Released October 20, 1965
Available on video? yes, quite readily in fact: currently in commercial home video release by MGM, in DVD format as part of their "Midnite Movie" series. Can also be obtained from the Video Beat (see link section) and regularly shows up on eBay in both DVD and VHS formats.
Soundtrack LP? No.
Synopsis: an overachieving child in a small California town invents a mysterious substance in his basement lab, one which dramatically enlarges any animal or human that consumes it. This leads to major problems when juvenile delinquents get their hands on the stuff. The resulting action is woven through a handful of musical interludes and wild dancing.
Among the horror/monster themed clones, this 1965 schlockfest probably has the largest marquee value: unlike the other films in this category, it actually features some brand name starring cast (Tommy Kirk, Ronny Howard, Beau Bridges and Tony Basil, as well as ex Disney Mouseketeer Johnny Crawford) as well as a few actual top 40 musical acts. Vaguely based on H.G Wells' Food Of The Gods, the production values and special effects required in the fantasy oriented script are also significantly above what one sees in the "The Horror of Party Beach" and "The Beach Girls And The Monster."
That stated, Village Of The Giants still retains the core attributes of a classic 60's "guilty pleasure" drive-in attraction, specifically a nonsensical storyline, lots of cheesecake and less than impressive acting. Be forewarned the music here is limited -- a repeating background theme instrumental, four solo pieces (two of which are quite abbreviated) by three guest star acts and two brief but fantastic dance sequences by a gorgeous 22 year old Toni Basil. But several of these are memorable, and combined with the "science-fair-project-spinning-out-of control" script make for an entertaining show.
The Score of Village Of The Giants
The title sequence sets the scene right off the bat, with a slow motion sequence of the “Giants” dancing to the moderate tempo, heavily rhythm guitar focused title piece in the background. This unnamed number, composed by Jack Nitzchese (Phil Spector's "house" arranger) had actually been originally released about a year earlier as a single named “The Last Race.” The heavy, mysterious tone of the instrumental and the almost "druggy" look of the dancing teens give everything an appropriately dark and spooky feel.
That continues with the opening sequence, which shows the same bunch of wild teens getting out of a wrecked Ford Thunderbird in the rain, as the Beau Brummel’s Woman thumps away on the car radio in the background. Just to reinforce the edgy nature of these kids, they start gyrating wildly, eventually ending up groveling in the mud. That not being fun enough, one of them suggests they go to the local “go-go” club (I love such mid 60's pop vernacular, and this film is crammed with it!)
We then with cut into a great interior tracking shot, which ends with “Mike” and “Nancy” smooching on the couch in the living room of her home. Mike is played by 24 year old Tommy Kirk, who was coming off a very successful career at the Walt Disney studios (having in the early 60s starred in some of Disney's most profitable live action films. In those roles, he usually played the wholesome, polite but often put-upon boy-next-door type, very much like his part here). The reasons for Kirk's departure from the Disney studios were unclear at the time, and in fact didn't become public until almost two decades later. In December 1992, in a very candid interview with Movieline magazine, Kirk announced that he was gay, and that he had been fired from Disney in 1964 when Walt Disney learned of his sexual preference. Subsequent to that termination, he immediately found other roles (Pajama Party at AIP being the first), with this film being his second non-Disney production.
His co-star Nancy is played by Charla Doherty (right). Doherty was only 17, but already a veteran of many childhood roles in TV drama and sitcoms. At the time of this production, she was simultaneously working as one of the original cast members of the "Days of Our Lives" TV soap opera (she was actually in the premier episode of that show, in fact in the very first first scene, in which she played of all things a teenage shoplifter). Doherty -- who against the grain of that soap opera role literally personified the demure and gently passive variant of the early 60s ingénue -- was therefore an interesting choice as a co-star, given she had limited film experience (only one prior role in the 1963 Jimmy Stewart/Sandra Dee comedy Take Her, She's Mine). My sense is her visibility in the new (and at the time heavily hyped) Days Of Our Lives helped land her the role of Nancy. Her film career ended after this production, and her TV appearances only a few years later. Sadly, Doherty died rather young -- at age 41, due to injuries suffered in an auto accident -- on May 29, 1988.
Well, back to the show: As Mike and Nancy smooch, a slow, dreamy dance piece (another untitled composition by Nitzchese, but amusingly labeled the “make out theme” by some viewers) plays on a record player. They discuss heating things up, since her parents are “away in Los Angeles and there’s a landslide blocking the road.” Just then they are interrupted by “Genius” (a young Andy Griffith Show era Ronny Howard, who here looks, sounds and acts like "Opie" to the point of distraction), Nancy’s younger brother, who shows up with chemicals bubbling away in a beaker. She tells him to beat it, and he goes back downstairs to his basement laboratory.
Just as Mike and Nancy return to their make-out session, a loud explosion is heard downstairs. This makes them them rush down to chaos in the lab, where they discover Genius has accidentally created some sort of frothy pink guck, which Mike immediately labels "goo." A cat ends up eating some, and of course, within a minute the feline has grown to enormous horse-sized proportions (left), which none of them readily notice. When they do, they don’t seem to be particularly upset, and the cat runs outside.
Mike, Nancy and Genius don’t miss a beat realizing the commercial opportunities here (grow massive chickens, cows, etc.), and almost immediately feed some goo to a couple of ducks who just happen to be waddling around outside. They immediately grow, which leads the group to focus on creating more goo.
After some more intermediate storyline (which involves the bad kids hanging out in an abandoned theatre that's conveniently located in the middle of town, where "Merrie" (Joy Harmon) announces “I wanna go dancing”) we jump to the local "go-go" hot spot. Here, we find the Beau Brummels blasting out When It Comes To Your Love to a large, madly dancing wild crowd (almost too madly, in fact, the kids seem to be overdoing it given the somewhat moderate tempo of the piece). During this sequence, we’re treated to the sight of “Red” (Toni Basil) who of course is dressed in a fringy, flaming red dress, as she wildly go-go dances above the band. Frankly, her pony routine is the primary attraction here, since the song (like the one performed by the Beau Brummels in Wild, Wild Winter, their other Beach Party clone appearance) is disappointing: unmelodic with an annoyingly bumpy rhythm. I'm not knocking this band -- they clearly were quite talented -- but rather the choice of material.
Just as the Brummels finish this number, the punks walk in. The men among them briefly admire Toni Basil before jumping onto the dance floor as the Brummels start up a reprise of Woman (which is frankly is the best of all their feature film numbers, a hugely dated but still entertaining upbeat dance ballad). Things get ridiculous immediately as the previously enlarged ducks suddenly appear in the club (quacking away to the beat of the song). No one sitting around or dancing in the place appears frightened or bothered by the giant waterfowl, instead just amused. The punks ask Mike how the ducks got so big, and he foolishly responds “it’s a million dollar secret.” That of course leads the punks to start scheming..and leads to..
..their subsequent attempt to divide and conquer Mike and Nancy (into divulging their “goo” secret). It fails, and the next sequence leads us into the town park (presumably the next day) where the now deceased ducks are being barbequed (left; no mention of how these eight foot tall waterfowl were captured, slaughtered or dressed, but then again who would want to get into that?) This is the first real “beach party-ish” setting of the film, as the scene includes fully clothed guys but lots of bikinied women, including Tony Basil in bright orange and red (she's the one with the flaming hair in the picture to the left).
We don’t have to wait long for more music, as the sound of a twangy guitar signals the next number. And this one is both rare and fun: sitting at the park fountain is Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon (below, left), who bounces us through one of his few film appearances, and one of the musical highlights of this one: a roarin’ performance of Little Bitty Corrine. This is a classic example of mid 60s tackiness, as Cannon pounds out the number surrounded by wildly dancing women. As the camera pulls back, we see that Freddy has gotten the entire park dancing.
Now, previous to seeing this, I must admit I'd always pigeonholed Cannon as a relatively unimportant early 60s pop footnote, but this performance has forced me into a grudging appreciation of what this New Englander brought to the table. In a period when most American singers and groups had been completely overwhelmed by the British Invasion due to their comparative dullness, Cannon stands out here as a patriot who refused to surrender. Yes, his yelpy singing style is overblown, the backing guitar work is a little too twangy and the lyrics of this piece are beyond brainless, but despite all that he....rocks!!!
After that enjoyable number ends, we have one of the bad girls, “Elsa,” (Gail Gilmore, a rare photo of her in a scene in the abandoned theatre is the B&W shot above, right ) hitting on “Genius” in an attempt to again steal the secret of Goo. The "good" teens discuss fighting the giants Meanwhile, back in the basement lab, Mike and Nancy run into a tarantula (l-r) Tommy Kirk, Charla Doherty, Toni Basil that happens to have eaten some leftover spilled goo, and a rather B movie and Johnny Crawford quality battle results (Mike electrocutes the tarantula at the end).
As the punks later sneak into the lab looking for goo, we abruptly cut to another musical interlude into the now nighttime park. A sweatered, conservative looking Mike Clifford (who -- warning -- is an artist I know squat about, other than the fact he made a handful of TV variety show appearances about the time this film was shot and did some work with Lu Ann Simms in studio test dubs of material for Beach Party) is singing the slow, 50-ish ballad Marianne to a group of swooning girls . Just as he and we are getting into the generic but listenable number, we unfortunately cut back to the lab, where the goo is found but a “burglar alarm” is set off. That leads, Mike, Nancy and their friends to rush back to the house to confront the punks. A big fight erupts, but during the process, one of the punks manages to sneak away with the goo.
Of course, this subsequently leads the punks to challenge each other into eating some of the stuff. The inevitable results (and I’m not just talking about becoming giants, after that their immediate agenda becomes “let’s not let anyone push us around anymore”).
This leads to one of the weirder musical sequeces in Hollywood history: after the now giant juvenile delinquents arrive in the town center (strangely dressed in material they conveniently found in the theatre, left), they proceed to boogie to the theme song. We sit through several minutes of this slow motion nonsense (which seems even slower due to the reprise of the dawdling, twangy, deep rhythm guitar backed title piece, which by now is getting stuck in the viewers' brain and just screams “mid 60’s.”) Things get a little provocative when Joy Harmon grabs Johnny Crawford and forces him to hang for dear life onto the front of her “bikini top” while she dances (above, right). Pretty racy stuff for 1965, which may have been one of the reasons for the "ADULT ENTERTAINMENT" warning sticker on the poster at the top of this page (remember, this is the pre-MPAA ratings era).
This outrageous act leads Mike to smash a chair against the leg of “Fred,” (the lead giant, played by a young Beau Bridges). He backhands Mike, and then leads the giants in telling the kids “we’re in charge now,” just as the cops show up.
After the local Police Chief fails in ordering the giants out of town (due to their taking his young daughter hostage), the delinquents proceed to start become dictators. That in essence means turning the residents into slaves who have to wait on them hand and foot.
But the “resistance” element in the population doesn’t take this for very long. Mike leads a group in planning a revolt, which leads to a well done but incredibly silly special effects sequence when an abortive attempt is made to capture Fred, by kids on motorcycles and hot rods attempting to lasso him (left). This results in a worsening of things when Nancy is also taken hostage by the Giants.
But Mike isn’t giving up easily. A second plan is put into action, which starts with Toni Basil doing a short but absolutely fantastic frug routine to distract the Giants. Frankly, her dancing here is worth the price of admission (ergo, the rental fee or purchase of the DVD), for she demonstrates just how dramatic, provocative and beautiful she is as she wiggles against the pounding beat of a great unamed Bo-Diddley-ish instrumental. Don't miss this all-too-brief sequence, for it shows a firecracker of an artist epitomizing just how great the dancing of the period could be.
It's now climax time, which consists of Mike going through a David and Goliath routine vs. Fred, which is an intentional distraction to get the Giants out of the theatre so the lone “sentry” of the hostages (Joy Harmon) can be knocked out with ether. Meanwhile, back at the lab Genius accidentally discovers an antidote to goo (a smoky yellow vapor that shrinks anything gigantic back to normal size). He arrives with it in the town center, just in time to save Mike, and "Genius" in basement lab the back to normal size punks are driven out of town. An abrupt, music-less, credit-less end follows.
Whew. What a strange clone......