The Giant Gila Monster (1959)

“In the enormity of the West, there are still vast and virtually unexplored regions, bleak and desolate, where no human ever goes and no life is ever seen…”

…until now.

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(Image via Wrong Side of the Art)

Chase (Don Sullivan) is not your average monster-catcher. He’s a Fonzie-esque fella, a twenty-something mechanic who for some reason hangs around with a gaggle of not-quite-delinquent teens. They drag race, go to the drive-in, and have dance parties at the local lunch counter.

But, in general, they stay out of trouble… until two of the group go missing. Their parents think they’ve disappeared to elope, but when odd car wrecks and disappearances continue to pop up around town, Chase teams up with the sheriff (Fred Graham) to find the creature that’s terrorizing the town.

The Giant Gila Monster was directed by Ray Kellogg.

As the opening narration says, “How large the dreaded Gila monster grows, no man can say.” That’s not exactly true. The Gila monster in this film is no more than your average beaded lizard, filmed to look larger than it is. This fact is obvious, the film showcasing the limitations of using live lizards and scale models to carry off its creature-feature attacks.

As a concept, a real giant Gila monster would be pretty scary. This species of lizard is venomous. They only grow up to about two feet long in the real world, and are very slow-moving, so as we know them they don’t pose much a threat. But they could become a real predator at the size of, say, The Giant Claw‘s enormous anti-matter bird.

But the Gila just isn’t well-executed or well-utilized in this film. I love the rudimentary special effects for the corn factor, but they’re completely unconvincing, zapping any potential for chills from the Gila monster’s wrath.

The scenes between the monster’s attacks also drag. The subplot with Chase’s family and most of the scenes involving “Steamroller” belong in a completely different film. Less hip and happenin’ teen culture, more Gila monster, please!

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(Image via The Gigantic Project)

Things do pick up slightly in the second half, but sad to say, the opening scene of the Gila monster flipping a car is the most thrilling part of the film.

There is some extra corn to make up for what the film lacks in Gila attacks. I loved the narration at the beginning. The script’s misguided attempts at incorporating slang into the dialogue are amusing, too. (“Hey, gang! You better cool that foot jazz!” and “Hey, Spook! Gimme a snort o’ that sodie-pop!” are but two of the many shining examples.)

The Giant Gila Monster tries to put a twist on the usual monster flick by mixing creature feature and teen hot rod film. I think it would have fared better from either sticking to the formula, or coming up with an even more ridiculous plot… like Chase engaging in a drag race with the Gila monster in order to win the survival of his friends, perhaps. But it does offer morsels of fun and cheese, so if you like low-budget monster flicks, it might be worth checking out.

The score: 1.5/5

The Mini Cheese-athon - banner

This review was written for the fifth TMP/Cinema Monolith Mini Cheese-athon!

Head over to Cinema Monolith to check out Todd’s review,

and if you’re interested, our previous celebrations of the corn:
Invasion of the Star Creatures (1962)
Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory (1961)
Zontar, the Thing from Venus (1966)
The Screaming Skull (1958)

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4 thoughts on “The Giant Gila Monster (1959)

  1. popegrutch says:

    You’d never guess it from reading my blog, but this is actually one of my all-time favorite movies (some day “when I have time,” I’ll start a side-blog devoted to Psychotronics). A few points in its favor: Many of the actors are genuine residents of the small Texas town in which it was shot, and they bring a wonderful authenticity to their performances (even if their diction leaves something to be desired). Sullivan and his “gang” are among the most likeable 50s teenagers, and the movie overall has a warm, community feeling. I quite enjoy Sullivan’s singing, particularly the song that is unfortunately cut off on the turntable during the dance party. Finally, the plot is nicely paced and believable, especially the locals’ reactions to the mysterious deaths and the sheriff’s struggle to learn the truth. Among the movies I own (I think I actually have three copies of this one, including the MST3k episode), this is one of the most frequently viewed.

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  2. Todd B says:

    Ha! Our review scores are close, but…did we agree? I think we both had the same idea…make a hot rod movie or a monster movie, but not both. And I love how we both used that goofball quote from the film’s opening in our reviews; ‘where no human goes and no life is ever seen’. Yeah, until we see…humans. Funny that you wanted more monster and less teen drama, and I wanted just the opposite, and we both recommend putting a car race into the plot! You’re right, though: they could’ve made three different movies out of this thing! Another fun one, Lindsey…let’s do it again soon!

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    • Lindsey says:

      I’ve been on a little bit of a mystery/horror kick lately so I was really hoping for a spooky creature feature! Still a fun watch, though. And yes, we must plan another cheeseathon soon!

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