Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Giant Gila Monster (1959) – MST3K Review


For the teens in a small town in Texas, there isn’t much to do but talk about cars, listen to a popular radio show and hang out with Chase Winstead (Don Sullivan) the good looking musical tow truck driver. Well all that is about to change when a ginormous Gila Monster starts devouring folks, smashing cars and making a general mess of things.

Sheriff Jeff (Fred Graham) does his best to figure out what is going on (there are no witnesses after each horrible attack). But everything is out of his jurisdiction. Luckily he’s friends with Chase and since the lad is the smartest person in the town, they work together to figure out what is going on. Prepare yourself for a a renegade tow truck driver, songs, a severely drunken DJ, driving around in jalopies, and an actor named Shug. But nothing can prepare you for The Giant Gila Monster.

Movie Review:
There is something with huge lizards with names that start with “G” that just fascinated folks in the 50s and 60s. First Japan gave us Godzilla. Then the flying turtle Gamera exploded on our screens. In between we get Gila! Well this critter doesn’t have a cool name. In fact some folks say the animal in this movie is actually a Beaded lizard. But the Giant Beaded Lizard just doesn’t have the same ring. And it doesn’t start with a “G”!

When you boil it all down, this is your typical 50s monster movie, with the misunderstood teens who see the menace but can’t get the adults to believe them. Oh, The Blob, what have you wrought? In fact this film only came out a year after The Blob and has many of the same beats. Chase is really a good kid at heart. Sure he like cars and racing them. But he’s not a real delinquent. In fact Sherrif Jeff goes out of his way to explain that the kids in the town would be getting into a whole lot more trouble is Chase was around. This doesn’t stop grumpy Mr. Wheeler (Bob Thompson) from determining that Chase is the source of all the bad things going on in town.

Not only is Chase a good kid, but he’s also got a little sister who has to walk with braces. So in a touching side story, he tries to raise enough money to get these braces. To do this, he is attempting to start a singing career. Or more like he is discovered after he rescues the drunken DJ “Steamroller” Smith. He’s see’s Elvis-like potential in the kid. Odd since Chase only really sings a super mellow song called “Laugh Children, Laugh”.

But wait, what about the Giant Gila Monster? Well he spends most of the film wandering around watching teens make out (and sticking his tongue out at them, the pervert!) and eating random people. The creature is a fairly large specimen put on a model railroad set and let loose. This combined with reaction shots is supposed to show how darn huge this monster truly is. Sadly the model trees, bushes and cars aren’t too convincing and you end up giggling. My favorite scene is when Gila goes nutty and attacks a train. The combination of the obviously annoyed lizard, the trashed train and the overlaid screams of the passengers is pure bad movie gold.

Luckily the Gila Monster is not the best actor of the bunch. Don Sullivan does a good job as the likable Chase. While the script saddles him with some lame dialogue he does a decent job with it. His singing voice isn’t half bad either. But once again, the songwriters need to be hit on the head a few times. The two songs Chase performs are pretty bad. But the  “Sing Whenever I Sing” song became an instant MST3K classic.

Fred Graham as the Sheriff isn’t too bad either. He treats Chase more like a son, which is a bit odd. But the script ends up making the Sheriff look like a moron who doesn’t have any power to do anything. Jeff ignores all the obvious signs of some kind of animal. Even when things start happening he keeps saying how he doesn’t have the jurisdiction to act. He’s one of the most pointless law enforcers I’ve seen in a movie. But he is willing it listen to the teens and believe that they mean well, even if they are a bit noisy with their rock music and fast cars.

No the worst actor in the flick is Mr. Thompson playing Mr. Wheeler. Not sure how he got picked to be the human antagonist here, but he flubs lines, looks lost most of the movie and comes across more whiney then aggravated and aggressive. The big success of his performance is that you want him to be eaten by the Giant Gila Monster by the end of the flick.

All told, it’s not a bad low budget monster movie. Not really scary, but still a lot of fun when the Gila Monster is smashing the train set. The movie does take quite a while go get going. It focuses on teen/town drama for the first half. But once the Gila destroys a gasoline truck, things pick up a bit. It all leads to an explosive finale and a couple musical numbers. What more could you ask for? Joel and bots of course.

Episode Review:  
This was the second episode of the forth season of the series, and by this point the crew at Best Brains was well versed in the art of riffing a bad movie. They had been tested with the previous episode Space Travelers (which was a really dull episode all the way around). But this flick seemed to invigorate them, maybe because it was their bread and butter – the 50s monster movie.

The Giant Gila Monster starts out a little slow in the movie and riffing department because of the all the teen/town drama going on. The movie gives us a little bit of giant lizard action, and the boys have a great time with it. But when the things get mired in talky scenes the riffing slows down a bit. By this time they had pretty much used all the gags about teens, cars, making out and drunken hobos in previous films and I think they were at a loss here.

But then the Gila Monster destroys a gasoline tanker with his tongue and all bets are off.

Of course I can’t discount the humor in the musical scenes. When Chase whips out his first song earlier in the film, it seems to invigorate the riffing. First off, Chase is singing a little tune that sounds like “I sing whenever I sing whenever I SIIIINNNGGGGG!” while hammering a fender. This becomes an instant classic. With Joel or the bots having any character start singing this little ditty as they enter or exit the screen. It also became a reoccurring riff right into the Sci-fi Channel years.

Chase’s second song describing how “The Lord said laugh children, laugh” over and over again, provides some great riffing fodder. Joel wonders if the Lord said it that many times. Crow replies, “That’s why Deuteronomy is so long.” The inane lyrics combined with Chase strumming a ukulele to his adoring is hilarious stuff.

Another running joke comes with the fact that nearly everyone in the movie ends up putting their foot up on something. Chase does it frequently, but the Sheriff, the teens and even the hillbilly mechanic get in on the action. Joel and the bots start looking for when the next actor will “put their knee up” on something. While looking at a wrecked car, Tom has the Sheriff say, “You know a clever man could put his knee up on something like this.”

But the lizard on a rampage steals the show. Joel gives him a gruff voice (something he’d provide for most animals during his tenure on the show). As the Theremin induced music plays, Joel will give the lizard all kinds of silly lines. When some teens are making out and the lizard attacks, the camera provides a close-up on a screaming girl and then a close-up of the lizard’s face as his tongue shoots out. Joel says, “I’m your boyfriend now!” (a reference to Freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street). Then there’s the scene where Chase tastes some water in a creek bed and The Giant Gila Monster exclaims “Hey, that’s my urine. Even I don’t do that!”

No one is spared from riffing. As the sheriff proclaims that the latest actions are out of his jurisdiction again, Tom shouts, “What is your jurisdiction?” Or when Chase’s French girlfriend hurries off to a meeting with him in a garage with an ornate roof (looking for all the world like the old architectural design for the International House of Pancakes) Crow says in a silly French accent, “Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity for me!”

The host segments are mostly inspired by the film. Things start off silly when Tom and Crow are bonded together to be The Thing with Two Heads. For the invention exchange the mad scientists create punching bags of Renaissance Faire characters (most of the crew at Best Brains hated the Ren Faire, see Quest of the Delta Knights for more information). Joel creates a plot point specific radio that comes in very handy if you need exposition on the fly. For the first break Joel is inspired by the very narrow teen hangout in the film, and creates his own soda fountain in the laundry nook. At the next break Joel and the bots discuss their favorite funny drunks, based off the drunken hobo in the film. At the forth break the boys do a Criterion Collection style retrospective on the film style of the director Ray Kellogg. Basically all the blocking in the film revolves around someone putting their foot up on something.  When the movie ends the boys reveal their new rock band Hee-la. It all gets really silly.

For me the second half of the movie has the best riffing (and the most scenes with The Giant Gila Monster), but as a whole the entire episode is a lot of fun and worth seeking out.

I give it four renditions of “Sing Whenever I Sing” out of five.

This episode has an odd history on DVD. It was offered as a replacement for the episode Godzilla Vs. Megalon after Rhino got in trouble for releasing that episode. You’d get The Giant Gila Monster if you showed proof of purchase of the boxest with Godzilla vs. Megalon. The DVD was also available separately from Rhino shortly afterwards. These days it seems to be out of print, but is available as a download on Amazon.


  1. I enjoyed this film as a kid (sans MST3K) in the same way that I enjoyed all the '50s giant spiders, crabs, snails, brains, and buzzards (remember The Giant Claw?)that populated Saturday afternoon TV. The cheesy FX was expected and even fun.

    In 1999 there was a pleasant TV movie called Monster! (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0210180/?ref_=fn_tt_tt_77) which spoofed the genre. The plot: a town where a bunch of 50s sf flicks were filmed has somehow been influenced by the experience so that a real monster appears every year. All the monster-movie cliches ensue. The aging hero of the 50s teen flicks always saves the day but then all the other townspeople promptly forget what happened -- they even forget the casualties -- so that they are skeptical again the next year. Like this episode, Monster! is not available on DVD or anywhere else that I can see, but, for a lover of low-budget 50s scifi, I recommend it if you can find it.

    1. Wow that sounds like a great flick. Hope they release it soon. As for "The Giant Claw" I've never seen that one, but heard about it. Sounds like a classic.