The Giant Gila Monster

Year 1959

Don Sullivan as  Chace Winstead  
Lisa Simone as Lisa
Shug Fisher as Mr. Harris
Fred Graham as The Sheriff
Ken Knox as Steamroller Smith  
Director - Ray Kellogg
Screenwriters   - Ray Kellogg
  - Jay Simms

Not quite horrible movies like The Giant Gila Monster are the reason why I created this Torn and Frayed category. This movie does very little well, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

The premise is simple enough. There's a giant gila monster on the loose and at some point, someone will notice and kill it.

Where is it on the loose? Well, since everyone correctly calls it a "heel-a monster" instead of a "gheel-a monster", I figure it's someplace like southern Arizona where they're indigenous. What year is it on the loose? The movie is copyright 1959, so I'm figuring that's about when. Everyone in the movie is hard pressed to talk "cool" and you'll hear things like, "I'm seven to a pack" whatever that means.

But it's that sort of nonsense is what makes this near travesty entertaining. I liked this movie for trying to be different despite the enormous odds stacked against it. The writer did his best to stretch the clichés that he was saddled with.

So let's talk about the clichés. For starters, a giant creature attacks stuff. Usually in monster movies of the 50s giant insects cause the carnage. Since this movie is using a reptile, chalk one up to Jay Simms for originality. But wait, there was Godzilla, right? How will Jay Simms avoid the Godzilla clichés? Well, he'll say that the gila monster, get this, isn't the result of atomic radiation but due to natural causes! Whoa! What a concept! How original is that! Even King Kong had to resort to some island that never evolved beyond prehistoric times to explain the giant ape's existence. (Because there were giant prehistoric apes? I dunno.) This explanation makes much more sense.

Of course, a pituitary gone haywire (do gila monster's have such a thing?) wouldn't necessarily result in a hundred yard long lizard. The thing would die under its own weight long before that. But, never mind. Give Jay points for trying. Points, Jay Simms! Points!

How about the cliché about troubled youth at odds with authority? Jay Simms neatly sidesteps this pitfall, too. Unlike Steve McQueen in The Blob, the teenage rebel here actually gets along with the Sheriff. Nice touch.

And what about the first couple that gets eaten by the monster? Is the couple's car found along a road and their disappearance immediately noted? Nope. They and their car are reported missing and everyone suspects that the couple eloped. That's original for a 1959 monster flick.

Something I'd not seen in a monster movie prior to this one's date is that the protagonist has a Tiny Tim-like kid sister. As an attempt to generate pathos, this works without being sappy. At least for the first four or five minutes. Then it degrades into singing and becomes bathos, if you're tone deaf. If you like music, though, it becomes rage inducing.

But then there are the clichés that trap the writer. The drunk who saw the monster but no one believes. The need to have the monster attack a group of teenagers at a hop. The exploding car trick. The rich guy who, through a five minute ordeal, finds out the meaning of life. The lamentations of the friends for their deal pals that last at least one or two lines.

There are also technical limitations that are always apparent. Oh, the miniatures are really well done. The scale of the monster next to toy trains and cars is spot on. The monster is never a dark shadow, either. He's always clearly visible and in-focus unlike a lot of movies of that time. (Teenagers from Outer Space anyone?)

But the monster is never in any scenes with people. There's no attempt at double exposure with people shrinking to get away from a giant claw that's in the scene with them. Instead, there's a scene of a giant claw. Then there's a scene of people cowering. Then there's a scene of the monster stepping on a toy car.

It could be worse.

There are also the botched lines. You can actually see the actors helping each other get through tough parts. When the Sheriff starts explaining giantism in reptiles, you end up rooting for the actor to not blow it.

The movie tried real hard for that 50s feel. The talk is sometimes over the top. The music is usually lame, although once in a while the score (yes, there's a musical score) evokes that Route 66 feel.

No blasphemy, nudity, or profanity. No tension. A couple of unusual angles for character traits. Mindless fluff, but you could do worse like Manos Hands of Fate.

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