“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” The ad wizards who wrote that copy were certainly onto something when they created this memorable tagline, but Decider’s “Take Two” series was specifically formulated in a laboratory by the world’s foremost pop culture scientists to provide a second chance for movies that made a less than stellar first impression upon their original release.
I would have never gone to see The Food of The Gods by myself as a child, but my Dad owned a movie theater and I watched everything we had there. The 1976 sci-fi movie tells the frightening tale of bugs and rats that eat a mysterious substance, grow to gigantic proportions, and attack people. It gave me nightmares for days.
The movie, based on an H.G. Wells sci-fi novel originally published in 1904, received one solitary star (out of four) from Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times and Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it “a stunningly ridiculous mixture of science-fiction and horror-film cliches.” Gene Siskel of The Chicago Tribune said it had a “laughable script.”
But they were adults, and in 1976, I was not. For me, the movie was awesomely terrifying; I remember the kids who came to see it, mostly tweens and teens, who would come with their friends from junior high and scream, the girls screaming the loudest. We did well with that movie, and some of them came back the next night to scream some more.
I recently watched the movie as an adult on Tubi, and re-lived the screamier moments, like when giant rats the size of Jaguars descend on a house and start chewing into the windows, ready to attack three women inside. One of the women starts giving birth in the middle of it all, which is supposed to be a suspense builder, but looks unintentionally ridiculous.
My favorite scene is the one “love scene” where a hot and sexy microbiologist (Pamela Franklin) gets all horny with a hunter played by Marjoe Gortner, a former preacher turned B-movie star–, in the middle of the terror. As the horror music mounts, the camera pulls back to show the small white house surrounded by hundreds of huge, scary, and worst of all hungry rats. Crawling all over the house. Super creepy. The microbiologist character says to him, “If I told you how I felt right now, you’d think I was crazy…I want you to make love to me. It is crazy, isn’t it? At a time like this.” Meanwhile, the rats have surrounded the house and are going in for the kill, breaking the windows and squealing. Gortner turns to her and says “This is the first thing we will do when we get back to the mainland” and she says “It’s just that I don’t think we’ll ever get back.” (Needless to say, the two never get it on.)
That’s when the story kicks in and Gortner and the boyfriend of the pregnant girl realize after shooting the rats — who run into the lake — that the rats can’t swim. So they decide to blow up the dam and flood them out and drown the rats. It works and they kill the obnoxious, humongous rats and save the day. But then we see a bottle marked “F.O.T.G” floating into the river. The microbiologist says “I hope that stuff doesn’t get into the water” … as the we watch the stuff go into the water. This is followed by the cows drinking it, the cows getting milked by a machine, the dairy delivering the milk, and the end scene of innocent elementary school girls giggling, and a cute little girl drinking the tainted milk. No wonder I was terrifed.
See, this is exactly what Woodsy Owl was railing against!
I liked Mr. Skinner, the owner of the farm, who suddenly got all greedy and thought he could bottle the stuff and get rich fast, even as he saw that the white bubbling goop was turning chickens into godzilla-sized killer cluckers. But he didn’t care (because CAPITALISM). As everyone told him to get out of town before he gets clucked to death, and to get rid of the dangerous growth substance, he instead piled it into his car and tried to drive away. But before he got away, he is attacked and eaten by a giant rat, a satisfying conclusion to someone who has become a corrupt, greedy douchey rat.
Ida Lupino is great in the role as Mr. Skinner’s wife, whose character speaks with bad grammar and thinks her loser husband — who thinks he has struck gold with the mysterious substance — is a pig. Lupino, a British actress, was a legit movie star in her day, during the 1940s and ’50s. She co-starred in High Sierra with Humphrey Bogart and became a director by 1950, becoming the second female director to join the DGA. In the 1960s, she directed episodes of Bewitched, The Twilight Zone, and Gilligan’s Island. By the 1970’s she took small movie and television roles in Columbo, and Charlie’s Angels … and The Food of the Gods.
The special effects that Gene Siskel of The Chicago Tribune described as “rotten” actually look amusing now.
In one scene, Gortner attempts to destroy a massive wasp nest the size of a 100 foot tree, first using a shovel and then lighting it on fire. A few years ago, I attempted to destroy a wasp nest on the side of my parent’s house with a shovel, when my Dad came out and jokingly yelled “Food of The Gods!” As the two of us battled the nest he recalled, “That was the worst movie we ever had!”
What suddenly makes it the best worst movie are the awesomely terrifying lo-fi special effects, such as a guy being chased by a giant chicken on his way to be clucked to death, using double exposure. I watched the movie recently with a female friend to get the full effect, which included lots of screaming and “EEWWING!” My friend thought the gigantic maggots in the sink was a a note-to-self moment to not leave food in the sink.
If you want to watch a gross-out movie with your friends, while screaming “That is disgusting!” and acting like you are in junior high, this is a fun B-movie to watch.
Anka Radakovich is a screenwriter, author, and journalist whose work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Magazine. She was a former columnist for Details Magazine and British GQ. She lives in New York City’s Soho. Follow Anka on Twitter: @ankarad