Sequels to two of the most infamously awful good bad movies, and another that's a bit of a classic. Stuffed rats, plastic alligators and CGI snakes ahoy!
Food of the Gods II (1989)
Country: Canada | Runtime: 91mins | Director: Damian Lee
Starring: Paul Coufos, Lisa Schrage, Real Andrews, Stuart Hughes, Karen Hines
Scientists at a university lab seek ways to cure cancer, end hunger and save a little boy from a severe case of gigantism.
That synopsis doesn’t get across just how vague and meandering the plot to Food of the Gods II really is. There are several narratives that occasionally intersect, but we’re never quite sure what the ultimate goal of our protagonist actually is. Neil Hamilton (Coufos) seems to be working on a means to supersize food. But after an old colleague begs him for help in the shrinking of a massively oversized boy in her custody (don’t ask, if the movie doesn’t want to explain itself I’m not going to try), he’s forced into testing his growth drug on rats for some reason. They immediately escape. For the rest of the movie Hamilton keeps claiming to be working on the antidote to the boy’s, erm, ailment(?), but all we see him do is run about chasing the rats. Meanwhile numerous subplots stumble along in the background: students protest against animal testing by smashing stuff up; a jealous rival scientist sneaks about stealing things; the dean allows his narcissism to compound the giant rat crisis, etc.
"Since when did a car eat your liver?"
The filmmakers’ attention is pointed elsewhere. Usually in these movies we’re given little more than character names as a means of filling out the background world. But Island Claws cares more about its various melodramatic subplots than it does its monsters. There are Haitian refugees who arrive by homemade sailboat and trigger a xenophobic manhunt of Trumpian fervour. Our ostensive lead, a profoundly forgettable pair of tight shorts called Pete (Hanks) is an orphan in love with the daughter of the power station’s manager, a dynamic that creates tensions among his island community buddies. Among them is acerbic bar owner Moody (Lansing), who blames the girl’s father for the death of Pete’s parents, and so on. There is scope for endless intrigue at the power station, in the lab and among the townspeople, with streams of characters introduced and multiple relationships established. Just what you want in a giant crab movie.
Dead bodies soon start turning up, but Hamilton seems to be the only one who’s concerned. After a fruitless trip into the three miles of corridors under the university that house the heating system (nice cheap way to fill half an hour of screen time) he eventually remembers that rats love electric guitar! Luckily there’s a guy standing around with one. Several minutes of Three Blind Mice later and all the rats are gathered in one place where even the incompetent local police are able to massacre them without too much trouble.
This sequel is much gorier and more violent than the original movie, which is obviously a good thing. But it’s also less ambitious with the photography, which makes the giant animals slightly more believable. They’re still funny bad, but we have to rely on more general ineptitude for most of the laughs.
Luckily my copy of the movie is open gate 4x3, so there’s a more than welcome sprinkling of boom mikes (one shot features both the boom and its reflection) and even the occasional effects artist visible in the corner of the frame. They can be seen wielding a stuffed rat head, holding cables out of the way and even operating a gunge pump that spews puss out of a diseased man’s face. But what of the gigantic child, surely he was cured? Well, no. Instead of saving the boy, Hamilton tried to save his favourite rat from the massacre. The movie ends with the now hundred-feet-tall child escaping and going on the run, clearly a setup for the proposed sequel to the sequel. Like that was ever going to happen.
Video: One Minute of Food of the Gods II
Carolco/Artisan Home Entertainment
Alligator II: The Mutation (1991)
Country: USA | Runtime: 92mins | Director: Jon Hess
Starring: Joseph Bologna, Dee Wallace, Richard Lynch, Woody Brown, Steve Railsback
Hodges (Bologna) is a tough cop who doesn't play by the rules. When bodies start turning up in and around the local lake he suspects an alligator might be the culprit. With Mayor Anderson (Bill Daily) in the pocket of crooked developer Vince Brown (Railsback), Hodges is forced to investigate on the quiet.
The original Alligator was a surprise critical and commercial success (up to a point) on its 1980 release. The inventive script, penned by a young John Sayles, strikes a similar tone to the writer's earlier work on Piranha: not quite tongue-in-cheek, but not entirely sincere either. This unrelated and belated sequel lacks all the first film's subtlety and creativity, but is similarly hard to pin down in terms of tone. It's not clear whether it's going for the same sort of wry self-awareness, or if it's just an inadvertently funny slapdash B-movie. If it's the former then it's way too heavy handed, but looking at the other credits of writer Curt Allen and director Jon Hess, it seems unlikely Alligator 2's qualities are intentional.
“You know how women are, first sign of trouble and they get hysterical.”
The characters are all amusingly turbocharged by cliché, to the point that Dee Wallace is cast in the wife/mother role. I assume Dee Wallace was born a fully-grown sympathetic maternal figure in around 1980, she’s essentially the decade’s mom. But every character is defined and played to the power of 10. Bologna approaches the wild card cop in exactly the same way as Emilio Estevez in Loaded Weapon. In fact that's a good way of describing most of the performances. Those absurdist ZAZ comedies like Airplane and Naked Gun tend to feature heightened and exaggerated caricatures, but they're essentially being played straight. If you put Ted Striker or Frank Drebbin in a serious (but bad) police procedural, they wouldn't have to change a thing about their performances. Likewise Hodges could be transplanted straight into Police Squad and he'd be hilarious. Railsback's villain, Richard Lynch's bizarre Cajun 'gator hunter, rookie sidekick cop Harman (Brown), they're all as over the top and on the nose as you can get without spoofing something.
“We suspect the alligator may have a bomb in it!”
So the script and the performances are both funny, but it's a funny that bubbles along beneath the surface providing few laugh-out-loud moments or quotable lines. That's not a criticism, this is a great movie, and one of the reasons is it gleefully ignores the rules. The hero is both a family guy cop popular with the local community, and a renegade bad ass cop who doesn't do what the mayor tells him. He's Riggs and Murtaugh. Proper movies can't do that, but Alligator 2 doesn't give a shit. It wants to have its dismembered, bloody corpse and eat it too.
“I understand you are professionals but this is not a professional alligator.”
These giant killer animal movies work through progression. First the audience learns of the horrible beast, then a sympathetic character will put two and two together, but nobody will believe them. After a while they'll persuade someone who was hitherto unconvinced, and eventually the boss/mayor/chief of police will accept most of the facts, but inevitably believe the problem can be handled cheaply/quietly/locally. It never can. Only at the end of the movie will everyone be fully aware of the nature of the threat, and invested in what needs to be done to kill it. Each of these developments is traditionally preceded by an escalation in the beast's assaults, a new discovery, or some other device. Alligator 2 doesn't bother itself with such nonsense (as I said, it just doesn't give a shit). If it serves the scene for the chief of police to believe in the alligator, then he believes in the alligator. If it doesn't, then he doesn't. It's quite liberating and it keeps you on your toes. It's also a good way to be a bad movie without being boring.
As any police officer will tell you, it's important to have a small child present when fishing limbs out of ponds.
Anaconda 3: The Offspring (2008)
Country: USA/Romania | Runtime: 91mins | Director: Don E. Fauntleroy
Starring: David Hasselhoff, Crystal Allen, Ryan McCluskey, Patrick Regis, John Rhys Davies
A sinister billionaire funds a secretive research facility seeking a cure for cancer. Unsurprisingly their 100ft anaconda escapes. More surprisingly, David Hasselhoff is the only man who can catch it.
Jumping from bad 80s movies to bad post-millennium movies always reminds me how much these genre things have changed. Nowadays, cheap technology solves many of a talentless filmmaker's problems. Modern digital cameras can autofocus and allow actors a cheap second take when they stumble over their lines. Home editing software means directors can tinker with their masterpiece until they've worked out how to get from one shot to another without giving the audience whiplash, etc. Instead of pushing the limits of technical incompetence, modern filmmakers seek new heights of stupidity in their work. For example, the research facility that features in Anaconda 3 is in Romania. That means we're expected to believe the world's two leading snake trackers were both hanging out in rural Eastern Europe just minutes away from the lab's remote location. Surely snake trackers would be where snakes are, and a brief Internet search tells me Europe has fewer snakes than every continent except Antarctica. Not bothering to come up with a solution to a screenplay problem like that is a perfect demonstration of the contempt modern schlock filmmakers have for their audience's intelligence. Another is the way we spend most of the movie watching Hammett (Hasselhoff) chasing the snake, unloading unfeasible amounts of ammunition into it and constantly telling everyone else to do the same. Then in the movie's dying moments we learn Hoff is actually a double agent trying to keep the beast alive. Literally everything he has said and done up to that point is at odds with the twist. But, hey, they wanted the twist and the action.
"Where there's blood, there's more blood."
Laziness is prevalent throughout. We get stock footage establishing shots, flashbacks to things that happened within the last five minutes, and appalling CGI. The elite snake tracking team are dressed like skaters and armed with submachine guns (before they know the snake they're hunting is unusually large). Do snake trackers really favour submachine guns? There's no respect given to the realities of a snake's feeding and digestive processes, it just kills everything and swallows it whole. By the halfway point it should look as bloated and lumpy as Hasselhoff. We see a giant anaconda in the opening seconds and throughout the movie it just randomly pops up to eat people, there's never any attempt to build tension or establish an atmosphere. It makes for an interesting hacktor case study, though. Within ten minutes we've learnt all we need to know about Hasselhoff and Rhys-Davis as thespians. Hoff is almost supernaturally awful. He's never delivered an honest line in his life, and here he can't even run believably. He's taking it seriously, trying his best, he just can't do it. Rhys-Davis, on the other hand, is the definition of a pro. He gives it his all and sells every moment. In an ideal world he would only play abrasive billionaires.
"That factory is everything a giant snake would want in a home."
Anaconda 3: The Offspring was shot back-to-back with its sequel, Anacondas: Trail of Blood. That means we don't even get a conclusion, the ending just sets up the next installment. It's like the last few moments of a mid-series episode of 24. We think the villain has been overcome but, oh no, there's actually another villain and another threat that we didn't tell you about. The lead character, Crystal Allen's Amanda Hayes, returns for the follow-up, but Hasselhoff’s Hammett does not. That raises serious questions about whether or not it's worth seeing, even if you've just invested 90 minutes in the first half.