamilton has turned into a giant, though presumably we know one part of him hasn't grown yet since she hasn't snapped like a twig.

"Oh God, Smiling Bob lied about the side effects!"
Naturally, it was just a nonsensical dream. Alex shows up and they awkwardly converse, before Joshua comes in telling of a great idea: a female rat in heat will seek out male rats. All they need is to inject a female rat in heat, fit her with a radio tracker, and she'll lead them right to the nest. Of course, they already have a female rat in heat--but Hamilton refuses to give up his pet. Alex makes a crack about him loving the rat more than her, as Hamilton assures them both that they will find another rat as Alex goes to get sewer plans and Joshua goes to find and test the radio equipment they need to make sure it works underground.

Well, Joshua uses a remote controlled car and teddy bear to test it--don't ask me how--but that means he manages to find one of the rats and it mauls him before a nearby cop can drive it off. Alex brings Hamilton the plans for the sewer just as he tells her he thingks he has an antidote--but then both of them are summoned to the tunnel by Weizel.

They're just in time for Joshua to request one last cigarette from Hamilton before telling him the radio equipment works and then dying. Dean White shows up and even Weizel now tells the man that something has to be done--so the Dean tells them all that the exterminators have been called in and that he wants as many men as Weizel can spare on watch. Alex objects that they have a plan that might work but the Dean ignores her and goes to leave when Hamilton physically attacks him, After Weizel and another cop restrain Hamilton, he is informed that he is fired.

Meanwhile, Delhurst has somehow gotten ahold of the hormone and also has a giant white rat in a carrier. Clearly this is Hamilton's white rat, which seems a rather odd move on Delhurst's part since hes's already stealing from his colleague. Delhurst speaks into a tape recorder and decides that the hormone may hold the key to curing baldness, so he takes some of the cells from the bald spot on that strapped down dog and injects them with the hormone. As he observes sped-up footage of bacteria reproducing under his microscope, he observes that the cells are rapidly reproducing, "Mitosis at the speed of light!"

And then he manages to cut his thumb on the microscope slide while poking it. When he washes his wound, he suddenly sees strange growths on his face in the mirror. As he contorts in pain, goo begins to flow from pustules in his skin--and then the camera hilariously manages to catch the hands of the person pumping the fluid through his make-up rig. Delhurst's toupee falls off and he continues to turn into a lumpy mutant covered in air bladders and oozing fluids until he falls to the floor, dead.

"Help, I've fallen in the tapioca vat again!"
Hamilton and Alex return to his lab to find Delhurst left the lab fridge wide open (!) after stealing the formula, and they notice that Hamilton's pet rat is gone. They rush to Delhurst's lab with the antidote and discover he has turned into a pile of goop on the floor. Figuring out some of what must have happened, Hamilton proceeds to dump all of his beaker of antidote onto Delhurt's remains. The remains promptly turn black and cease growing. Hamilton is excited that the antidote works, though I can't help but notice that it killed the cells it was supposedly curing. Not gonna help Bobby much, is it?

Seeing that Louise the rat is now gigantic, they decide they have to use her in the plan after all. Meanwhile, after "The Star-Spangled Banner" is sung, Dean White greets the crowd--largely to "boos"--in order to dedicate the opening of their new sports complex. Divers leap from the high dives into the pool at this, and then the Dean announces that their synchronized swimming competition is about to begin and none of those in attendance will ever forget this night.

Alex and Hamilton are busy tracking Louise in the sewers. They find the skull of one of Alex's dead friends, and then discover the trail has led them somewhere with chlorinated water. Oh yes, it is indeed time for the rats to crash the synchronized swimming competition. Quickly, they devour several of the swimmers before climbing out of the pool and attacking the audience. And whatever else I can say about the rest of the movie, this sequence is amazing.

Well, now you know the dark truth of why that Olympic pool turned green.
As the rats tear through extras like tissue paper, a small boy cowers under the bleachers and sees Louise there, peacefully watching him. For some reason, he smiles at seeing her instead of being freaked out by seeing another giant rat. Meanwhile, Dean White finds himself trapped on the high dive after a rat chases him up there. Mary Anne (I think) is also up there and he tries to offer her to the rat instead, but rats can smell a grim comeuppance miles away and so the Dean ends up backing away from the rat until he plunges off the diving board--onto the tile.

Mary Anne's fate is left for us to decide.

Hamilton and Alex arrive in time to see a swimming pool full of gnawed body parts through the lower viewing window. Up top, Weizel and his officers have just arrived and begun shooting the rats. Unfortunately, some of their shots hit civilians and then one panicked individual grabs the gun from an officer who slipped on the floor and he ends up shooting more humans than rats until Weizel wrestles the gun from him.

When Alex finds the little boy and Louise, Hamilton gets an idea and tells Weizel to have his men wait in the courtyard with their guns. He then grabs a guy with an electric guitar and an amp and has him play "Three Blind Mice." Naturally, Louise follows and the other rats follow her past all the scared survivors standing off to the side--though one rat does stop to kill a guy on the way. Unfortunately, Weizel doesn't listen to Hamilton's request to let him get the white rat out of the way first and simply orders his men to gun them all down.

A wounded Louise sees Alex still inside the building and smashes through the window to get at her. Alex finds herself trapped, but as Hamilton and Weizel rush to her aid, Louise succumbs to her wound mere feet from her would-be victim. Hamilton then thinks to call Dr. Travis to tell her he has the antidote, but when she answers she tells him Bobby is out of control and dangerous--and then a huge rubber hand grabs her head. After killing Dr. Travis, Bobby escapes into the night. The End?

"Nobody cry when Jaws die. Everybody cry when Louise fail to kill Alex."
Well. That was certainly a movie.

It's tough to quantify a film like Gnaw: Food of the Gods II because it manages to be a truly awful film one minute, a delightfully incompetent unintended comedy the next, and then suddenly it pulls off an amazing monster massacre sequence.

On the one hand, this is not a good movie. It's poorly written, oddly dubbed at times, and features such delights of laziness as visible boom mics and--again--the actual hands of the special effects crew. There also isn't really a single character in the film that is worth rooting for, as the characters are either assholes or hollow characterizations that leave no impression. Occasionally they're both! The film's soundtrack also varies from vaguely inappropriate to outright bad depending on the scene.

The special effects overall are a fascinatingly mixed bunch. Like Bert I. Gordon's film, there are lots of shots with actual live rats on miniature sets. (Hopefully all the rat death in this one was simulated, unlike its predecessor--especially since it would be amazingly tone deaf to have your main characters be stridently opposed to animal testing because of the cruelty involved and then commit actual animal cruelty) There's also some full scale rat puppets and, I think, a couple rat suits. The prop rats are a mixed bunch, as most of the scenes with them are pretty effective but a few just look silly--like the shots of the prop Louise head that are hilariously bad.

The effects for the giant humans are interestingly mixed, as well. Our first look at Bobby and the shot of giant Hamilton banging tiny Mary Anne are really pulled off well, and the giant rubber hand that interacts with Mary Anne looks pretty good. However, the rubber hand that kills Dr. Travis (or Dr. Treger if you listen to the end credits) is truly woeful.

However, in spite of its many flaws, I found myself really enjoying this film. It builds to a truly delightful climax of carnage and there's some other fun bits along the way. If you go in expecting it to be nothing more than a silly romp with some killer rats, you'll have a grand time.

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