Village of the Giants (1965) -**
You had to feel a little sorry for Bert I. Gordon in the mid-1960’s. All the guy really wanted to do, or so it seems, was make cheap-ass movies about big-ass monsters, but outside of Japan, nobody was much interested in paying for those movies to be made after about 1962. Sure, he’d get another chance in the 70’s, but the years between The Magic Sword and Food of the Gods must have been rough on old Bert. Embassy’s Village of the Giants, ostensibly derived from the same H. G. Wells story as the latter-named 70’s monster rat movie, looks to my eye like a good indicator that Gordon was in fact feeling at least some of the sheer desperation that one would expect to afflict a filmmaker who was being effectively prevented from working on the kind of projects he really loved. In much the same vein as the sci-fi/horror beach party hybrids American International had been making recently, and in a tone that contrasts starkly with most of the monster films Gordon made both before and afterward, it offers up a combination of giant monsters and singing, go-go dancing teenagers— and if you’re smart , that’s an offer you’ll turn down right quick.
We begin with a surreal scene indeed. It’s raining heavily, and a ‘64 Thunderbird hardtop lies in apparently non-functional condition (but not visibly wrecked— that would have cost money) atop a large heap of mud and rocks. No sooner have we decided that whoever was driving the car is probably dead than both doors open to dislodge, in clown-car fashion, a group of eight typically overaged 60’s-movie teenagers. Since I never was able to figure out the names of more than a couple of this sorry bunch, I’ll just dub the lot of them the Eight Ass-Clowns and be done with it. Anyway, the first thing the Eight Ass-Clowns do upon exiting their crippled vehicle is pair off to begin go-go dancing frenetically and rolling about in the mud. Who can say why? Whatever their reasons, though, they soon tire of this impromptu amusement, and decide to make the three-mile hike to the nearest town, where they will seek more organized forms of excitement.
Meanwhile, in said town, two more overaged 60’s-movie teenagers by the names of Mike (Tommy Kirk, from Mars Needs Women and Blood of Ghastly Horror) and Nancy (In the Year 2889’s Charla Doherty) are busily making out in the basement of the girl’s house. They are interrupted, however, when Nancy’s twelve-ish brother, Genius (Ron Howard— yes, that one), emerges from his homemade laboratory to show them the beaker full of explosives he’s just cooked up. I’m sure you can predict the exact nature of the supposed hilarity that ensues. In the aftermath of the explosion, Mike notices an odd reaction taking place in one of Genius’s beakers, where some of the volatile chemicals landed after blowing up. When the explosive solution hit whatever was already in the other beaker, the resulting mixture turned pink, viscous, sludgy, and opaque, and began rapidly increasing in volume. Genius has no idea what the stuff might be, but initially figures he’ll worry about that later— he’s got a damn big mess to clean up, after all. But when the family cat comes in and begins licking the pink stuff (isn’t that just like a cat, too…), and suddenly grows to a height of nearly six feet and a weight of easily 500 pounds as a consequence, Genius and the two teens realize they’ve got a discovery of real significance on their hands. As an experiment, Mike goes outside and feeds some of the stuff to the two ducks Nancy has roaming around in her back yard (again, who knows why?), with the result that they, too, become instantly enormous. The trouble is, the giant ducks go wandering off while Nancy, Mike, and Genius are distracted by daydreams of all the money they’re going to make from selling their mysterious pink goo to farmers around the country as a feed additive. With two eight-foot ducks waddling around town, it won’t be long before their secret gets out, so the three kids speed off in pursuit of the wayward waterfowl. Unfortunately for our young agribusiness entrepreneurs, the ducks wind up at the same dance club (Giant, go-go dancing ducks! I repeat, giant, go-go dancing ducks!) as the Eight Ass-Clowns, who rapidly get a similar get-rich-quick idea in their heads.
Naturally none of the Eight Ass-Clowns has the intellectual wherewithal to synthesize the growth goo on their own, so if they plan to use it to transform themselves into the Eight Stinking Rich Ass-Clowns, they’re going to have to steal either the formula or a sample of the goo from Genius, Mike, or Nancy. And because Genius has yet to figure out precisely what the formula is, the espionage efforts rapidly shift toward theft of a sample. The Eight Ass-Clowns have little difficulty breaking into Nancy’s house while she, her brother, and her boyfriend are at the park go-go dancing to some really horrendous music, but in doing so, they accidentally set off the experimental burglar alarm with which Genius had recently rigged his lab. In the only moment in Village of the Giants that makes any kind of sense (this is exactly the kind of burglar alarm I would have thought of when I was ten or twelve years old), setting off the alarm causes a cascade of fireworks rockets to shoot up from the roof of the house, bringing everyone at the park hurrying over to see just what in the hell is going on. Mike and his friends come out slightly ahead in the ensuing brawl/catfight between them and the Eight Ass-Clowns, but the latter manage to get away with the only existing beaker of growth goo anyway.
This is where we see just how richly the Eight Ass-Clowns deserve the sobriquet that I have given them. Recall that their aim in stealing the growth goo was to make themselves rich by selling it to farmers. So what do they do with it, now that it’s in their possession? They fucking eat it! And for no better reason than that Ass-Clown Rick (Time Walker’s Robert Random) dares the rest of them to! It’s a good thing, then, that Ass-Clown headquarters happens to be an abandoned theater. For one thing, it’s just about the only building in town that has any internal space large enough to accommodate eight 30-foot ass-clowns. For another, there are several boxes full of huge swatches of gaudy fabric for making set dressings in the wings of the stage— the Eight Ass-Clowns may have grown, but their clothes didn’t!
Tell me something… If you were a teenage ass-clown, and you and your seven closest friends suddenly found yourselves 30 feet tall, what do you think you would do? If you said, “Take over the town, daddy-o!” then you would be on the same wavelength as your fellows in the movie. It apparently doesn’t take much to conquer a podunk town in Southern California, either. All you have to do is kidnap the sheriff’s pre-schooler daughter and hold her for ransom. Then you can make the cute little adults jump through all the hoops you want (curfews, chaperones, etc.)— at least until a bunch of rather squarer teenagers who are much smarter than you come along to attack you with their hotrods, and bring with them a boy genius and his newly invented shrinking gas.
I’ve seen a lot of crappy H. G. Wells adaptations in my time, but Village of the Giants takes the cake. I mean, this is some serious rolling-over-in-one’s-grave material here. Obviously the only thing it has in common with its supposed source is a mysterious chemical that makes livestock— and a few other, less friendly things— huge, and even that it comes by through a completely different means from the story. But even if we ignore all that, we’re still left with a stunningly wretched movie. Unless you really love go-go dancing, Village of the Giants has almost nothing to offer. It’s one of those movies that makes you squirm in your seat out of vicarious embarrassment, consumed by the shame that its creators evidently lacked the sense to feel. None of its feeble attempts at humor are nearly as funny as the naked fact that such a film was even released in the first place, the staggeringly poor quality of the writing should be evident from the preceding synopsis, and the acting is every bit as bad as you’d expect from a cast in which both lead players went on to make movies for Larry Buchanan. On the other hand, where else are you going to see Toni Basil— you know, the one who made a brief stir early in the 80’s by recording “Hey, Mickey!” and then dressing up like a cheerleader in what has to be history’s shoddiest music video— in a thermonuclear red wig, gyrating spastically for the amusement of a toga-clad, 30-foot Beau Bridges?