DirectorBert I. Gordon
Release Date(s)1965 (February 22, 2022)
Studio(s)Berkeley Productions/Embassy Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: D
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
Bert I. Gordon was known for low budget science fiction films that dealt with dramatic changes in the size of human beings. The Amazing Colossal Man, Attack of the Puppet People, and War of the Colossal Beast used less-than-stellar special effects. He was even responsible for a giant arachnid crawling amok in The Spider aka Earth vs. The Spider. Another entry in Gordon’s filmography of freakish size change is Village of the Giants.
After a car wreck on the outskirts of town during a torrential rainstorm, eight “teenagers” (looking a lot older) start dancing in the mud for no apparent reason. This leads to rolling and piling onto one another in the mud. Eventually, they head to town, looking for some action at the local club.
Back in town, Mike (Tommy Kirk, Old Yeller) is making out with his girlfriend Nancy (Charla Doherty) when a huge explosion in the basement rocks the house. Nancy’s kid brother, “Genius” (Ronny Howard, The Andy Griffith Show), has just blown up his home-made laboratory. In the process, Genius has produced a pink goo that can enlarge animals, which he discovers after his dog eats some of it and grows to the size of an elephant. They feed the stuff to a couple of ducks, and they not only grow gigantic, they also waddle down to the club and start dancing with the kids, who take this unusual sight in stride and never miss a step.
When the kids from the car wreck get to town and learn about the growth substance, their leader, Fred (Beau Bridges, The Fabulous Baker Boys) determines to steal the formula so he and his pals can get rich quick. But first they steal some of the stuff, eat it, and zoom to gigantic proportions. Then they use their size to bully the good kids and show the adults that they’re no longer calling the shots. The townspeople seem oddly blasé about their town’s becoming a plaything for spoiled teenagers.
With Village of the Giants, loosely based on H.G. Wells’ The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth, Bert I. Gordon outdid himself with an idiotic screenplay, dismal special effects, dopey characters, and humor that falls flat. Where the giant teens and normal-sized folks are shown in the same frame, split screen is used, and the two pieces fail to mesh smoothly. To show the kids’ enormous size, Gordon mostly shoots them in a bunch from a low angle to avoid the expense of costly effects. The very few effects shots are unconvincing at best. During a pool party scene, one of the giantesses, Merrie (Joy Harmon) plucks up good kid Horsey (Johnny Crawford, TV’s The Rifleman), who hangs on for dear life to her halter top. This slightly risqué gag is only mildly amusing the first time and even less so when used again later. A pair of moth-eaten prop hairy legs stand in for Bridges’ own legs as cars speed around and through them. An inevitable David and Goliath scene finds Mike ducking Fred’s hurled spears. With Mike filmed from a high angle and Fred from a low angle, the sequence never shows the two adversaries in the same frame.
The cast contains several children of celebrities, namely Beau Bridges (son of Lloyd Bridge), Tisha Sterling (daughter of Ann Sothern), and Tim Rooney (son of Mickey Rooney). There are teases of nudity, with the females in various stages of undress, just enough to titillate. The film looks and sounds like a teenager’s dream of total power. When they achieve that power they crave, they do little with it other than intimidate, demand music they can dance to and huge quantities of food, lounge around in skimpy drapes-turned-togas, and look down upon the normal sized people with scorn.
The best actor in this odd picture is little Ronny Howard, who spouts a lot of difficult, scientific terms with ease and injects some life into his character while his older co-stars meander cluelessly throughout the film. He makes the part his own, persuading us of Genius’ enthusiasm and seriousness about his experiments. His character is aptly named. When he sees the horror his inadvertent invention has caused, he takes responsibility and creates a spray that will shrink the teens who have taken the town hostage.
Village of the Giants was shot by director of photography Paul Vogel on 35 mm film with spherical lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This brand new 4K restoration by StudioCanal (presented on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics) features pleasing color, but everything appears too bright and somewhat washed out. Complexions are a pleasant peach tone, and the girls’ make-up looks natural. The deep pink of the growth substance, Nancy’s pink blouse, the teens’ red and pink togas, and the thick yellow billowy smoke spraying from the back of Genius’ bicycle, really pop. Dancers are bathed in red light at the club. Much of the film is shot in daylight or with high-key lighting. The club dancing scenes somewhat duplicate a club’s interior, but they too are very bright.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio. Subtitles are provided in English SDH. Dialogue is clear throughout, though an intentional bit of distortion in the voices of the giant teens has been made to suggest their huge size. The Beau Brummels sing a few songs in the club sequence. Freddie Cannon sings later in the picture. Jack Nitzsche’s score attempts to stir up excitement for some of the stagnant scenes. The rock music by The Beau Brummels gives the film a dated flavor as well as indicating the film’s target audience. There are untapped opportunities to use sound: the giants’ footsteps could have thumped, a bit of camera shaking could have suggested the Earth moving as they walk, and their voices could have resonated with an intimidating boom.
Bonus materials include the following:
- Audio Commentary by Tim Lucas
- Trailer (2:36)
- The Magic Sword Trailer (2:42)
- Jack the Giant Killer Trailer (3:20)
Tim Lucas provides a thorough commentary, noting that the film has a “wealth of camp value.” The budget was a fairly generous $750,000. Tommy Kirk and Johnny Crawford both began their careers as Disney stars, Crawford as one of the original Mouseketeers and Kirk in a series of Disney feature films. The various filming locations are noted and an overview of Bert I. Gordon’s career is provided. He and his wife did the special effects for Village of the Giants and his other fantasy films. A flaw in the screenplay is not giving the protagonist, played by Tommy Kirk, enough to do. It’s Genius who comes to the rescue with a concoction to shrink the giant bullies. Second male lead Johnny Crawford doesn’t show up until 30 minutes in. Comparisons between the film and Gulliver’s Travels are made. Village of the Giants opened in 50 theaters in the New York/New Jersey area in 1965 with personal appearances by five of the film’s stars. The film made its TV debut in 1969. Tommy Kirk and Johnny Crawford died six months apart in 2021.
Village of the Giants is a silly film that isn’t bad enough to be entertaining, like Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space. The direction by Bert I. Gordon is poor. Scenes go on too long, evidently to pad the running time more than to propel the narrative. The main characters are poorly developed, and the special effects—even by mid-1960s standards—are far below par. Gordon would take another crack at adapting The Food of the Gods in 1976, using only the first part of the novel.
- Dennis Seuling