Giant Gila Monster DVD

Continued from the Wasp Woman post…

In the second movie, Giant Gila Monster, the dour narrator barely draws a breath after describing “the enormity of the West… bleak and desolate” than some typical necking ‘50s teens get their car swatted off the road and are devoured by the title beastie. The local hot roddin’ teens at Spook’s pop stand, including hero Chase Winstead (Don Sullivan) and his French exchange student girlfriend Lisa (Lisa Simone), wonder at the pair’s disappearance, as does Sheriff Jeff (former serial stuntman Fred Graham). The budget barely provides production values beyond that of the typical educational short of the period, and some of the acting is at the same level, but the script is full of a lot of details that help bring the story to life. Monster pictures rarely pay much attention to the victims, but here the characters take the time to speculate on what may have become of the missing kids.

Our teenage hero is fleshed out as well, a flawed but good hearted kid who supports his widowed mother and crippled sister by working in a garage – and takes a correspondence course in engineering. Chase has enough problems that he doesn’t himself take seriously his dreams of becoming a Christian rock star. Then one day he rescues a drunk driver who turns out to be local rock radio deejay “Steamroller” Smith (Ken Knox), and ends up getting discovered. Meanwhile, more cars are found wrecked, and their drivers not found at all. Then a fuel truck, and even a passenger train are smashed by the big lizard. The Sheriff suspects the truth, but no one knows for sure until the monster crashes the big sock hop.

Comic relief is provided by Shug Fisher as Harris, a no-account drunk. Cartoon fans remember Fisher as the voice of the mouse’s musical Uncle Pecos in the Tom & Jerry cartoons.

One nitpick with the Drive-In Discs – Ray Kellogg’s Giant Gila Monster was originally released at the bottom of a twin bill with Kellogg’s The Killer Shrews. It would have been nice if Elite had been able to pair up the original double features on their discs. Sinister Cinema has done as much on their excellent Drive-In Double Feature tapes.

Another problem is the transfers. While the “widescreen” presentation seems to provide more picture on the sides for Wasp Woman, quite a bit of the top and bottom of Giant Gila Monster is masked off. Elite is using the same worn prints from National Film Museum that have been used for numerous other DVD releases of these titles, and though Elite’s versions are a lot brighter and cleaner, they still fall short of the company’s usual standards – especially considering that they’re charging at least twice as much as similar double feature DVDs from Madacy, K-Tel, and others.

However, Elite comes through when it comes to intermission clips, which are beautifully preserved and plentiful. The disc also includes a Betty Boop and a Popeye cartoon, both windowboxed a bit too much but looking sharp. Viewers are advised to make a trip to the snack bar when the dull “America the Beautiful” photo montage begins.

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