Drive-ins were very popular in and around 1959, as were monster movies. The cult classics The Killer Shrews and The Giant Gila Monster were among the favorites of the movie-going public, one with multiple mutant creatures, the other with one giant reptile. Half a century later, Legend Films released these two horrors on a double feature DVD in their original black and white state and for the first time in color! Accompanied by trailers for other classics, a retro segment on squirrels called “Squeak the Squirrel,” and comical information on both shrews and Gila monsters, this was the best either film had ever been released. But are these cult classics really classic, or simply throwaway products?
In The Giant Gila Monster, we open with a young couple in a car. Pat and Liz are enjoying the view when all of a sudden, a giant monster’s hand swipes their vehicle down a hill. Meanwhile, Chase (Don Sullivan) and his French girlfriend Lisa (Lisa Simone) are enjoying time with their friends at the café. They have no idea that a pink and black striped lizard is roaming the town’s side. Nobody notices at first. A few people go missing, and a local DJ, who Chase finds drunk, says he was something big, black and pink run across the road. Chase believes it’s the booze talking, but by the final act, everyone will come to realize that giant lizards do exist, and they’re not so friendly. Who’ll live to see another day after contact with The Giant Gila Monster?
The first difference you’ll notice between The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews is in the acting. Where Shrews will make you believe in its characters, Giant Gila Monster’s cast is completely by the script only. An angry father, whose son Pat has gone missing, is threatening to do something about the police decisions involving the search for Pat’s body. You can hear that the dialogue is frustrated and unhappy, but neither the police nor the father uses any actions to show that they’re fighting. You can see their lips moving but they show no real emotion. Chase is also a bit too smiley for real life. Sure, he has a good life, but not every moment is sunshine and daisies. He also looks mid to late twenties, rather than the teenager he’s supposed to be playing. Lisa is nice and well chosen as the French exchange student. Whether she’s playing a hard-speaking girl, or she’s just a bad actress, it works.
Our villain, the lizard monster, is more of a regular Gila set on a miniature play set. The cars are fake, the trees are little plants, and the train running off the tracks are toys, of course. The creature isn’t frightening, doesn’t deliver tension, and makes the screaming 50s styled actors look like crazy people. What’s worse than the cheesy lizard is the future musical talent of Chase. The boy wants to become a radio sensation with his...ukulele. Oh joy. Well, it appears the Gila monster doesn’t like his singing too much, because he bursts through the barn wall where all the hip teenagers are listening. The feature is a bit slow and not very interesting. When the lizard does show up, it’s not entertaining, therefore giving The Giant Gila Monster less of a classic status, and more of a cheesy obscurity.
There are touching moments as well. Chase’s little sister cannot walk, so Lisa purchases braces for her. The sister tries to walk for her brother, but falls down. She feels bad, but Chase cheers her up by...singing her a tune on his ukulele. Well, at least she feels better. The ending is quite quick, and although not anticlimactic, it’s not everything you’d have hoped for. Legend Films gives The Giant Gila Monster an original black and white presentation as well as a colorized version. Both are well done, but the black and white version suits the movie better. The color in Gila is also not as vivacious asThe Killer Shrews’, with darker areas taking advantage of a colorful opportunity. Also included is a trailer for The Giant Gila Monster, making it appear much more interesting than it really is. It’s not bad, and worth a look for silliness and a good laugh. For only once, you should Rent it!