‘In the mid-1950s, American theaters were awash in giant monster pictures, fueled by our fear of the A-bomb and the as-yet-unknown side effects of radiation exposure. All we knew for sure about radiation at that point was that it made things really, really big. People were itching to see mass destruction take on a comprehensible, mythical form; a form which, no matter how gigantic, could by film’s end be contained and destroyed leaving us all safe once again.
‘There were masters of the genre at work at the time: Ray Harryhausen (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms), Jack Arnold (Tarantula) and Inoshiro Honda (Gojira). Along with the thrills and the special effects, their films had an intelligence, a meditative, philosophical quality when it came to confronting man’s relationship with science and nature.
‘Of them all, the true king of the giant monster picture was Bert I. Gordon, who wrote, produced and directed a dozen films about giant lizards, locusts, spiders, ants, rats and teenagers. He did this with almost no money at all and didn’t bother himself much with meditation or philosophical questions.
‘Born and raised in Kenosha, WI (sharing a hometown with Orson Welles, who would later star in Gordon’s 1972 film Necromancy), Gordon began making home movies at the age of nine. Twenty-four years later in 1955, following the huge success of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and the earlier King Kong, Gordon entered the movie business for real by jumping on the giant monster bandwagon with his no-budget independent feature, King Dinosaur.
‘Likely as a reaction to changing audience tastes, in the 1960s and early ‘70s, Gordon made a sharp break from giant monster pictures, trying his hand instead at human-scale adventure films, fantasies, thrillers and sex comedies. For the most part the films weren’t as popular or memorable as the ones that earned him his nickname. The only nod to his early career was 1965’s Village of the Giants (with Beau Bridges and a young Ronnie Howard), mostly played for drive-in laughs as a group of teenagers try to deal with hormones, adults and unexpected gigantism. The film’s final lesson seems to be that teenagers should never, ever be given any power of any kind, as they’re all just a bunch of Nazis at heart.
‘In the mid-70s, perhaps recognizing what audiences really wanted from him (or perhaps merely recognizing another shift in public taste), Gordon returned to the genre that created him with a double bill of giant (or at least big) monsters pitted against all-star casts.
‘If his films are at best considered “unsophisticated” and “really stupid” by critics, mocked repeatedly on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and ignored completely by film historians, images from these films, even the titles themselves, remain an indelible part of the American cultural landscape. So who gets the last laugh?’ — Den of Geek
Bert I. Gordon @ IMDb
Book: ‘The Amazing Colossal Worlds Of Mr. B.I.G.: An Autobiographical Journey By Bert I. Gordon’
Bert I. Gordon: The King of the Giant Monster Movie
Pure Auteurness: Bert I. Gordon in the BIG World
B.I.G. @ MUBI
‘Accounts of Bert I. Gordon’s career usually follow a standard line of invective’
B.I.G. @ Facebook
B.I.G. @ Twitter
B.I.G. @ letterboxd
” L’empire des fourmis géantes” de Bert I. Gordon
The colossal career of UW graduate Bert I. Gordon
B.I.G. @ The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Bert I. Gordon: The OTHER Notorious B.I.G.
The Colossal Cult of Mr Bert I. Gordon
Interview with Director Bert I. Gordon aka Mr Big
A Day in the Life of Bert I. Gordon
BERT I. GORDON INTERVIEW – SECRETS OF A PSYCHOPATH
Mike Gencarelli: Have you always been a fan of the sci-fi genre?
Bert I. Gordon: No. I’ve always been a fan of watching movies on the screen.
MG: Working with the original monster films of the 50’s, what was the hardest task for you?
BG: The creatures were fun. They gave me a little problem at the beginning when we started to train them! But we finally got to be friends (laughs).
MG: “The Amazing Colossal Man” is one of my favorite films. How was it working on that film and the special effects?
BG: I enjoyed making that. But self appointed critics criticized my effects by saying I used rear projection on my films. On all of the films I made I used rear projection maybe a dozen times. On “The Amazing Colossal Man” I used some blue backing, some matting and also some split screens. One nice effect is at the very beginning when he is hit by the atom blast. And what I did was I had some powerful fans blowing little particles to block out the screen. Then we’d cut the cameras and I had my special make up people put on the make up, which took a long time. Then, with the cameras in the same position, I started the fans and hit him with the little white specks again to block out the screen. We slowed down the fans until there he was, all “burned” up.
MG: Are you aware that “The Amazing Colossal Man” trailer is on a constant loop in the Sci-Fi Dinner in Walt Disney World?
BG: Yes I am. How is it being presented?
MG: It’s a 1950’s themed diner and they have a large screen that shows a lot of the 50’s sci-fi trailers.
BG: That’s terrific. Disneyland here in California has also run several clips of my films.
MG: What inspired you to write your autobiography “The Amazing Colossal Worlds of Mr. B.I.G.?”
BG: I had been approached in years past but I didn’t really want to write it. Then I attended a film festival called Monster Bash in Philadelphia in 2004. In going there I was so pleased to find out that I had so many fans, both from the period when I made the films and the younger fans who had seen them on television and DVDs. So I decided that I would write the book.
MG: Tell us about working on “Earth Vs. the Spider”. Was it a difficult production?
BG: Not at all. It was actually one of the easier films. It appears to be shot in the Carlsbad Caverns and I wanted to film all of the caverns there. So I contacted the people in charge from the state (New Mexico) and they invited me down. They took me through and it was fantastic. Beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. I told them that I wanted to film a movie there. They said fine…BUT…you can’t use your lights. The lights they have there are all indirect to bring out the beauty of the rock formations in the caverns. There’s no way without lights that you could shoot a movie down there. So I was unhappy because I thought without some nice caverns…what was I going to do? Then I got the idea to come back and shoot still photos with a long timed exposure, because that is what it took because the lights were so dim. They said that was fine. I went back with my camera and my tripod and some assistants and they took me through some different caverns. I set up the camera and took the photos. They lasted many, many minutes because of the time exposure. I took those photographic plates and split screened many of them and that’s how I put the people and the spider in the Carlsbad Caverns. As for the spider yes, I used a real spider in the film…as I did on many of my films. I used some nice tarantulas that were very friendly. I put some in with split screen and some with blue screen travel mattes.
MG: “Empire of the Ants” is such a cult classic. Can you tell us about working on that film?
BG: We shot the film in Florida in an area that was very much like Africa. We had a boat on the river and the film called for Joan Collins to fall into the water where there were real alligators. They were all around and we had to have the grips hold them back. I know Joan made a comment in one of her books that it was the roughest picture she had ever worked on. The ants I shot down in Panama. A lot of the so called critics complained that I used stock footage of the ants but I never used stock footage at all. I went into the jungle with an entomologist from UCLA and we filmed the preface for the film in the jungles of Panama. For the ants that were in the story I had the entomologist collect a lot of the them. The ones I wanted to use were poisonous but they had fuller bodies. He collected them and in my hotel room I had a blue backing and lights and we shot the miniature stuff with the ants. We shot all the ant stuff down there…didn’t want to bring them back! In “The Beginning of the End,” when we needed grasshoppers, I didn’t want to use the ones we had in California. At that time there had been almost a plague of locusts in Texas and I saw them in the paper. They were perfect….just the kind I wanted. I thought I would contact an entomologist there and have him ship me a bunch. But the state of California said no, you can’t bring them into the state. They were afraid they would mate and create another plague. So I asked if I could just bring in the male locusts, no females and they agreed to that. So I had an entomologist in Texas collect hundreds of them, put them in crates and ship them to me. When they arrived at the airport the state of California had their own entomologist examine each one to make sure it was a male. I forgot to ask them how they tell if it’s a male or a female.
MG: Can you tell us about how you seemed to always take the role of director, producer and writer on your films?
BG: And I also did my own visual effects! From the time I was a very young kid I didn’t want to do anything but make movies the rest of my life. My aunt gave me a movie camera when I was 9 and I started to make home movies…not family stuff but movies…I’d write the stories. My family and friends would act them out and I would film them. When I got to university I started a campus newsreel, shot on 35 mm and the theatres in the town would play them. After that I started making television commercials and industrial films. I thought I was happy because I was making movies. But one day while shaving I looked in the mirror and said to myself, “Hey…you’re not making movies…movies are made in Hollywood.” So after three months I closed my business and moved to Hollywood. It wasn’t easy, of course. But in all those years, while growing up, I learned all kinds of methods to do visual effects. To answer your question…why I did everything…I liked doing it all! (laughs) What can I say?
MG: What was your favorite film that you made? Least Favorite?
BG: I’ve been asked that before and I always say that my next film is my favorite. (laughs) But I’d have to say that “Food of the Gods” is my favorite. My least? I love them all. I love all my children.
MG: How do you feel about the horror films being made today?
BG: I’m currently working on a screenplay that takes a look at all of my films and the genre’. It will be like “Airplane.” I like some of the sci fi and horror films made today but too many of them rely on digital effects, even when they’re not really called for. One film I really liked was “Avatar.” That’s my favorite of the recent films.
17 of Bert I. Gordon’s 24 films
King Dinosaur (1955)
‘In 1960, four American scientists travel to a planet that has just entered Earth’s solar system to see if it’s able to support an Earth colony. They find an oxygen atmosphere, a lush earth-like forest, and earth-like animals living around a potable fresh-water lake.’ — letterboxd
Beginning of the End (1957)
‘Beginning of the End may be thin on plot but it’s big on its beasties. The film can be appreciated amongst its contemporaries for what it adds to the canon of atomic bomb cinema, even if its own script is without heavy introspection. The film’s trailer promises us that we’ll see giant monsters invade a city, and giant monsters invading a city I did see. Bert I. Gordon’s monstrous filmography is as fun as it is fascinating, and his earliest efforts like this and The Cyclops are interesting examples of his first steps.’ — Christopher Stewardson
The Cyclops (1957)
‘I’m honestly not sure I can plausibly defend my shockingly favorable— as in, shocking even to me— opinion of The Cyclops. That’s apt to become rather a problem in just a moment, seeing as making esthetic judgements and then defending them is rather what one does when writing a movie review, and defending the indefensible is the very thing that my readers in particular have come to expect from this site. Also, it obviously isn’t as though I’ve never enjoyed a Bert I. Gordon movie before, so one might justly ask what the problem is. The Cyclops is different, though, precisely because it isn’t different. This was one of Gordon’s earliest films, completed in 1956, but not picked up for distribution until the following year, and like the rest of his work from the 1950’s, it exists primarily to showcase Gordon’s signature embiggening effects— which if anything are even less successful here than they usually were. It’s every inch as cheesy, dumb, and hokey as the better-known movies Gordon subsequently produced and directed for American International Pictures, and nothing that transpires during its 66 pedestrian minutes is half as startling as the sight of the RKO logo in the opening credits. (It speaks volumes for the mismanagement of the Howard Hughes years that that once-proud studio would be reduced in the end to distributing the likes of The Cyclops.) And yet for reasons I despair of articulating, I nevertheless find The Cyclops working for me more often than not— working, that is, in the way Gordon no doubt intended it to work, instead of just as a charming bit of idiocy like Earth vs. the Spider.’ — 1000 Misspent Hours
Joe Dante on THE CYCLOPS
The Amazing Colossal Man (1957)
‘The Amazing Colossal Man basically just reworks an established formula, making the most of the fairly primitive special effects that were available at the time to a low budget production. Back projection and standard matting techniques avoided the need for detailed miniature sets and are used effectively by Gordon to create a fairly convincing effect when the titular colossus goes on his rampage (as he must surely do) in the film’s final dramatic act. Cinematographer Joseph F. Biroc lends a suitably gloomy feel to the piece (his impressive list of credits include It’s a Wonderful Life, Donovan’s Brain and The Flight of the Phoenix), particularly the early part of the film which is more character-centric and admirably carried by Cathy Downs and William Hudson. By contrast, the star of the film, Glenn Langan, gives a somewhat O.T.T. performance that ends up being bigger than the character he is playing.’ — French Films
Attack of the Puppet People (1958)
‘Having already cashed in on the success of The Incredible Shrinking Man by rushing out (on the principle of opposites) The Amazing Colossal Man, producer/director Gordon went the whole hog with this tale of a lonely doll-maker (Hoyt) given to miniaturising human beings. Unsurprisingly, it’s a poor second cousin to the Richard Matheson/Jack Arnold mini-classic, with poor characterisation beaten only by penny-pinching special effects, reaching a nadir with some truly laughable back projection when a couple of the unwilling little people take to the pre-dawn LA streets. Nevertheless, this is still plenty of fun, from its pseudo-science (‘You know how a projector works, enlarging an image…’ begins Zer Nutsy Puppeteer) to one of the shrunken gals launching reluctantly into the pop pastiche ‘I’m Your Living Doll’.’ — Time Out
War of the Colossal Beast (1958)
‘Sci-fi schlock merchant Gordon followed The Amazing Colossal Man with this reprise of the same ‘tall actor knocks over miniature sets’ formula. Eschewing the Cold War paranoia of the previous offering, this one has Roger Pace as a 60ft giant with the mind of a wild beast, and a handy loincloth, who goes on the rampage when the powers that be whisk him from the wilds of Mexico to LA captivity. Watch out for the climactic burst of colour.’ — Time Out
Earth vs. the Spider (1958)
‘Bert I. Gordon spins the wheel and comes up with “remote rural town,” “tarantula,” and “cave.” It’s not on par with the best BIG films – the script is lazy, the actors nondescript, and the pacing fairly sluggish – but it’s pretty close to the platonic ideal of a Bert I. Gordon giant creature jam. As such, it’s highly recommendable, obviously. There may be more convincing killer spiders in cinema history, but I can’t name another one that’s constantly screaming.’ — Ira Brooker
‘Thoroughly enjoyable trash from Bert I. Gordon. Man tries to get rid of fast girl who is not the marrying type once he finds the girl of his dreams by saying the worst possible things…actually reiterating word for word that she is not the marrying type and he intends to marry some other girl. This to me does not seem like the best thing to say to a girl you are breaking up with and the plot proceeds about how you would expect after that.’ — Marna Larsen
The Magic Sword (1962)
‘Lockwood is dull and Winwood annoying, but there’s no lack of imagination in the storytelling.’ — Film Frenzy
Village of the Giants (1965)
‘“Genius” accidentally invents “goo” which causes living things to rapidly grow to an enormous size. Seeing an opportunity to get rich, some delinquent teenagers steal the “goo” and, as a result of a sophomoric dare, consume it themselves and become thirty feet tall. They then take over control of the town by kidnapping the sheriff’s daughter and dancing suggestively.’ — letterboxd
Picture Mommy Dead (1966)
‘Picture Zsa Zsa Gabor lying dead on the floor of a room as it goes up in flames. Picture her daughter singing a creepy nursery rhyme as she watches. Picture that girl being sent away to a mental facility due to a breakdown, and her subsequent return home to her father and her new stepmom. Picture the teenage girl hearing voices and seeing her dead mother appear throughout the manor. Now I need you to Picture Mommy Dead (1966), Bert I. Gordon (that’s Mr. B.I.G. to you)’s high strung, gothic chiller with a surprising amount to say about family dynamics, psychotic lineage, and their fragile nature.
‘Released by Embassy Pictures in early November, Picture Mommy Dead (aka Color Mommy Dead) cost a million to make and cruised through the theatres and drive-ins second billed as befitting a B.I.G. release. This just seemed another potboiler designed to boost yet another fading actress (in this case Hedy Lamarr, who was dropped due to exhaustion and recast with Gabor) back into the spotlight through an exploitation film. While Gabor doesn’t really fit that bill (she was always more of a personality than actress), the film itself is as weird as mid-‘60s horror gets, mixing incest, mental instability, and jealousy into a frothy 82 minutes.’ — Daily Dead
‘Bert I. Gordon’s prescient horror-satire Necromancy depicts the very beginnings of Orson Welles’s AKA The Devil’s AKA George Soros’s plot to bribe impressionable counter-cultural types into a closed-circuit semi-socialist gated community, and, once addicted to tarot cards, magic mushrooms and satanic witchcraft, use them as a psychic battery to raise the dead, usurping the rightful powers of Christ to diabolical ends. Finally we are able to heed and interpret this prophetic message in the manner it was originally intended, but I fear the hour is growing late.’ — nathaxnne
The Food of the Gods (1976)
‘Mysterious eggnog gurgles through a crack on a remote Northeast island and animals of all kinds get a bad case of gigantism. Writer/director/producer/effects maestro Bert I. Gordon never met a creature he didn’t want to enlarge, and here he gives us giant rats, giant wasps, giant worms, and (I kid you not) giant chickens. The effects are hit and (mostly) miss, but the film as a whole is goofy fun if you don’t mind checking your mind at the door. However, if you want to try to take it seriously, Gordon weights the film with both H.G.Wells’ name (even though is was based on only “a portion” of his novel) and bookends of expository narration explaining its “revenge of nature” theme.’ — James Kendrick
Empire of the Ants (1977)
‘Sleazy scam artist Joan Collins tries to sell phony real estate deals down in the Florida everglades. What she and her unsuspecting buyers don’t know is the area has been taken over by giant ants!’ — letterboxd
Burned at the Stake (1982)
‘It’s like someone saw The Exorcist and said – “That, but with a fraction of the budget and a time travelling Pilgrim.”‘ — RossMadison6306
Satan’s Princess (1989)
‘Robert Forster stars as a foul-mouthed, retired detective in Satan’s Princess which was directed by Bert I. Gordon (Food of the Gods, Attack of the Puppet People). I need to stop watching movies just because they have something like “Satan” in the title, I am not sure it is really doing me any favors. Satan’s Princess is masqueraded as a horror film but for a majority of its running time it is nothing more than a cheap erotic thriller with a lot of softcore sex scenes. Our leading man (played by Forster) Lou Cherney is a retired detective, mentally and physically recovering from being shot on the job. A former unsolved case creeps back into his life when the father of a missing girl returns begging for his help in locating his daughter. Lou tracks the girl down at a lesbian-filled modelling agency where she has a job kissing women. The agency is run by this lady on the movie’s cover who is apparently some sort of 500 year-old sex demon. As much as I love sex demons there wasn’t much to enjoy, not even the promise of a bit of FX and witchery/ satanism towards the ass-end of the movie could save it. I must mention that Lou has a retarded son who he feels he has to coddle and praise whenever the kid blinks an eye, but it is in an adorable way because Robert Forster is such a man’s man who swears every three words in normal dialogue, even when talking around his retarded kid.’ — Hollie Horror
Satan’s Princess Tribute
Secrets of a Psychopath (2015)
‘Bert I. Gordon directed this movie when he was well into his 90s! And he’s still got it! The script doesn’t make a whole lot of sense though, but neither did some of the ones he wrote back in the day.’ — letterboxd
p.s. Hey. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hey, B. Congrats on the jab. Hope your arm isn’t too sore. And … thanks for saving my weekend from the doldrums! Everyone, The new episode of the only increasingly legendary radio show-shaped joy merchant Play Therapy is online here via Tak Tent Radio! Ben ‘Jack Your Body’ Robinson brings you, and I quote, ‘Italo, Acid House, Japanese Minimal Wave and all sorts of miscellaneous other stuff besides that too.’ Vibe you on the international dance floor? ** Misanthrope, It seems like it must be, right? I’ve never watched ‘Family Guy’. Weird, no? No explanation. Your Gene story is pretty damned good, but get this. A good friend of mine was heavily cruised by Jeffrey Dahmer in a mall in Milwaukee not so long before JD was arrested. And the really scary part? My friend thought he was quite hot but luckily had other plans. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Well, making one legendary film is plenty. Most prolific filmmakers will never be so lucky. ** Tosh Berman, Thanks for being introduced. I remember that you intersected with Lam on the fateful night. So, so strange. Way too strange for Netflix. ** Dominik, Hi. Yes, and he was buried in the Pantheon, which is the highest honor possible to receive in France, even if he’s now thought of as the Pantheon’s kind of novelty act. I saw some video of Bimini, and, yeah, I totally get the fascination. The Schultz Twins are super obscure, and kind of were even then because the show they starred on wasn’t a huge hit or anything. But they caught my, err, fancy as a youngun. Your poor, poor love. But I’ll take him. You rimming love so deeply you end up licking his brain, G. ** wolf, Yo, yo, to you, fur enshrined one! You’re not alone. When I first found out about Joseph Bara, I asked my friends here if they knew who he was, and three of them said words to the effect of, ‘Yeah, his first album was really good, but the others are crap.’ I did see that MUBI is showing ‘ If It Were Love’. (God, what a horrible title.) I’ve seen it, yeah. It’s quite good, yeah. It makes a lot out of a situation — filming a dance piece and backstage antics — that wouldn’t seem to allow for much flexibility. I’m not in it, no. I’m not even mentioned in it. A bit weird, that, but … whatever. I don’t think it’ll harm your memory of the piece. It’s pretty good. Weekend of wonder on your end? Not mine barring the very unforeseen. ** Bill, As far as I can remember, at the time, none of the artists had any idea what the real Joseph Bara looked like. As is kind of obvious, I guess. Still the case, I think. No cameras back then. Yes, I agree, the early 70s Corea stuff and the Miles Davis era stuff, great, but the later stuff, and Return to Forever, … ouch. ** Steve Erickson, I don’t know that series. Should I? Mailer’s stuff and the ‘straight white tough-guy genius’ mythology he milked are so anathema to what is considered cool and acceptable these days, I think it’ll be quite a long while before his work will get its resurgence, if it does. I don’t know why, but I find Biebz to be a very sympathetic character. I always seem to root for him. Really don’t know why. ** Alexandrine Ogundimu, Hi. Ha ha, what you’re reading and what you’re doing is such an interesting combination. Sweet. I’m glad you’re writing, and you even have a novel finished! Ugh, agent hunting, the worst, painfulness city, but please stick it out. Ha ha again, that’s funny, about the word ‘Bara’. I’d love to think its use in Japan was inspired by him, but … I think surely not. Have a terrific weekend! ** Brendan, B! Howdy, buddy! Dude, don’t sweat your American status. As I told someone upon above, a bunch of my friends here knew the name but thought he was an 80s era recording artist. Lingua Ignota … I don’t think I know that work. Cool, I’ll get ‘Caligula’. I trust you. You good? You getting through everything? ** Brian O’Connell, Hi Brian. Yep, very very belated RIP to the young Joseph Bara, forgotten exploited superstar, the Britney Spears of historical French figures. Your explanation for Bidgood’s retreat from filmmaking makes complete sense. Oh, the ‘home haunt thing’. This big, about-to-open museum here called The Pinault Foundation asked my friends Sabrina (art writer/curator), Zac, and me to give a presentation there about home haunts, which are the homemade version of haunted house attractions (Zac’s and my next film is about one). We’re planning/hoping to actually make a virtual home haunt walk-through video, working with an animator, of a home haunt we will design and possibly ‘star’ in as the haunt’s makers/performers via animated characters based on us. So we would show that and also talk about the history of the ‘home haunt’, which is a completely unknown form here in France. So, we’re just waiting to see if Pinault will bankroll the virtual haunt. Thy have a huge ton of money, and it won’t cost that much to make, so I think they’ll say yes, but you never know. I know/like ‘The Plague Dogs’ and ‘Grave of the Fireflies’, but I don’t know ‘Ringing Bell’, and I think I’ll keep it that way thanks to you. My Friday: Some back and forth with the ICA about the funding of Zac’s and my new film, more work on my assignment, blabbed with Gisele Vienne (we’re going to be making a filmed version of our all-time most popular collaborative and soon to be permanently retired theater piece ‘Jerk’ soon for television), watched a film that I was assigned for the Zoom book club thing I told you about for our meeting tonight, and I really didn’t like the film (‘La Haine’) at all, which may prove to be awkward because I think the person who chose the film loves it, oops. That was all but it for Friday. How did your weekend transpire, sir? ** Okay. This weekend I’m ‘taking it easy’ on you with this fun, if you so choose, look back through the wacky films of Bert I. Gordon. Need chuckle and relax? Dig in. See you on Monday.