THE GIANT GILA MONSTER (1959)
Article #1686 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-26-2005
Posting Date: 3-25-2006
Directed by Ray Kellogg
Featuring Don Sullivan, Fred Graham, Lisa Simone
A hard-working teenager and a harried sheriff investigate a series of disappearances that are the result of a marauding giant gila monster.
This movie was the companion piece to director Ray Kellogg’s other horror movie, THE KILLER SHREWS. Both movies are generally held in low esteem, but SHREWS has its staunch defenders who feel that if you can look past the cheapness of the production and the fakeness of the monsters, you have a well thought out and suspenseful story, and I tend to agree with them. This movie lacks even these defenders; it generates little suspense, the monster is just a regular-sized lizard shot to look large, and as a horror movie it falls flat. Yet, I find myself drawn to this movie, and have seen it several times over the years, and I always enjoy watching it. Why? For what may be the oddest of reasons; whatever flaws there are with the story, I find myself drawn to the regional feel of the movie, and especially to the likable characters that inhabit this environment. In particular, I enjoy the warm relationship between the Don Sullivan character and Fred Graham’s sheriff; their affection and cameraderie seem so natural and unforced that I get a great deal of pleasure just watching them interact. And with the exception of Mr. Wheeler (who, as the insensitive rich man, is supposed to be unsympathetic), I like them all; even Shug Fisher’s comic relief drunk doesn’t get on my nerves. It’s rare for a movie to have this many likable characters, and I think the reason I watch the movie again and again is because I just like to spend time with them. Now if I could only edit out that overly sappy “Laugh, Children, Laugh” song…
I agree that the characters in “The Giant Gila Monster” are extremely likable. Chase Winstead ( actor/singer Don Sullivan) is a very decent guy, who helps his friend, the local sheriff ( veteran cowboy actor, Fred Graham) with his investigations. Chase also financially supports his widowed mother and young sister, who is suffering with polio. On top of that, Chase is helping his beautiful French girlfriend, Lisa, in her efforts to become an American citizen.
The film also features actor Shug Fisher as Old Man Harris, the town’s “answer” to Mayberry, North Carolina’s Otis–town-drunk, who adds comic relief to the film. Although, with Old Man Harris and disc jockey Steam-Roller Smith both shown driving under the influence in the film, I doubt that police officers and anti-drunk driving advocates would approve of such irresponsible behavior. That being said, the film features a number of classic 1950s hot rods.
In the end, the unfailingly cool and resourceful Chase destroys the deadly Gila Monster by crashing his car, packed with nitrogen, into the monster. Yes, Chase Winstead is truly a hot rod hero!