Instinctively, you know there’s something special happening when a film opens with a half-dozen teens engaging in a muddy, rain-soaked frottage to a throbbing sensual soundtrack. And so – in all its go-go dancing fury – begins the 1965 feature Village of the Giants, starring Beau Bridges, Tommy Kirk and Ron Howard.
A group of juvenile delinquents led by Fred, having crashed their car, decide to have a mad mud dancing party instead of getting help.
And perhaps that would have been the end of the story, were it not for a random encounter with the invention of the town boy-genius. Played by “little” Ronny Howard, the kid is known to his older brother, and to the town in general, simply as “Genius”.
His invention, a malleable lump of a bright pink play-doh-like substance appropriately called ‘Goop’, causes anyone or anything that ingests it to grow 10 times bigger than its natural state.
Genius tests out his invention on a couple of hapless ducks that instantly grow to monstrous proportions and invade a local disco where The Beau Brummels are playing. Everyone celebrates good times with the dancing ducks. Much groovy shaking takes place.
That’s when the juvenile delinquents take notice that something in this town is mighty strange. Teens being teens, they vow to get their hands on the goop so that they can profit by it and, assumedly, buy new wheels.
Fred and the gang manage to steal the goop after a rumble with the town’s goodie-two-shoes teenagers (who can’t fight to save their lives) and retreat to an empty movie theatre where they lay low. In a moment of sophomoric, peer-pressuring dares, each member of the gang decides to eat a piece of goop, resulting in one of the movie’s great scenes.
As each grows to become 30-foot teenagers, they one by one burst out of their clothes almost revealing some nakedness. Of course, the girls in the group have ludicrously large busts, which were already threatening to tear apart their clothing before they ate the goop. The imagination can take over from there . . .
If Steven Spielberg had directed this scene, he surely would have used the same technology that brought Jurassic Park (1993) to the screen in order to show the post-goop growth shots.
Considering that the budget for Village of the Giants was considerably less than anything Spielberg has ever made (even in college), director Bert I. Gordon chose the cheaper, and arguably more charming, device of simply having the actors breathe in heavily, creating the ‘illusion’ that they were getting larger.
After sewing together clothing using the theatre curtains to create a decadently sublime pseudo-Roman ensemble, the kids (doing what any giant teenagers would) take over the town by kidnapping the sheriff’s daughter and dancing suggestively in the main square.
Once again, the seductive title theme, composed by Jack Nitzche, is used over the infamous town square dancing scene, which includes a local teenager grabbing onto the makeshift brassiere of one of the giant gals and holding on for dear life as she go-go’s her way to cinema history.
Eventually, Genius figures out an antidote to the Goop, but getting the teens to take a dose of their well-deserved medicine is no easy feat, even for a pint-sized brainiac.
Though unintentionally campy in parts, Village of the Giants survives as a lasting testament to the swinging but turbulent 60’s.
Adapted from an H.G. Wells book by Gordon who, not surprisingly, also made The Amazing Colossal Man, the film used gargantuan terrorising teenagers as a clear metaphor for then-contemporary fears about out of control youth.
Juvenile delinquent stories had been a popular theme dating back to the 1950’s – Giants simply took the genre and blew it up. Literally. The film served as a handicapped cautionary tale about youthful excess and the dangers of the scientific and technological advances of the day.
As a film, it might well have been forgotten were it not for the need of large volumes of cheap movies to use as television syndication fodder before the advent and eventual domination of cable TV.
More recently, after years of hanging on to the edge of obscurity, MGM finally released this time capsule of Bert I. Gordon’s genius on video, giving the opportunity to hordes of new viewers to discover a relic of trash cinema.
Or maybe Giants is more than that because there are a lot of trashy movies made but few of them leave in their wake such a lasting impression.
Maybe it was the novelty of seeing a young Beau Bridges and Ron Howard. Maybe it was the music urging you to get your go-go on. Maybe it was the image of that tiny teenager hanging off a pair of grotesquely large falsies. Or an exotic cocktail of so many ingredients that all you know at the bottom of it is that you are deliriously drunk.
The fountain that Freddy Cannon sings in front of is the same one seen in the opening of Friends.