Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Giant Gila Monster (1959)

Poster for The Giant Gila Monster (1959)The Giant Gila Monster (1959) by #RayKellogg

w/#DonSullivan #FredGraham

A giant lizard terrorizes a rural Texas community and a heroic teenager attempts to destroy the creature.

“The Biggest Terror Ever Unleashed on the Screen!”

“Only Hell could breed such an enormous beast. Only God could destroy it!”

#Horror #SciFi

My friend Den pointed out to me that the titular beast in The Giant Gila Monster (1959) is not actually a Gila monster. Not being an expert on lizards and such, I looked it up.  According to Wikipedia, it’s a Mexican beaded lizard. Go figure. I guess The Giant Mexican Beaded Lizard didn’t sound as good as The Giant Gila Monster.

For those who don’t know, The Giant Gila Monster is one of those films in which the monster is not made of rubber. It’s not a mechanical robot. It’s not a man in a suit. It’s certainly not CGI (or old school animation). It is, in fact, an actual living lizard – filmed in such a way as to make it look huge.

I suppose in some ways, it was a brilliant idea. The low budget producers probably thought “Hey, we’ll never be able to build a realistic looking giant lizard. And what could possibly look as real as a real lizard, anyway? The audience will think our special effects guys are geniuses!”

I’m not sure what audiences thought in 1959, but the “special effects” in The Giant Gila Monster have looked campy and ridiculous for decades. But that’s a big part of the charm of this movie. It’s “bad” in the best possible way.

Like Sting of Death (1966), The Giant Gila Monster is a regional production aiming to fit in with the giant monster movies that Hollywood was pumping out in the 1950s and 1960s. It falls somewhat short of that quality level, but it’s still conjures up memories of Not Quite Classic Theatre for me.

A lot of critics and reviews pan The Giant Gila Monster. They give it one star and call it crap (or some other negative word). I, on the other hand, find it charming. It captures a time and place (it is in fact one of the first feature films to be shot in Dallas, Texas), and it showcases some of the teen pop culture of the day (rock and roll, hot rods, sock hops, etc.). Ken Knox, who plays radio personality Horatio Alger “Steamroller” Smith, was in fact a real life disc jockey in Texas. Lisa Simone, who plays Lisa, was Miss France in the Miss Universe pageant in 1957. Shug Fisher (Old Man Harris) was in many films and TV shows. He’s perhaps best known for Gunsmoke (1962-74).

Director Ray Kellogg was a special effects guy who directed a handful of things. Aside for The Giant Gila Monster, he did its companion piece, The Killer Shrews (1959). The two films were produced by a drive-in theater chain owner who wanted second features to pair with his main attractions. They were shot back to back, and went on to be quite widely distributed.

Kellogg also directed The Green Berets (1968) starring John Wayne.

Don Sullivan, who plays heroic teenager Chase Winstead, sings several songs in the movie. Perhaps someone thought he was going to be the next Elvis, but after he left acting he wound up working as a cosmetic chemist in the hair industry (?!).

Any movie made by a drive-in owner, for a chain of drive-ins, is automatically perfect fodder for a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn – and The Giant Gila Monster (1959) is exactly that. And even though I don’t think I saw it on Not Quite Classic Theatre in my youth, it’s still 100% Certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema.