“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…”
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!
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
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)