THE GIANT GILA MONSTER (1959)
D. Ray Kellog
This classic 50's monster mash is such a delight that I've totally fallen in love with it. For years I have seen clips of it on TV specials, horror hosts shows, compilation tapes, and Sci-fi, horror history documentaries, but never had gotten around to seeing the actual movie. It's the quintessential 50's drive in horror fare, with EVERYTHING a movie from that era needs to be definitive: dancing teenagers, fast cars, hillbillies and rednecks, a lovable town drunk, a town sheriff who is looking out for the kids, AND a teen hero who's a grease-monkey, father figure to his semi delinquent friends, and a wanna-be rock singer! He also takes care of his widowed mom and handicapped sister who can't walk due to her malformed legs. So he's just a swell guy all around, and even the big city disc jockey takes a shine to him after he saves the man's ass when he catches him drunk driving one afternoon. Instead of turning him into the police, our hero tows him into the shop to fix the fender bender he just had and let the fat bastard dry out. In fact, he's so squeaky clean/awesome that when he swipes the tires off a crime scene car the sheriff just looks the other way!
Frenchie does NOT seem to be enjoying chase's banjo ditty. in fact looks like a projectile vomit is on the way at any minute.
Then there is the Gila Monster itself. One of the greatest monster creations of all time. Whomever got the bright idea of just getting a regular Gila monster/lizard and plopping it down in miniature sets and making a movie around it was a freakin' genius. Seriously. I mean i can't account for how this movie played in 1959 and if audiences thought that shit looked realistic (to be fair the miniatures are pretty nice) but it's classic hilarity now. But even more than that, the Gila Monster is so damn cute, you can't hate him. The way he lurks around in the bushes watching the action from just off screen, sitting there blinking his lizard eye, just wanting to be loved. You feel for the big guy.
And he's smart, too. He knows when to knock a car full of obnoxious humping teens down a cliff and eat their asses, and when to hang back and just listen to the sheriff and his buddy talk about the crime scene at hand. It's not until the horrible singing at the barn party at the end that he freaks out and decides it is time to just eat the whole damn town.
That brings us to the highlight of the movie. No, not the awesome Gila Monster attack on the barn party, though that is pretty great. Nope, it's the middle of the movie out of nowhere full on song number from lead actor Don Sullivan called "Laugh Little Children," or as it has become known to fans, "The Mushroom Song". It happens right after the main character Chase has come home to find his girlfriend Frenchie has given his crippled little sister leg braces to finally walk. Now up until this point we nave never seen, nor heard mention of his little sister, her plight or her need for leg braces. In fact, we never knew she existed until now. But he walks in and this little girl gets up, tries to walk toward him, but falls down. She gets up again and walks a few steps and starts to fall again, but heroic Chase catches her. She gets all teary eyed over the fact that she practiced all day so she could have it together enough to impress him when he got home. We're trying to figure out if this is his illegitimate kid, or what? He whips out a handy banjo and starts singing a little tune to her about how a little "mushroom" tried to grow tall but couldn't and kids laughed at it. So the Lord said "laugh little children laugh". When he's finished, the girl, apparently his sister, says "laughing is important, isn't it?" to which he replies "I've never felt more like laughing than I do right now!"
Yeah, that has got to make her feel a shitload better! And no, she doesn't manage to run away on her new leg braces when the Gila Monster comes after her, though she tries. I got the feeling the director hated this little girl. Especially after her close-up revealed she has a nasty mustache.
I'm not even gonna talk about the little man crush the sheriff seems to have on the lead character, or how the lead character practically sexually assaults a woman in a hallway that we discover in the next scene is his MOTHER! Sheesh!
But I will talk about how the movie's explanation for the Gila Monster's size is simply that in Russia a baby was born at 30 pounds so giantism is a real thing. Maybe lots of minerals had been being dumped in the river from the old coal mine and made the Gila Monster get real big, because it happened to a baby in Russia, so it must be possible!
Awesome. That is all I have to say. Oh yeah in June it was the 50th anniversary of this classic!
And here to amuse you, or hurt your head, "The Mushroom Song"
Reviews © Andy Copp