Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's "The Giant Gila Monster"!
Teenage love birds Pat and Liz are parked at a secluded siding on the edge of town, hoping to snatch a little "alone time." Then Liz looks up and screams bloody murder. No, her shot-gun totin' pa hasn't found their secret hide away. Instead, a gigantic paw/claw from out of nowhere stomps on the couple with an enormous "thud!", leaving them deader than door nails and flatter than pancakes.
He also strums a ukulele or a miniature banjo, I can't tell which.
OK, you are now probably wondering, "Auntie Beth, what about the giant Gila Monster? Isn't that what this movie's about?! I could care less about this widow supporting/leg brace buying/car club starting/visa saving/singing auto mechanic/high school student Chase!"
Hey, I hear 'ya, movie lovers. Unfortunately, "The Giant Gila Monster" does spend A LOT of precious screen time detailing the fruitless search for Pat and Liz, the antics of local drunk Harris (Shug Fisher) and the multi-tasking Chase. Meanwhile, the giant Gila Monster--actually a Mexican Beaded Lizard, remember--appears in random shots, waddling around the underbrush, looking for a clean place to pee. Of course, he's not really a giant: the critter is a regular sized fellow shot close up sauntering around, occasionally smashing into toy train sets and Match Box cars. He has NOTHING to do with the plot and NEVER interacts with fellow cast members.
Why is that?
Well, with an estimated budget of $175,000, the producers had to watch their bottom line very care-
fully. There just wasn't a lot of coin to toss around on fancy Gila Monster effects. In fact, "The Giant Gila Monster" was shot back to back with that other spine tingling classic, "The Killer Shrews", where dogs were draped with moldy afghans to resemble... killer Shrews (you'll be happy to know the cast in that movie escapes the Shrews by sneaking away in upside down rain barrels.). Also, director Ray Kellogg clearly intended to ratchet up the suspense in his flick by giving the audience just enough tiny glimpses of the giant Gila Monster so that when the critter was displayed in all his glory at the local teen barn dance, it would be REALLY scary, kinda like that scene in "Aliens" when the acid-for-blood beasties rampage around.
Actually, the scene with the Gila Monster crashing the barn dance is only terrifying because Chase is singing "Laugh, Children, Laugh" again.
As he has through out the movie, it's up to Chase to save the day. With the giant Gila Monster about to make a snack out of his sister Missy, Chase loads his precious jalopy up with nitro and sends it careening into the scaly critter. The monster catches on fire, blows up and Sheriff Jeff plugs a few rounds of lead into it for good measure. Everybody on screen is thrilled and relieved, mostly because Chase has no plans to sing.
It will probably come as no surprise to dedicated bad movie fans that "The Giant Gila Monster" was the brain child of one Gordon McLondon, a Texas gent who owned a chain of drive-in movie theaters. He decided to try his hand at producing films NOT because he had an artistic interest in the medium of motion pictures, but because he wanted all the flicks screened at his establishment to be double features. So why not cut out the middle man and produce his own stuff? Ray Kellogg, who was responsible for the film's "special effects", was given the opportunity to direct. Ken Curtis, AKA "Festus" on "Gunsmoke", was the producer of record.
Over the years, "The Giant Gila Monster" became a cult hit and a bad movie favorite, so I guess it worked out well for everybody--except the Mexican Beaded Lizard in the starring role. His star turn in "The Giant Gila Monster" didn't lead to better parts and he presumably quit Hollywood for good. Also hampering the critter's career prospects are some nasty myths about it, such as that its venom is more lethal than a rattlesnake's (untrue), that it can cause lightening by wagging its tail (not so) and that a pregnant woman will miscarry if they look at a Beaded Lizard (false). Because of these tall tales, the Beaded Lizard was hunted into near extinction by the locals of Mexico and southern Guatemala. Today, it's a protected species, so it's getting a little over-due respect after all.
Until next time, save the movies!