This week, Boing Boing is presenting a series of essays about movies that have had a profound effect on our invited essayists. See all the essays in the Mind Blowing Movies series here. — Mark
Village of the Giants (1965), by Peter Bebergal
[Video Link] My parents were pretty good about indulging my obsession with monster movies. My father would pick me up Famous Monsters Of Filmland when he saw it at the drugstore. Across the street from his clothing shop in Waltham was Mr. Big's, a toy store that stocked all the Aurora models. Being a business neighbor my father got to know "Mr. Big" pretty well, and a few times he sold us the window display version of one of the models, a perfectly painted and glued version given to him by the distributor. Monsters movies were my life. Every Sunday morning I woke early, got the newspaper from the front stoop, opened it up to the middle and dug through the flyers and other loose inserts to where the television guide was nestled. Then I flipped to end to see what the following Saturday's Creature Feature would run. The mid to late 70s was a golden age when the rights to old monster movies must have been dirt-cheap. In the span of a year or so I saw every great Universal, Toho, and Hammer film. But every so often there was a movie that didn't appear in the index of my movie books, whose stills never showed up in the pages of Famous Monsters.
One of these was Village of the Giants, released in 1965 from the weird imagination of director/producer Bert I. Gordon, and starring a very young Beau Bridges. Gordon had an obsession with normal sized things becoming unnaturally large: The Amazing Colossal Man, War of the Colossal Beast, Earth vs. the Spider, and the weird and creepy Food of the Gods. (To be fair, he did have one movie about normal sized things becoming unnaturally small, Attack of the Puppet People.)
I had become used to monster movies pretty quickly. I was rarely spooked, and often rooted for the shambling undead creation or the giant radioactive lizard. The only storylines that got under my skin were those that involved pre-adolescents or teenagers where the kids were the threat, controlled in some way, or kidnapped. The Star Trek episode "Miri" has the crew beam down to an alternate Earth where the children rule and where a terrible disease strikes the moment you hit puberty would fill me with pre-sexual dread. Even in Gamera vs. Viras, where two boys are kidnapped and their heads are shaved by nefarious female aliens, made me feel anxious, no matter that the cosmic spinning turtle was on his way to save them.
In Village of the Giants, a gaggle of rebellious teenagers eat a strange substance that causes them to grow to a great height. I watched in terrible wonder as their clothes tear, the buttons of sweaters pop, and their arms cover their exposed "parts." They set about tormenting the town, and a group of unaffected teens fight back. There's even a scene where hot rods are used to pull one of the giants down like in a rodeo.
I never picked up that vampires were about sex, but I got right away that when the teenagers tormented the smaller residents of the town, they were lustfully sadistic. And the scene that blew my mind is the giant dance party shot in slow motion to psychedelic surf music. I was completely hypnotized. Everything that moved, even when not shown next to a normal sized person, just seemed bigger. The camera shoots them close up, taking time to focus in on bare bellies, swaying hips, and a tiny resident clings helplessly to the bikini top of one of the giant girls. I felt pity and envy, my poor pre-pubescent mind exploding. The teenagers have a look of ecstasy about them, as if the slime they ate also did something to their minds as well as their bodies.
I was about to become one of those teens bursting out of their childhood but I would never feel quite as empowered as the giants. I was afraid of them, and was pleased when the one kid with glasses is the only smart enough to come up the formula for the antidote to their largeness. But part of me, the part that always rooted for the monster, wanted them to crush that silly little town and walk on towards their next conquest, never afraid.
Peter Bebergal is the author of Too Much to Dream: A Psychedelic American Boyhood (Soft Skull Press). He blogs at mysterytheater.blogspot.com and tweets @peterbebergal.