Empire of the Ants/Jaws of Satan, Food of the God/Frogs

Directors - Bert I Gordon, Bob Claver, Bert I Gordon, George McGowan

Cast - Various

Country of Origin - U.S.

Discs - 3

Distributor - Shout Factory

Reviewer - David Steigman

Date - 05/26/15

Shout Factory, under the Scream Factory brand, has unleashed a quartet of classic ecology strikes back films on blu ray in a pair of fun creepy and occasionally campy double features.  These animal thrillers are two separate blu ray double feature releases sharing one disc each; Jaws of Satan and Empire of the Ants have been paired together for one blu ray double feature, while Frogs and Food of the Gods are the two films on Scream Factory’s other release. These releases because they have a very similar theme, make for a great double feature !

The Films
Empire of the Ants – ( 3.5 /5)

Jaws of Satan – (2.5/5)

Food of the Gods – (3 / 5)

Frogs – (4/5)

 

Bert I. Gordon, one of the pioneers of low budget “B” horror and science fiction movies from the 1950s. Among his delights are Earth vs. The Spider, The Amazing Colossal Man, Attack of the Puppet People and War of the Colossal Beast. Several of his films from the fifties were for AIP, American International pictures, where he continued on into the seventies using the same methods for filmmaking including his 1977 classic, Empire of the Ants. This film, based on an HG wells story, is a very basic tale of radioactive waste turning small animals into larger sized man-eating ones, which was a very common theme back in the fifties. Joan Collins (Tales from the Crypt, Dark Places) stars as a phony real estate agent who tries to “sell” property to would be home owners in the Florida everglades. What she and the rest of the cast do not know is that the entire surrounding area is being controlled by giant intelligent ants. Once the giant ants appear, Joan and the rest of the cast including Robert Lansing (4D Man, The Nest) get chased, eaten or taken control by the big bugs. The discovery that the ants are in total control of the island leads to a very surprising climax, making it a little different than the usual fare. Mr. BIG, as he was often referred as, was practically a one man show as writer, director and doing his own special effects in his 1950’s movies. In this film, he again uses the same tactics and gets moderate results. The special effects are what one would expect from a Bert I Gordon film, which is inconstant, with an added splash of mild gore. The films effects might be dated by today’s CGI effects, but the film is still a lot of fun, giving it that same popcorn feel as were Gordon’s older films. Upon watching the film for the umpteenth time, it still does succeed in holding suspense and having a creepy atmosphere as the humans try to escape. Back in the day this movie aired on TBS quite frequently and I never missed out on watching it!

In Jaws of Satan (aka King Cobra) a large cobra is stalking Father Farrow (Fritz Weaver). This cobra is believed to be Satan, who is seeking revenge on the priest whose ancestors were responsible for a curse being brought upon his parish. The king cobra bites a few victims and also summons other snakes to do some killing as well. Jaws of Satan is played straight, despite that there is a bit of hokum in this, such as how the grand opening of a dog racing track must happen no matter how many people get bitten by all the snakes or a pointless scene with some insane motorcyclist is going either rape or shoot, or maybe even possibly both to Dr. Maggie Sheridan (Gretchen Corbett).  Some of the snakes aren’t even poisonous, but the lack of attention to detail probably wasn’t a big priority.  The film, despite its flaws, is still entertaining with a few good snake scares and future Married with Children star Christina Applegate gets bitten!

Food of the Gods, another film from Bert I Gordon to bring back the fifties in 1976, is another one of his AIP films where he wore all the hats in the film. He wrote, produced, directed and did the effects and once again it shows. Just as with Empire of the Ants, Food of the Gods is based (ever so loosely) on an HG Wells story. A mysterious food appears on a remote island where Mrs. Skinner (Ida Lupino) is mixing with her chicken feed to feed the animals on her farm. Her chickens grow into giant size birds, but unknowingly, the food has also been digested by wasps and rats who also grow to large proportions and kill people on the island. The special effects for the rats are decent to good at best, but the wasps and big chicken do leave something to be desired. It’s still fun seeing Bert I Gordon using fifties techniques into the late seventies. Even though the movie has Marjoe Gortner and Pamela Franklin top billing, to me the real stars are Ida Lupino and Ralph Meeker both of which were leading actors in the classic era which was dominated by melodramas and Film Noir. Ida Lupino was a much respected actress who played a *tough woman* which was not common in the 1930s or 1940s. On her resume are some wonderful classics such as High Sierra, and Beware My Lovely,. She also went on to directing, including the classic thriller, The Hitch-hiker. Ralph Meeker was a fine actor, having played Mike Hammer in the all-time classic Kiss Me Deadly. Food of the Gods and another B movie schlocker Without Warning were two of the last films he appeared in.

Originally co-billed as an AIP double feature, with Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, the movie Frogs is another ecology thriller, this time it’s a horde of slimy animals, not only frogs, but, spiders, crabs, lizards, and alligators getting revenge on mankind for its use of pesticides. The entire film takes place on a private island where a wealthy family is planning to celebrate the 4th of July holiday. The patriarch of the family is none other than Ray Milland, who by 1972 had been acting in films for over 40 years. Among his cinematic highlights are Dial M for Murder, The Uninvited, Panic in Year Zero, The Premature Burial and Charlie Chan in London. A young Sam Elliott (Mask, Ghost Rider, Hulk, and The Big Lebowski) has a lead role as Pickett Smith, a photographer for an ecology magazine. Slowly but surely the entire cast are murdered in horrific ways to the creepy music of Les Baxter. Milland, as Jason Crockett is a very stubborn elderly man who will not halt the 4th of July festivities despite his family dying around him. He remains on the island to face the frogs in the grand finale. Out of the four films in these double features, I feel that Frogs is the best and most effective film in terms of horror, with some gore effects and an eerie musical score.

Audio/Video

Empire of the Ants - 3.75/5

Jaws of Satan -4/5

Food of the Gods -3.5/5

Frogs –4/5

 

Scream Factory’s blu ray presentation of Empire of the Ants / Jaws of Satan are above average. Both films, from MGM HD masters are 1080p with an AVC encode and are quite pleasing. Both films have solid grain structure, colors look about as bright as ever with great depth to them. These are the best both have ever looked. I found Jaws of Satan to have looked slightly better, but both are more than serviceable. Both films are in the original aspect ratio; 1:85: 1 and 1:78: 1 respectively

The same can be said for Scream Factory’s other double feature Food of the Gods / Frogs. Both of them looked very appealing, fine grain structure, no DNR was applied. Food of the Gods in its original aspect ratio of 1:85:1, is decent with the only trouble spots are the special effects scenes. Frogs looked a bit better, also in its original aspect ratio of 1:78:1. Colors to me were sharper and more vivid in Frogs, most likely due to no creature special effects. The audio for all four films is the same LPCM 2.0 and is perfectly fine for each release. No audio issues at all.

 

Extras

Empire of the Ants – 3.5/5

Jaws of Satan -1/5

Food the Gods – 3.75 /5

Frogs – 3/5

 

Most of the Scream Factory releases are loaded with extras, however with these double features, there are either not as many or simply none at all. This is most likely due to the fact that these films are all over thirty years old, some of the cast and crew may have declined to be part of the supplements and others could no longer be with us. But, as usual Scream has given out the best efforts that they most likely could for these films.

What they are of extras are always really good. All of the films have some kind of bonus material. Empire of the Ants has one major extra and that is a new audio commentary with Director Bert I. Gordon, which that alone makes this a very worthy release. But we also get a photo gallery, radio spots and a theatrical trailer. Jaws of Satan has the least amount of extras which are just a theatrical trailer for this film, Frogs and Food of the Gods. Bert I Gordon also does a commentary as the major extra for Food of the Gods, but on top of that, there is also a new interview with actress Belinda Balaski, a one minute radio spot, a photo gallery and a theatrical trailer. Frogs’ extras include new interview with Joan Van Ark, who played Karen Crockett in the film. We also get a one minute radio spot, a theatrical trailer and photo gallery to round it all off.

 

Overall

Empire of the Ants/ Jaws of Satan – 4/5

Food of the Gods/Frogs – 4/5

 

All four of these films are a lot of fun and recommended to those who love movies from this era. While none of these films will be all time award winning classics, all of them should have a great appeal to those interested in niche titles that have mankind at the mercy of nature.  Empire of the Ants, Jaws of Satan, Food of the Gods and Frogs all have a common theme in having animals attacking people. It’s all about their revenge on society ! The picture quality for all four films are very satisfactory and the extras, while not loaded, are still great. Highly recommended.