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  Giant Gila Monster, The Reptile Rampage
Year: 1959
Director: Ray Kellogg
Stars: Don Sullivan, Fred Graham, Lisa Simone, Shug Fisher, Bob Thompson, Janice Stone, Ken Knox, Gay McLendon, Don Flournoy, Cecil Hunt, Stormy Meadows, Howard Ware, Pat Reeves, Jan McLendon, Jerry Cortwright, Beverly Thurman, Clarke Browne
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: There are regions of North America where mankind has barely visited, wildernesses that may have their own brand of wildlife which could be very dangerous, even deadly, and one of those creatures could be a gila monster. Not an average-sized gila monster, but a giant one, allowed to grow for whatever mysterious reason to untold dimensions – imagine what terrible havoc something like that could wreak on humanity should we ever encounter it. Well, imagine no more, for in this quiet region of Texas there has been a couple of teenagers who were out in their hot rod in a rural area when suddenly a huge lizard foot appeared in the sky and smashed into their vehicle, sending it rolling down a forest embankment. Meanwhile, their friends are at a diner enjoying a bottle of cola or two, unaware their lives are about to be plunged into abject terror thanks to the rampaging of this mighty beast…

Or maybe because Chase (Don Sullivan) is going to start singing again, whichever comes first. The Giant Gila Monster was designed to be fitted onto a double bill with director Ray Kellogg’s other giant monster movie The Killer Shrews, though the menace in that were infamously dogs with fangs attached, so nowhere near as big as the titular threat here. Though there were the occasional glimpses of a man in a suit thrusting a claw at the camera, for most of the time the villain was played by an actual lizard, sleepily wandering about tiny sets and never seen to be eating anyone (that happened offscreen). He wasn’t even back projected for the cast to run away from, indeed he never shared the frame with any one of his co-stars: perhaps he was just too much of the diva to allow that kind of presentation of his talents?

Anyway, you did miss him when he wasn’t around, because that meant we were spending more time with the Chase and his pals; now, many a teen movie of the day would be happy to appeal to its target demographic by making out their heroes and heroines to be misunderstood and far better behaved than the adults give them credit for, probably dropping a heavy hint to the audience about how they should behave. But Chase is positively angelic, a mechanic who guides all around him with a beatific glow, helping out folks in a way that made the Good Samaritan look like some nasty misanthrope, so if he wasn’t attending to the breakdowns he was seeing his young, polio-afflicted sister was getting new braces for her legs all the better to walk again. Not that he didn’t have his weird side, mind you, as witnessed when he’s out in the woods with his French girlfriend Lisa (borderline unintelligible Lisa Simone – what on Earth brought her there?) and offers her a drink from a puddle (!) which he tries himself and declares to be “bitter”.

But his most notable odd behaviour comes when he breaks out into song, which he does accompanying himself on the banjo with a pious little ditty about mushrooms and light and God, even at the climactic dance sequence, no matter that the DJ (actual DJ Ken Knox) has brought along Chase’s latest platter to spin, which at least sounds a bit more like the rock ‘n’ roll the audience might have wanted. So nice is Chase that the Sheriff (Fred Graham, one of the biggest bit part brawlers in Westerns) is seemingly moved to great tolerance for the teens who see the mechanic as their spiritual leader, so when the gila monster is making its presence felt it is more Chase who is instrumental in vanquishing it than any of the Sheriff’s men. Or man, it doesn’t look to be a huge police force. Also worth a mention was another Western staple Shug Fisher (who could teach Sullivan a thing or two about record making) as the lovable drunk, somehow excused being potentially as destructive as the monster because he makes everyone laugh, indeed the DJ is introduced drink driving as well. But it’s the uninterested demeanour of the creature you’ll remember, lazily bulldozing toy bridges and cars. Music by Jack Marshall.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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