Monday, November 4, 2013

The Giant Gila Monster (1959)

1950’s B movies are a pretty steady diet for me here at the ole coffin. Giant mutated insects, flying saucers over Los Angeles, swinging rock n roll and hot rods just make for some great fun viewing especially in black and white. One movie that has always stood out for me in B movie land is 1959’s The Giant Gila Monster. 

I first discovered The Giant Gila Monster on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 which is probably the worst way to first come across it. Joel and the bots point out all the bad and the run time is slam full of one liners. Granted it had me howling but it also had me wanting to see the movie in an unadulterated form. Yes Gila Monster is a “bad” film but it’s chock full of charm which puts it on the same level as Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). Something about Gila warms the heart of this B movie lover.

Chase and the Sheriff discuss skid marks.....on the road of course.
Dance away! Never mind the big lizard outside.
The movie is centered around a very small town and a group of hot rodders whose friends have mysteriously disappeared. The audience knows what happened to them but it’s mystery all the same to the town Sheriff (Fred Graham) and local grease monkey Chase Winstead (Don Sullivan). As Chase helps the Sheriff search for his missing friends more strange things start to happen. One man claims to have seen something big, black and pink in the middle of the road causing him to wreck his car. Chase and his friends do find their missing friends car which looks to have been forced off the road but their friends are nowhere to be found (that’s because they became tasty treats for the giant Gila….shhh don’t tell anyone it’s a secret). The big hungry lizard, whose size is kind of explained away by its thyroid gland, forces a tanker truck off the road causing it to explode. But it’s not until it takes out a passenger train that the Sheriff begins to hear eye witness accounts of this big reptile.
So let’s put all our events into one basket and figure out what’s going on shall we? Missing teens (presumably eaten), crashed car with no driver (eaten), tanker truck wrecked no driver found (eaten or course) and passenger train derailed and some passengers missing (because they were eaten). The Sheriff believes the culprit to be a giant lizard based on eye witness accounts and the fact that according to a zoologist, Gila monsters can get big due to an over active thyroid condition. Sooooooo what to do, what to do, what to do…..I know! Let’s have a big sock hop!

The lonely Gila....again goes the dance stag.
I regret nothing!
Yes no 50’s movie would be complete without a good ole fashioned sock hop with some lively rock n roll and a bunch of teenagers dancing the night away at the ole barn. Even better it’s hosted by the hottest radio DJ this side of……wherever the hell this movie takes place. A perfect setting for…..yep you guessed it a giant Gila monster attack! Not to fear though Chase is a pretty heads up guy and thankfully has some jars of nitroglycerin at the shop. Chase packs it in his hot rod, rigs it up to steer straight into the behemoth and KABOOM!! 

All is well and everyone is saved. You really can’t ask for much more except for maybe an epilogue and a hint that another Gila could be on the prowl for a sequel but alas The Giant Gila Monster is a standalone little ditty that surely entertains.

Hot rods!!
Now you might be asking what is it that I love about this movie? Well for one thing the hot rods. I love the hot rods. I have always loved the look, the sound and the attitude that goes along with them. I truly expect to see a big rat fink driving one of these things in the back ground but I have yet to see it. I also like the characters believe it or not. Chase is a great character to be honest. He’s a grease monkey who works at the local shop but not a greaser if that makes any sense. He’s a good guy who gets a bad wrap because somehow he’s a “bad influence” on the other kids according to one of the prominent parents whose daughter is missing. Chase has a big heart and is saving up his money to buy leg braces for his disabled little sister. Now because he works at the local shop he is in charge of the wrecker. So this teen works many hours helping out those in need. I mean really all around Chase is a great guy who brings across that 50’s charm of a bygone era. He also has a newly found singing career by the final reel of the film. 

Which brings me to another good point of the movie. There are several scenes which include Chase singing. These are original songs sung by actor Don Sullivan who supposedly had his pick of what songs he got to sing. You also have to love the sci-fi Theremin score which permeates the soundtrack whenever the Gila monster is near. The movie also seems to have been made with the best intentions and with some genuine TLC. This is why I hold it on the same level as Plan 9. Ed Wood loved film making and this type of love is shared with Gordon McLendon who produced Gila. This film was shot back to back with another B movie classic “The Killer Shrews” (1959).
Gila squishes you puny human!.....and in color!

So while MST3K might have roasted this one, I find the theatrical version a joy to sit back and watch. It may be corny, it may be low budgeted (around the $175,000 mark) and may make no general sense but it makes me smile every time ole Gila makes his appearance on the screen! That ladies and gents, is what really counts! 

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