Born 100 Years Ago Today: Bert I. Gordon: The OTHER Notorious B.I.G.

A centennial birthday shout-out to the great low-budget horror auteur Bert I. Gordon (b. 1922).

Not to be confused with Bert Gordon, the Mad Russian, nor Biggie Smalls (The Notorious B.I.G.), this Bert I. Gordon may be compared with Roger Corman and William Castle as a director/producer of campy cheap horror of the 1950s, ’60s and later, although not nearly as prolific as Corman nor as self-consciously flamboyant as Castle. Gordon’s special claim to fame is an infatuation with SIZE, often using double exposure effects and fabricated props to create the illusion of giant monsters, hence our inclusion of many of his films in our giant monsters post last year. (He has even been known on occasion as Mr. B.I.G.) But that wasn’t all Gordon did, so we paint a broader portrait here.

Wisconsin native Gordon started out making home movies as a kid, served in World War II, then broke into the business after the war by making commercials, and working in British and American television.

Serpent Island (1954) was the first of his two dozen films: he was screenwriter, producer, camera op and co-directed with Tom Gries. On his next, King Dinosaur (1955), he directed himself, creating an entire lost world on another planet scenario using borrowed equipment, stock footage, double exposures and only four actors.

3 Little ladies, Just trying to Cope with Their Miniaturization, in “Attack of the Puppet people” (1958)

Next came a string of now notorious novelties: The Cyclops (1957), The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), Beginning of the End (1957), Earth vs. the Spider (1958), and War of the Colossal Beast (1958), all of which I wrote about in that giant monster post.  His next Attack of the Puppet People (1958), is misleadingly titled — the titular folks are the heroes, who have been miniaturized against their will, and only “attack” the mad scientist who transformed them. As a story, it is much the same as The Cyclops, only with heroes shrunk, rather than villain grown. Attack of the Puppet People also marked the cinematic debut of his daughter, 9 year old Susan Gordon, who went on to appear in several other of her father’s films, as well as the Danny Kaye film The Five Pennies (1959), and shows like The Twilight Zone. 

In the ’60s, Gordon began to switch it up some. Tormented (1960) is a ghost story set around an old lighthouse. The Boy and the Pirates (1960) and The Magic Sword (1962) are both children’s adventure films. Village of the Giants (1965) is a hilarious satirical return to the “giant” genre — here the monsters are a gang of overgrown teenagers played by the likes of Tommy Kirk and Beau Bridges.

You’re never too old to play with dollies: Susan Gordon in “Picture Mommy Dead”

Next came one of his better, and more mainstream films, the psychological horror film Picture Mommy Dead (1966), which starred his daughter Susan as well as some impressive Hollywood players: Don Ameche, Martha Hyer, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Wendell Corey. Another leap forward was Necromancy, a.k.a. The Witching (1972), starring Orson Welles, which we wrote about here. Like Corman and Castle around the same time, Gordon seemed intent on professionalizing and maturing. But like them both, he would backslide!

How to Succeed with Sex (1970) was a semi-pornographic comedy in the Russ Meyer vein. The Mad Bomber a.k.a. The Police Connection (1972) was an attempt to do the kind of gritty crime/ exploitation then in vogue, with Vince Edwards, Chuck Connors and Neville Brand. Then a true return to form. He tweaked H.G. Wells and his own gigantism genre to create the eco-horror films Food of the Gods (1976) and Empire of the Ants (1977), which we wrote about here. 

Those were the last of his relatively high profile projects, but he kept going. In 1982, came Burned at the Stake a.k.a. The Coming, a witch/ghost film. Then a couple more sexplotation comedies Let’s Do it! (1982) and The Big Bet (1985). He directed and produced (but did not write) Satan’s Princess (1990) starring Robert Forster. Then in 2014, at the age of 92 (!) he wrote, directed and produced Secrets of a Psychopath! Necromancy indeed! How many souls of children did he need to steal to keep going at this age?!