The Giant Gila Monster

August 21, 2011 at 11:00 pm (8 Heads, Giant Gila Monster) (, , , , , )

The Giant Gila Monster – 1959 – United States

The Giant Gila Monster was directed by Ray Kellogg and produced by Ken Curtis (of Gunsmoke fame) simultaneously with The Killer Shrews to form a creature double feature for drive-ins. Excellent! Look hard—rare colorized versions exist of both flicks.

After ominous narration, the titular monster eats snuggling teens. Next, we meet the squeaky clean lead man at the soda fountain dancing with his French girlfriend. As a typical charismatic nice guy, he spends his time youth mentoring, nursing his crippled sister, and singing. When a mysterious string of missing persons strikes his rural Texas town, Nice Guy and his hotrodder gang help the earnest sheriff investigate. A massive beast apparently stalks the countryside, but it’s hard to say since the witnesses are all drunk. Probably the sheriff should crack down on smashed drivers instead. The Gila monster eventually reveals itself by flipping a train. The sheriff explains its massive size by relating the “true” story of a 130 lb. baby that was “taller than his mother”.  Startling scientific anomaly or not, after the monster crashes a sock hop, Nice Guy wastes it with extreme prejudice. I don’t know much, but I don’t think that’s how nitroglycerine really works.

Regardless how it seems, Giant Gila Monster is actually great. The well-paced writing harbors touches of depth and believability. For instance, a dead teenager’s dad blames the overworked sheriff for not doing enough and tense dialogue ensues. The small cast tries hard and is fairly competent. You cannot resist rooting for the utterly endearing Nice Guy.

Despite director Ray Kellogg’s background as an effects artist, Giant Gila Monster’s effects are simplistic. A Gila monster shot with a macro lens wrecks miniatures. Since the scale of the miniatures is inconsistent, the apparent size of the monster fluctuates when convenient. But the models are decent looking and the illusion is enhanced by well-synced rumbling Foley. Also, the remote Texas woodland locations are appropriately moody and desolate.

Giant Gila Monster is lovable drive-in fare, with cool hotrods, swinging rock tunes, and handsome 30-year-old “teenagers”. Both Giant Gila Monster and Killer Shrews are often sources of ridicule but they deserve better.  The hardworking cast and crew obviously put some love in.

Rating: 8/10 Shrunken Heads. Could it be my favorite giant creature flick?

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