“And I thought we were pals.”
Bert I. Gordon and I shared a friend. He was one of Forry Ackerman’s favorite people, and when I would see Forry, he never failed to mention Gordon. Bert I. Gordon was once the king of schlock. He was as much a marketing genius as he was a filmmaker. Like William Castle, he knew how to find something zany and odd which was just different enough to bring in the audiences. I saw most of his films of the 60’s and 70’s at drive-ins where most of his films were shown in those days along with many of the Hammer and AIP Poe films from Roger Corman. If you look at the B films in the science-fiction/horror genres from that time, you will find them dominated by Gordon, Corman, and Castle. Gordon often used stories in public domain so that he didn’t have to pay a writer and he would adapt them with some clever “hip” idea and out would come a cheapie, but something that was always a hoot to watch. Previously you could only see Village Of The Giants in the television set where it was lampooned by those guys at Mystery Science Theater 3000, and I have that version. Now thanks to the folks over at Kino, there’s a respectable version out on Blu-ray, and every schlock or Bert I. Gordon fan needs to pick this one up.
Village Of The Giants was very loosely based on the H.G. Wells story The Food Of The Gods. It’s a source material Gordon would return to again under the actual story title. The basic idea was that there was this place where a special food caused animals to grow to very large proportions. It’s the perfect source material in an age where giant bugs or other creatures once dominated the movie screens, often caused by radiation. In this version the food is not a natural substance but the accidental creation of a young kid known only as Genius. To the rest of us he’s Opie (Andy Griffith Show), Richie (Happy Days) or an A-list director of films like Apollo 13, Willow, In The Heart Of The Sea and The Da Vinci Code. Here he’s a kid scientist who sets the film’s premise in motion.
When a group of rebels finds out about the “goo”, they take it and grow large as a dog, cat and spider did before them. They hang out in an abandoned theater where they make new fitting clothes because they burst out of their old ones. The girls are particularly focused on when the clothes bust open. There is no real nudity, as the girls quickly cover up the important parts during their growing spurts. Now these giant kids decide to rebel against the town and its law officers. They take the Sheriff’s (Turkel) daughter hostage and start making demands. The giant teens are pretty much led by Fred (Bridges). Meanwhile, the “decent” kids try to get Genius to create a reducing formula, and they hatch a plan to get it to the teens who have literally gotten too big for their britches. All ends well, and the teens are kicked out of town.
The film was almost a precursor to all of those Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello Beach Blanket films. Gordon knew exactly how to see this to the teens of the day. There’s plenty of 60’s rock music and dancing. The idea of teens having power over the establishment is of course the kind of thing that still appeals to teens today. While I’m no longer a teen, it was really a hoot to see this film again.
The other gimmick that Gordon used to sell the film after most studios passed was the idea of using the kids of other known actors. Ron Howard is the son of Lance Howard, who also appeared in the film as the deputy. Interestingly Ron Howard would appear on an episode of Irwin Allen’s Land Of The Giants as another genius character. Beau Bridges was the son of Lloyd Bridges, who was enjoying great success with Sea Hunt at the time. Tim Rooney was the son of Mickey Rooney, and Toni Basil was the daughter of Louis Basil. While all of those references are rather dated now, and both Ron Howard and Beau Bridges having acting children of their own, you can see how it added appeal to the drive-in crowd where these kinds of films reigned. The film also offers a glimpse of the water fountain that appears in the opening of Friends. Gordon, like William Castle, liked to come up with exciting names for the film process which wasn’t really anything at all. Here he marketed the film as filmed in Perceptovision. What was that, really? There were giants, yeah. Well, that’s Perceptovision for you.
Village Of The Giants is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30-35 mbps. The high-definition image presentation is likely not going to be one of those equipment show-off films. It looks pretty good for the 50-year-old budget film that it is. The split-screen stuff is more obvious now than it would have been at the movies, but it has been cleaned up nicely with no artifacts or scratches. The colors aren’t quite reference as some colors like reds and greens appear oversaturated. But that’s a product of the original film and has nothing to do with the restoration or transfer. The film also appears a bit overbright and washed out with whites in exterior shots. Again, this is low-budget 1960’s source material. Black levels are OK, and there’s not much use for black levels here, as none of it really plays out in any dark spaces. There is a rather nice bit of detail that punches through during the opening mud dancing scene that actually took me a little by surprise.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 is really a faithful reproduction of the original mono track. Dialog cuts through fine. Most of the music numbers come through quite well. Some of the score suffers a little from splatter, and I might have limited the highs and opted for a little bump in the lows. Subs don’t really figure into this thing. It’s a serviceable audio presentation that takes it for what it is. So should you.
There is a very interesting Audio Commentary by film historian Tim Lucas.
Only the Commentary.
Let me take this space to talk a little bit about Kino. For many years they had a reputation for pretty much putting out cheap titles with little or no restoration and zero bonus features unless they were previously offered. I’m impressed with the way this studio is going. They are upping their game in a big way and are including some serious films presented for the serious collector. Yes, they still put out schlock like this title, but honestly, someone has to. Most studios are not going to take a chance on films with rather limited appeal. But you should give their release announcements some attention, because there are some sweet titles already here and coming down the pike. You’re going to see a lot of those titles on this site being reviewed by our crew. I hope you’ll support these efforts. If they are able to continue this trend who knows what kinds of classics they may return from the dead. “Your guess is as good as mine.”