The Giant Gila Monster is a 1959 hot rod monster science fiction film directed by Ray Kellogg, and produced by Ken Curtis. It stars Don Sullivan, a veteran of several low budget monster and zombie films, Lisa Simone, the French contestant for Miss Universe of 1957, as well as Fred Graham, comedy relief Shug Fisher, KLIF disc jockey Ken Knox and Bob Thompson. This low-budget B-Movie featured a cast of unknown actors, and the effects included a live gila monster filmed on a scaled-down model landscape. The movie has been released on DVD and is considered a cult classic.
The movie opens with a young couple parked in a bleak, rural locale overlooking a ravine. A giant gila monster attacks the car, sending it into the ravine and killing the couple. Later, some friends of the couple decide to assist the local sheriff (Fred Graham) in his search for the missing teens. Chase Winstead (Don Sullivan), a young mechanic and hot rod racer, locates the crashed car in the ravine and finds evidence of the giant lizard. However, it is only when the hungry reptile attacks a train (a model train set substituted as a low-budget effect) that the authorities realize they are dealing with a (roughly) 70-foot poisonous lizard. By this time, emboldened by its attacks and hungry for prey, the creature attacks the town. It makes straight for the local dance hall where all the teenagers had gathered for a sock hop. However, Chase packs his prized hot rod with nitroglycerin and rigs it to speed straight into the monster, terminating the lizard in a fiery explosion and heroically saving the town.
Don Sullivan as Chase Winstead
Fred Graham as Sheriff Jeff
Lisa Simone as Lisa
Shug Fisher as Old Man Harris
Bob Thompson as Mr. Wheeler
Janice Stone as Missy Winstead (Chase Sister)
Ken Knox as Horatio Alger 'Steamroller' Smith
Gay McLendon as Mom Winstead
Don Flournoy as Gordy
Cecil Hunt as Mr. Compton
Stormy Meadows as Agatha Humphries
Howard Ware as Ed Humphries
Pat Reeves as Rick
Jan McLendon as Jennie
Jerry Cortwright as Bob
Beverly Thurman as Gay
Clarke Browne as Chuck
Grady Vaughn as Pat Wheeler (Mr Wheeler Son)
Desmond Doogh as Hitchhiker
Ann Sonka as Whila
Yolanda Salas as Liz Humphries (Agatha and Ed Daughters)
Filmed near Dallas, the film was budgeted at $175,000 and was produced by Dallas drive in theater chain owner Gordon McLendon who wished co-features for his main attractions. McLendon shot the film back to back with The Killer Shrews. Both films were feted as the first feature films shot in and produced in Dallas and the first movies to premiere as double features. Unlike most double features released in the South, theses films received national distribution.
In exchange for doing the special effects, Ray Kellogg was allowed to direct the film. Ken Curtis allowed Sullivan to pick his songs that gave the film popularity with the teenage market.Ken Knox, who plays Horatio Alger "Steamroller"Smith was an actual disc jockey working at radio stations in Texas owned by Gordon McLendon.
References in popular culture
The film was also featured on a Season 5 episode of Cinema Insomnia.
In addition to being featured on numerous "bargain box" discs, The Giant Gila Monster has been restored in color and released as a double-feature, alongside The Killer Shrews, by Legend Films. It was also released as part of the "Horror Classics 50 Movie Pack" DVD box set.
The Mystery Science Theater 3000 version, along with an exclusive interview with star Don Sullivan, has been released by Rhino Home Video, as part of the Collection, Volume 10.2 box set. Rhino also offered an individual disk for purchase on their web site (for those who already bought Volume 10).