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The 100




Giant Gila Monster, The
(1959)
Reviewed by Jeff DeLuzio
Rating: 7 Beans

he Giant Gila Monster"

If they were in the business today, the people behind this one would be doing straight-to-video flicks with gratuitous nudity and bloody spatter.

That is now; this was then, and '59 was a different time.

The "Modacy, Inc." edition I watched neatly sums up the plot on the package, with an uncredited review which I believe comes from "Videohound Golden Movie Reviews":

A big beaded lizard has the nerve to disrupt
a local record hop in a small Texas town,
foolishly bringing upon it the wrath of the
local teens.

What more can I say? Well, you get low, low production values. The indoor scenes appear to have been shot in someone's basement. The outdoor shots, meanwhile, feature lighting worse than the "Blair Witch Project"'s, making it very difficult to determine the time-of-day. Perpetual evening hangs over the small Texas town.

The filmmakers couldn't even bother with back-projection and composite shots. The Gila Monster's attacks involve cuts between terrified actors and Gila close-ups. Monster and victim never appear in the frame at the same time. We also get treated to the same shot of the Monster's foot coming down towards the camera.

The miniature work is uneven, at best. A model train wreck provides quite a few laughs.

Most 50s "giant monster" movies blame the bomb for gigantism. This one merely begins by saying that such things may be out there, in the "impenetrable forests and dark shadows." Later, the sheriff posits a proto-environmental origin, making this film a possible missing link between the "atomic" giant-monster films of the 50s, and the "pollution" ones of the 70s. In any case, it's quite a creature. In several scenes, it stalks teenage prey as mad slashers will in later low-budget movies. Despite its length (twenty meters or so) and its colour (bright pink markings are described) people miss seeing it from a few feet away. Must be that bad lighting. At the end of the film, our title character also proves highly flammable ("lizard may explode if heated"). Perhaps it's an effect of the mutation.

What else? Lots and lots of great vintage cars. A hot-rodder hero named either "Chase" or "Chance", who "plays all the angles" because he has to support his widowed mother and disabled sister (He also says "gang" more frequently than Freddy on "Scooby-Doo"). A joke-tellin' town drunk (fairly well acted) and a sultry foreign girl (very wooden). A local rich guy who is a total jerk, but who learns a thing or two while dealing with the town's oversize reptile crisis. A naive world where drunk driving is regarded as a minor matter, sex is referred to only indirectly, and the worst the teenagers get up to is drag-racing. Throwaway rockabilly music. Chase (Don Sullivan) also sings a few self-penned numbers. The worst, by far, is "The Mushroom Song (Laugh, Children, Laugh)", to which we are subjected twice in the movie. No wonder the Gila Monster attacks that sock hop.

However, more thought and, I suspect, affection, went into this picture, than say, Roger Corman's drive-in cheapies of the era. Many of the characters have some kind of simple back-story, and the cast appears to be having a whale of a time making this movie. You can't hate it. It's sort of like watching the neighbourhood elementary school play. Little Derwin has spent two weeks practicing his two lines and, even when he blows one of them, you applaud him. The kid did it with feeling.

"Giant Gila Monster" is also available in an "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark"-hosted version (from Rhino) and as a "Mystery Science Theatre 3000" episode. If you want to see what Grade-C drive-in movies used to be about, you'll want to catch it sometime.






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