Marty McKee: Yeah, I know you’ve done a lot of different genres, but I’ve always wondered why that [giant animals]was so interesting to you.
Bert I. Gordon: [Pause] I don’t know. [Laugh]
Bert Gordon (AKA Mr. BIG, director of The Food of the Gods) doesn’t know why, and neither do I. I just know that I like movies that feature giant animals: giant rabbits, giant rats, giant sharks, giant snakes, giant insects (i.e., ants, wasps), giant women, giant lemurs, giant chickens, giant men, giant turtles, giant cephalopods (i.e., octopus, squid), giant monsters from space and the rare but delightful giant crustaceans (i.e., crabs).
I find it pretty darn scary to see a rabbit the size of a Clydesdale draft horse hopping through town chasing people. Why? Big things are scary (and sometimes worthy of admiration), for most of us anyway. Normal rats equals fun and gregarious; giant rats equals devious, ill-mannered and hungry.
In the 1970s a bunch of so called “eco-horror” flicks were produced to a modicum of success. Generally speaking, “eco-horror” films were about animals horribly mutated by man — by “man” I mean the pungent combination of science, ambition, grab-ass consumerism, lack of foresight and general stupidity and/or outrageous innocence. These included Night of the Lepus (1972) featuring big angry man-eating rabbits; The Food of the Gods (1976) featuring big angry man-eating rats; more recently Eight Legged Freaks (2002) featuring big angry people-eating spiders. Within the narrative, the oversized angry animals are the unpleasant and largely unexpected outcome of human folly. Symbolically, the oversized angry animals are, more or less, the outcome of the growing awareness of the potentially dangerous pressures humans put on the environment (biological and social).
However, that’s not why I’m interested. Why couldn’t a giant chicken simply exist? (In the past, we are told that lots of animals were bigger. Our prehistory was littered with bigger sharks, sloths, crocodiles, cockroaches and so forth. Why was stuff bigger in the past? And why, by extension, is stuff getting progressively smaller? I have no idea. But the sheer juxtaposition of giant-ness and chicken-ness is amusing. It is essentially the juxtaposition of the familiar with the unexpected. This creates a world that is both known and mysterious.
The monumental sculptures of everyday items (lipstick, pencils) by Claes Oldenburg can be viewed in a similar manner. But unlike Oldenburg’s vision, the dominating force in the parallel realities depicted on film seems to be Darwin’s survival of the fittest. The assumed position atop of the nutritional pyramid is no longer taken for granted. The relationship with the natural world (as embodied by the gargantuan bunny) is brought to mind numbingly terrifying focus as one that is taken for granted and increasingly alienated.
Yet this sudden shake-up brings about a conflict that ultimately reinforces the very tenets of anthrocentric values that it seems to be challenging. In other words, people have to get together to (a) believe that there is indeed a giant octopus about to tackle the Golden Gate Bridge and then (b) work together to stop it. In many ways, it is similar in the ways a riot brings people together, apart and then together again and then apart again. The moment of disorder or the jaunt through a parallel or wacky reality is (usually) brief. However, the economics of film and filmmaking never rules out another jaunt through the same territory via a sequel or two.
The bottom line is: watching giant hungry crabs are cool because I’m not sure I’ll ever be chased through a shopping mall by one in real life. Still, one can hope.
Paul Hong lives in Toronto.
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