The Giant Gila Monster, released in 1959, came late in the cycle of giant monster films that kicked off with 1953’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Both the trailer and clips from The Giant Gila Monster often show up in compilations and films about monster movies, and they leave the impression that this film, while using the lower budget technique of simply throwing a Gila Monster (actually a Mexican beaded lizard stand-in for a Gila Monster) on a set of miniatures in place of the more expensive technique of stop motion, is a fairly typical example of the genre. In fact, it’s not only a fairly low-budget film made by an independent company for the voracious Southern drive-in circuit (on a double bill with legendary cheapie The Killer Shrews whose “dogs with rugs thrown over them” effects make this film look like a masterpiece worthy of Harryhausen), but it spends much more time with its rock-and-roll drag racing kids plot than with the Gila Monster plot, which feels like an afterthought.
Chase Winstead (Don Sullivan, The Monster of Piedras Blancas) is a good, All-American kid. He likes rock n’ roll-sings a little himself-and hot rods. He’s the semi-official leader, in fact, of the local hot-rodder kids, who are into chopping up old jalopies and making them into racing machines. You might think that Chase wouldn’t get along with the law-he is, in fact, the leader of a group of teenagers who drive custom racing cars-but he gets along with Sheriff Jeff (Fred Graham, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon), the sole law man in the area. You see, they’re in an isolated Texas desert town, which somehow still supports a large population of hot-rodder teens. Unfortunately it’s also home to a Gila Monster that grew large-no real reason is given, though at one point Sheriff Jeff mumbles something about 130 pound Russian babies and glandular issues. The Gila Monster kills a necking-or I should say “cheek touching” couple that just happens to include the son of the local “rich” guy, leading to a subplot wherein he harasses the Sheriff Jeff to harass Chase, who he blames for his son’s death.
Much of the movie is spent on Chase and his many dull subplots. There’s his “French” exchange student girlfriend who’s sponsor parent doesn’t like her making out with Chase. There’s Chase’s polio stricken (?) little sister who Chase is trying to earn money tow-truck driving (along with his father) to pay for her treatment. There’s Chase’s budding music career, with an absolutely terrible pair of songs he sings throughout the film, at one point winning over a local DJ who cuts him a record and shows up at the local barn dance. There’s a local drunk (musician/tv actor Shug Fisher) who provides dubious comic relief. There’s also a paltry number of horribly executed monster attacks, including one on a model train, that ends in the lamest ending to a giant monster film I’ve seen-Chase drives his hot rod, loaded with nitro, at the Gila Monster, five minutes after it weakly “attacks” the dance.
There is absolutely no reason to watch this outside of a need to see every giant monster film made, and even then it’s questionable. The Giant Gila Monster reduces the title character to a lame cameo role in its own film. There’s no excitement, mystery, suspense, or anything else in its appearances, and the main story line is just a catalog of things the adults thought the kids would like, peppered with alcohol jokes for flavor. All of the teens are dull clean-cut types, and, just as there’s no real conflict with the monster, there’s no conflict with the teens, either. Watching the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version (both are currently available on Hulu) mildly improves the film, but even for a “so-bad-it’s-good” viewing experience it’s too slow and dull to really be enjoyable.
The full film at Hulu: