Release dateJune 25, 1959 WriterRay Kellogg (original story), Jay Simms (screenplay) CastDon Sullivan (Chase Winstead), Fred Graham (Sheriff Jeff), Lisa Simone (Lisa), Shug Fisher (Old Man Harris), Bob Thompson (Mr. Wheeler), Janice Stone (Missy Winstead) Similar moviesKen Curtis and Gordon McLendon produced The Giant Gila Monster and appear in The Killer Shrews
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The Giant Gila Monster is a 1959 hot rod/monster/science fiction film, directed by Ray Kellogg and produced by Ken Curtis. This low-budget B-movie starred Don Sullivan, a veteran of several low budget monster and zombie films, and Lisa Simone, the French contestant for Miss Universe of 1957, as well as comedy relief Shug Fisher and KLIF disc jockey Ken Knox. The effects included a live Mexican beaded lizard (not an actual Gila monster) filmed on a scaled-down model landscape. The movie is considered a cult classic.
The movie opens with a young couple, Pat Wheeler (Grady Vaughn) and Liz Humphries (Yolanda Salas), 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 (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 venomous lizard. By this time, emboldened by its attacks and hungry for prey, the creature attacks the town. It heads for the local dance hall, where the town's teenagers are 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
Lisa Simone as Lisa
Fred Graham as Sheriff Jeff
Shug Fisher as Old Man Harris
Bob Thompson as Mr. Wheeler
Janice Stone as Missy Winstead
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
Desmond Doogh as Hitchhiker
Ann Sonka as Whila
Yolanda Salas as Liz Humphries
Patricia Simmons as Sherry (uncredited)
Angus G. Wynne III as dumb teen (uncredited)
Filmed near Dallas, Texas, the film was budgeted at $175,000 and was produced by Dallas drive-in theater chain owner Gordon McLendon who wanted 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, these films received national distribution.
In exchange for doing the special effects, Kellogg was allowed to direct the film. Curtis allowed Sullivan to pick the songs with the teenage market in mind. Knox, who played Horatio Alger "Steamroller" Smith, was an actual disc jockey working at radio stations in Texas owned by McLendon.
In addition to being featured on numerous "bargain box" discs and the Horror Classics 50 Movie Pack DVD box set, The Giant Gila Monster was restored in color and released as a double-feature alongside The Killer Shrews by Legend Films.
The Mystery Science Theater 3000 version, along with an exclusive interview with star Sullivan, was 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 website for those who already bought Volume 10.
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