1959 | B&W | 74min.
Starring: Don Sullivan, Fred Graham, Lisa Simone, Shug Fisher, Bob Thompson, Janice Stone, Ken Knox, Gay McLendon, Don Flournoy, Cecil Hunt, Stormy Meadows, Howard Ware, Pat Reeves, Jan McLendon.
Directed By: Ray Kellogg
The fifties were a dangerous time to be an American. There was the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation hanging over your head; Communists lurking around every corner, waiting to hand out poorly-copied literature on the glory of the people’s revolution; Jerry Lewis was churning out films with alarming regularity, and as if that wasn’t enough to get you down, there were hordes of giant, irradiated wildlife roaming free. Giant bugs, overgrown reptiles, and even amazing colossal men and women stalked the fertile plains our great country, snacking on our dimwitted teenage populace.
How was one to fight this onslaught of colossal irradiated freaks? Well, in Japan the solution usually involved a small child in upsetting shorts. Here in America however, the responsibility usually rested upon the shoulders of our teenagers. Just one of those little cultural differences, I suppose.
This is certainly the case in The Giant Gila Monster. Our hero, Chase Winstead (Don Sullivan) is one of those intrepid teenagers. Chase is a renaissance man of sorts–a hot-rodding, lizard-fighting, grease monkey version of Elvis. When he’s not busy pestering Old Man Harris (Shug Fisher) about his old Model A, making out with his French girlfriend, singing annoying pop songs, or committing insurance fraud with the help of the town Sheriff (Fred Graham), Chase somehow finds the time to fight one big-ass gila monster.
Wait, maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself. You may be surprised to learn that this film, The Giant Gila Monster, features a giant gila monster. I’m sure this comes as a shock to those of you who were expecting a rather large gecko, an anole with a glandular problem, or perhaps a gargantuan tree frog. You would think coming out and calling your movie, The Giant Gila Monster, would kind of ruin the suspense, but director Ray Kellogg and producer Ken Curtis did the exact same thing with The Giant Gila Monster’s sister film, The Killer Shrews, which, as you may have already guessed, features killer shrews.
Regardless of this somewhat anticlimactic title, the fact remains that this freakish gila monster somehow managed to go unnoticed long enough to grow to the size of a city bus. Tired of eating a metric ton of insects everyday, the newly-embiggened lizard decides to start feasting on the unsuspecting people of the nearby town. Eventually the Sheriff and Chase figure out what’s going on and decide to put a stop to it.
The Giant Gila Monster may, on the surface, appear to be a very typical 50’s drive-in monster flick, and in many ways it is. It features the typical low budget special effects, barren sets, and corny dialog that you would expect from a movie of this type. However it does stand out from its peers in several ways. Of course the teen hero was nothing new, but the way the Sheriff is portrayed is quite atypical for the genre. Instead of being the stereotypical, crotchety authority figure who doubts everything the the teen hero has to say, even to the point of suspecting the teens of being the real cause of all the trouble, the Sheriff in this film not only respects Chase and his friends, but he even goes so far as to defend Chase when others put him down.
But the thing which stands out the most about The Giant Gila Monster for me, and what makes it one of my personal favorites, is the fact that the monster in the film was simply the product of abnormal natural circumstances. Typically the origins of these monsters are rooted in some man-made mistake, such as a scientific experiment gone wrong, excessive pollution, or some other example of the evils of man’s supposed hubris. The underlying ideology behind this anti-progress message is something to which I am diametrically opposed and I find it to be a very tiring aspect of far too many movies. Its absence in this film was certainly a welcome change of pace from the usual, “My God, look what man has done!” approach.
Reviewed by Derek Miller
Posted November 21, 2008
In this clip we get to enjoy one of Chase’s songs. Be careful, once “The Mushroom Song” enters your head, it may never leave.