There could probably be some arguments made about just exactly when teenagers became a real force to be considered in American society, and anybody making the case for the mid-1960s being that time has a good chance of winning the debate. I’ll leave that matter for now and instead focus on what one savvy filmmaker did with the emergence of the mid-60s teen phenomenon. B-movie cult hero Bert I. Gordon did with that situation what a good exploitation film director should do: he exploited it. His 1965 teenage camp romp Village of the Giants is a low-budget gem that features great music, giggle-inducing goofy special effects, some big names for a small budget film, and an inventively fun way to see the emergence of the day’s adolescents.
Co-written by Gordon (who also produced, as well as directed) and based loosely on H.G Wells’s 1904 novel The Food of the Gods, this is a multi-genre romp that features elements of sci-fi, zany comedy, and ‘60s teen beach movie. But it’s all camp, all the time (well, maybe apart from the music scenes, which are just plain rockin’ – more on that in a few). The, um, story goes as such: Beau Bridges plays the leader of a group of beautiful, privileged-yet-rebellion-minded teens from L.A., who have their joyride shut down by a landslide when they are cruising near the humble (and fictional) town of Hainesville. Since they can’t make their car move them anywhere else for the time being, they decide to wander (well, I think they actually get there via the Watusi) into the small burg to see what kind of trouble they can stir up.
That gang doesn’t know then, but will soon find out, that some interesting things are happening in Hainesville. A boy genius – who happens to go by the name Genius, and who is played by young Ron Howard – who likes to dabble with science experiments, has accidently created a gooey, strawberry-colored concoction that, when ingested, turns its devourer into a giant. This can happen when domestic animals, spiders, and ducks swallow the stuff, and it can happen with people. Bridges’s character and his gang are in the town for roughly 10 minutes before learning about all this; they do so at a go-go club where the young ravers are treated to the groovy sounds of The Beau Brummels. They immediately set about employing various kinds of trickery to get their hands and mouths on Genius’s wonder brew, and when they pull this off is when things really get going in Gordon’s film. As the now oversize adolescents set about dominating the town, at play are the dual conflicts between teens and adults, and big city showoffs versus modest small town folk.
There’s a lot to like in this film, besides the funny plot and all the silly sight gags like the giant creatures and people. There’s the pleasing music scenes, such as the aforementioned one, and another wherein Freddy “Tallahassee Lassie” Cannon rocks up a cookout with a happening tune that gets the people momentarily more interested in grooving than dining. There’s Toni Basil (yes, that Toni Basil) who has a cool look going and who utilizes her considerable dancing skills in a couple different and wildly entertaining scenes; Basil also choreographed the dance scenes for the movie. There’s the fun in seeing the likes of Bridges and Howard in early roles; Mickey Rooney’s son Tim also figures in, as does Johnny Crawford, who played Chuck Connors’s character’s son in the TV show The Rifleman. One of the better bits of eye candy in this film comes about in the scene in which Crawford’s character gets trapped on the bra straps of one of the giant girls. Music buffs will also be pleased to know that the main soundtrack sounds were created by Jack Nitzsche, the unheralded but significant music maker, producer, and arranger who collaborated with the likes of Phil Spector, The Rolling Stones, and Neil Young.
I just watched the movie for about the fourth time. I’ve seen it before with friends when we were all slurping booze, laughing together, and freeze-framing and repeating key moments and scenes. I’ve seen it in other settings, and today I made it my morning watch – before writing this I had to clean up the coffee splotches created by my own spit takes that were prompted by some of the images and dialogue. The only real bummer here is that I have yet to see the movie the way it really should be seen: at a drive-in theater.
Brian Greene writes short stories, personal essays, and reviews and articles of/on books, music, and film. His work has appeared in over 20 publications since 2008. His pieces on crime fiction and film have been published by Noir Originals, Crime Time, Crimeculture, Paperback Parade, Mulholland Books, and Stark House Press. He is a regular contributor to The Life Sentence crime fiction web site, and Shindig! music magazine. Brian lives in Durham, North Carolina. He can be found on Twitter @brianjoebrain.
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