The Giant Gila Monster (1959) [REVIEW] | Knee Deep On The Box

In a way i really had to do this one, after tackling The Killer Shrews, it’s only fair i review The Giant Gila Monster, to complete the Ray Kellogg double-feature, and they do feel cut from the same cloth, down to the similar – but very typical of the genre – intros.

And if anything, this sounds less of a joke, compared to the concept of “killer shrews”, just your regular 50s B-movie drive-in fair with giant reptiles, small town sheriffs and white bread teens played by people in their 30s, with a touch of rock n roll… incredibly regional, white rock n roll, but still, that penchant for music that will carry over into the 60s is typical and they even advertised some tracks on the poster itself, without irony, as that was a genuine selling point at the time.

I would politely disagree, but still, i will concede it helps give the movie some charm as a product of its time, alongside some of the cliches characters, like the fan favourite “jolly drunkard” stereotype that slurs his words, sees the monster but is not really believed because it’s drunk 24/7, and i do enjoy Slug Fisher’s performance of the fun loving town drunk, it’s a lovable clichè.

To be fair, Don Sullivan (playing the lead character Chase Winstead) arguably offers the best performance as the leading fella between the teens in town, a hot rod entusiast and mechanic who’s affable, well meaning and works hard to pay for the medical bills of his fiancee’s little sister, it’s likeable enough as a character… until he sings. Which today just feels cringy. I would still take him anytime over Arch Hall Jr. in Eegah, absolutely.

Oh yes, the plot. A giant lizard (which should be a gila monster, but the animal footage is of a Mexican bearded lizard, still in the same subspecies, not that it really matters) is terrorizing a small rural town in Texas and causing incident. It’s up to a teenager and the local sheriff to first discover the real cause to these events and then face the creature before it can do anymore damage.

How did the “Gila monster” became giants? Some vague salts in the water came down, were picked up by the vegetation and then by the animals, or something, who really knows, the sheriff had to borrow a reptile book because i’m pretty sure there’s no library in that town, just hay, hot rods and booze, with the occasional “barn party”. I don’t really know, this movie doesn’t, but also is fairly straightforward and there’s an innocent quality to it, it just wants to be cheesy fun.

Problem is that for a 75 minutes feature, it feels way longer, and it’s easy to point out why, as in you spend most of the time seeing people talk in few locales, they don’t do much and what they are talking about isn’t too interesting, outside of random stuff that’s gonna come in handy for the finale as pure plot convenience. It’s not a fast paced narrative, the plot doesn’t make much sense, the monster is seen very little on screen, heck, to even see it going into a proper rampage you gotta wait until the very last 8 minutes of the movie. Explosions are expensive, after all.

As far as the monster, it’s just random footage of a real mexican bearded lizard (NOT a Gila monster) edited with a single prop of a “giant claw” – not that one – for some rare close ups, nothing too inusual but it’s a movie so cheap it will make you wish Bert I. Gordon was involved, at least you would have gotten some visual special effects. Of course you have the usual heaps of goofs, like continuity errors, strings moving the props that are visibile, and the crew accidentally visibile in shots, the most noticeable being the clear shadow of a boom mic.

In a way they’re kinda charming, but this one makes The Killer Shrews look a bit more competently put together in comparison… kinda. Still, both are not good movies by any means, and honestly i did enjoy The Killer Shrews a bit more, even with its flaws and the killer “dogs with wigs”.

You can do far worse/go even lower, but still, i’d say stick strictly to the MST3K version with this one, unless you’re really fond of 50s cheesy b-movies.

In any case, remember to always put your knee up, you know you want to, just do it.

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