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Image Entertainment presents
"It is in these lonely areas of impenetrable forests and dark shadows that the gila monster still lives. How large the dreaded gila monster grows no man can say."
DVD ReviewJust by the sake of its very name, the Gila monster seemed all but destined to become a horror star. How could anything named "monster" not eventually star in its own film, especially in the 1950s? The fact that the Gila monster, in reality, is one of only two species of venomous lizards, certainly didn't hurt either. This 1959 classic from director Ray Kellogg (The Green Berets) doesn't beat around the bush, or bother with vagueness, but implies rather directly, via the title, what the film is all about: The Giant Gila Monster. As Stan Lee would say: "'Nuff said."
Released the same year as Kellogg's other equally infamous mutant animal flick, The Killer Shrews, The Giant Gila Monster was, and still is, pure 1950s drive-in camp. For reasons that are never truly explained in the script (except for a passing comment about out-of-control pituitary glands), a bus-sized gila monster suddenly begins terrorizing a rural Texas town. A laid-back sheriff (Fred Graham) has to rely on a spiffy, clean-cut group of law-abiding hot-rodders, led by Chase (Don Sullivan), to save the day.
The shots of the title creature are your basic real-lizard-walking-through-miniatures variety, and those constitute the bulk of the Gila's onscreen antics. It lumbers slowly across tiny twigs and rocks, moving out in the open with the speed of an oversized snail. Kellogg does spice it up by including an unintentionally funny toy train crash, with the big lizard shuffling over the wreckage, as well as the film's signature shot of the beast thrusting his head through a barn wall during the big sock-hop scene.
Sullivan's Chase, adorned with cute French exchange student girlfriend Lisa (Lisa Simone), is a not just a squeaky clean mechanic, he's a singer, too. He is a typical 1950s teen hero, and Kellogg features a couple of opportunities for his star to croon some goofy ditties, most notably the Laugh, Children, Laugh song that he sings to his polio-stricken little sister. A chance meeting with big-time DJ Horatio Alger 'Steamroller' Smith (Ken Knox), whom he inadvertently saves from becoming Gila chow, guarantees the chance for Chase to belt out another tune or two before the credits roll.
I loved this film as a kid (though for different reasons than I do today), and it still retains some degree of campy innocence that plays like cinematic drive-in nostalgia for me. Of Kellogg's two forays into big beasts, I prefer The Killer Shrews (those things just seemed more savage and threatening than a waddling, speckled lizard), though The Giant Gila Monster does have some kind of weird charm to it.
Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: I seriously doubt that there is a pristine print of The Giant Gila Monster anywhere in the world, so the flaws in this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen can be accepted a little easier. There are plenty of nicks, specks and scratches, and that alone would normally earn a disc like this a C+ rating, despite it's age. Aside from the print defects, though, the black & white image quality itself is reproduced cleanly, and displays well-balanced contrast. The fact that Image has issued Kellogg's film in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen instantly bumps it up to a B-.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The film's original mono track sounds pretty good here, with just some minor hiss at times. Dialogue is consistently clear, and those cornball Don Sullivan songs come across just fine, too.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
The disc is split into 12 chapters, and features no subtitles. The front and back cover art has colorized images, but rest assured that this is the original black & white film print.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsFans of giant animal horror films will no doubt be pleased with Image's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen release of Ray Kellogg's drive-in classic The Giant Gila Monster; it was great to see this in it's original aspect ratio. This is an undeniably silly 1950s monster movie, but darn it, I still like it for what it is.
For what it's worth, though, I HATE the colorized images on the front and back cover of this disc.
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