Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Village of the Giants (Embassy, 1965)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I ran Charles an item in the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 box: one with Mike Nelson instead of Joel Hodgson as the host but still on the Comedy Central channel: the 1965 film Village of the Giants, producer-director-co-writer Bert I. Gordon’s first “take” on the H. G. Wells novel The Food of the Gods. (Eleven years later, Gordon would make a version of The Food of the Gods under Wells’ own title — and it wouldn’t get any better reviews than this one.) This is an uneasy mixture of teen exploitation movie and horror film, and interestingly the teen exploitation parts are better than the so-called horror, which would be unlikely to scare anybody: it starts in a muddy ditch by the side of a road, where a blue Thunderbird has run off the highway and lost a wheel and its teenage occupants — all of whom seem to be wearing polyester pants that have literally been molded on their bodies — get out and have a hot necking party in the mud that, quite frankly, is one of the two best things in the film. (The other is a song by the Beau Brummels — there were five of them and they were Americans, but they still come across as Beatles wanna-bes, though at least pretty good Beatles wanna-bes, good enough that I got annoyed that the MST3K crew were talking through their song.) Then for some reason they realize that the town of Haileyville is only three miles away, and in their muddy polyesters they all walk thither for no apparent reason.

We then cut to Haileyville itself, and Mike (Tommy Kirk) and his girlfriend Merrie (Joy Harmon) are doing some heavy necking of their own on Mike’s parents’ couch (we never actually see any of these kids’ parents at any time during the film!) when there’s an explosion, and it turns out Mike’s younger brother “Genius” (Ronny Howard — and, predictably, the MST3K crew made the obvious jokes about his presence, looking both backward to his stint as Opie on The Andy Griffith Show and forward to his directorial career) has mixed yet another of his exploding chemicals. The H. G. Wells connection comes in when “Genius” makes a pink custard that enlarges anything that eats it to giant size, and Mike is instantly struck by the enormous commercial possibilities in artificially enlarged livestock. (The fact that the artificially enlarged meat animals would require equally enlarged quantities of food doesn’t seem to occur to anybody in this film.) The family cat and dog end up enlarged by the magic custard, as do two ducks that happen by — one of whom gets roasted over an open spit and eaten at the teenagers’ latest picnic — and the bad teens from the road crash worm the secret out of “Genius,” enlarge themselves and terrorize the town, sort of (at least they stand around, look intimidating and boss the townspeople around by threatening to hurl telephone poles at them), until “Genius” saves the day and comes up with an antidote in the form of a gas, which he administers from a can billowing orange smoke that he straps on to the back of his bike to launch his gas attack. The terrible giant teens are shrunk to normal size, the good teens make short work of them and this incredibly dorky movie stumbles to an end.

The process work in the movie is so terrible I’m surprised Farciot Edouart, Paramount’s long-time trick-photography whiz, took credit for it — and the script is also silly, but the movie has a certain je ne sais quoi charm and some of the hot teens of both genders are nice eye candy — and it’s also worth noting that Beau Bridges plays the lead teen villain, though it ranks alongside Michelle Pfeiffer’s female lead in Grease II among the most embarrassing credits ever by an actor who went on to an important career. The MST3K people had a lot of fun with this one, especially when Jack Nitzsche’s music director credit went on and they made the inevitable joke, “That which does not kill me makes me … more musical!”