I’m combining my ongoing “A to Z Challenge” with my occasional reviews of old and/or favorite movies. As I’ve said before, when I was a kid, my brother and I would stay up late to watch old SF movies in black and white on the TV. The movies were always much cut up to allow for noisy used car dealer commercials and we sometimes fell asleep before the end.
“The Giant Gila Monster” of 1959 (“Devouring people as if they were flies!”) was one of the favorites of whoever programmed movies at the little station we watched, so we saw it fairly often. It was a typical 1950’s movie with giant creature bent on devouring the world (ants, spiders, crabs, you-name-it became giant people-eating beasts in those old flicks all the time) and plucky teens who defeat it when no one else can. Actually this Gila monster apparently just wanted to eat the local townspeople and had no further ambitions. I always rather enjoyed the scenes of a real Gila monster rampaging through model train sets. The hero, Chase, hot rodder with a heart of gold, was portrayed by Don Sullivan, who also got to sing three songs in the course of the movie. (Don’t tell him, since I believe he wrote the songs, but the station we watched as kids cut about one and a half of them every time as best I can recall.)
One staple of 1950’s SF movies in this genre that always amused me was the heroine with the random, charming foreign accent that usually went unexplained (although in one of my alltime favorites “The Killer Shrews,” the heroine asked the hero why he wasn’t curious about her accent!). My family had a theory going that these actresses were former Miss Swedens, who had won a role in a “big Hollywood movie” as one of their prizes. Turns out the lady in this Gila movie was Miss France 1957.
At any rate, I recently stumbled across the 2012 remake, a made-for-TV movie entitled “Gila!” I had to watch it so I ordered the dvd. The tagline on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) is “Hot Music, Hot Cars, Hot Chicks…and One Big Monster.” I don’t know if that was the official tag or someone’s plot summary but the cars at least were hot. The cars were the best thing in the movie – beautifully restored, shiny 1950’s vehicles that drew your eye every time one was in the scene. The characters drove quite an odd assortment of cars, probably based on what the film makers were able to find. It was glaringly obvious to me how extremely careful everyone was being not to get a scratch on the perfect paint. Anytime there was a “car wreck” the camera would cut away right before the actual collision and then you’d get a scene where the car was obviously still in pristine condition.
So when the cars are the eye candy, that’s probably not a good sign overall. The movie seemed to be trying to be in the 1950’s without really being there. It was shot in a washed out color palette that approximated black and white (except for the cars, which almost glow). The costumes were suggestive of the 1950’s at best and glaringly wrong at other times. One dress the heroine wore briefly looked like she’d sewn it herself the first week in Home Ec class. I kid you not.
Throughout the ENTIRE movie I was annoyed every time the sheriff showed up, not because the actor wasn’t doing a good job (he was) but because the costume person couldn’t be bothered to find a matching shirt and pants for his uniform.
The bad boy (human, not the monster) was named “Waco Bob,” which at first I assumed was a joke but no….
Frankly when it came to the monster, I preferred the 1959 real one and his destruction of train sets to the cgi thing that lumbered through this movie…
This movie seemed to be largely following the plot of the original, with a few differences. They had a scene at a burger joint which appeared to primarily allow the heavily accented car hop to explain she was a foreign exchange student, which I took as a wink to the 1950’s trope I mentioned above. She wasn’t the girl friend in this version though.
I’d forgotten the subplot in the original about the little sister with polio…
And actor Don Sullivan reappeared, as a professor who is an expert on – you guessed it – giant Gila monsters!
Another fun bit of casting was Kelli Maroney from “Night of the Comet” (a movie I personally love) as the Deputy.
And our 2012 version of hero Chase, played by Brian Gross, got to sing the main song at the end. Known as “Laugh, Children, Laugh”, the real title was apparently “The Mushroom Song.”
Here’s the original version (song starts at about :45):
I think, all in all, I prefer the approach Steve Latshaw and James Best took with “Killer Shrews”, where they did a modern day sequel rather than rework the original. (Here’s my review of “Return of the Killer Shrews”.)