The Giant Gila Monster Special Edition Blu-ray Review: Hey, Kids! It’s a Rocking, Horror Double Bill with The Killer Shrews

The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews return! These two low budget sci fi/ horror flix directed by Ray Kellogg (The Green Berets) are reunited and remastered in a double feature that has them looking as good as they did when they debuted together in 1959. Both are better than remembered, probably due to how crisp the picture and sound are, not to mention watching through more mature eyes all these years later. Also the acting from some top stars isn’t too bad either.  

Buy The Giant Gila Monster / The Killer Shrews Double Feature Blu-ray

The Giant Gila Monster tells the tale of handsome young Chase Winstead (Don Sullivan), a hot rodder, mechanic, singer of rock songs, and all around good guy. Chase wants only to work on cars, help his family, smooch with his beautiful French girlfriend Lisa (Lisa Simone), and hangout with friends at the local soda shop. Unfortunately for Chase, his friends and neighbors start to disappear, one by one, from their quiet Texas town. A few drunks claim to see a giant lizard stalking the wilderness but can they be trusted? The local sheriff, Jeff, has been getting reports of missing livestock and is slowly starting to put things together. Sheriff Jeff also contacted a zoologist who explained that there have been recent wildlife mutations around the world and that just could be what’s plaguing his small town. 

Little does Sheriff Jeff know how right he is! A slow but stealth Giant Gila Monster has been quietly behind those attacks; it’s even managed to derail a train and eat the passengers. All this while dodging search parties like a mutated ninja lizard. One night it decides to expose itself and attack a barn dance where the teens have gathered to hear Chase’s rocking new platter. Perhaps it was the music that drove the monster mad? Or it could just be that a gathering this large meant a good meal? Just as the giant monster begins to tear up the dance floor, Sheriff Jeff shows up and starts blasting away with his shotgun, driving the GIla Monster away. As Sheriff Jeff heads off to gather more help, Chase sparks an idea. He’s been sitting on some nitroglycerine (as hot rodders do) and plans to turn his hot rod into a hot rocket of death for that Giant Gila Monster. Ruin my record hop will ya, bub? (Not an actual line from the movie.) 

The Giant Gila Monster’s great fun and it isn’t as bad as most people make it out to be. It’s got fast cars, rock ‘n’ roll, and pretty girls. It’s even got a real, living Gila Monster (actually a Mexican beaded lizard) as its star! The acting is competent (thankfully, the teens don’t speak in phony be-bop jargon) and the characters keep one interested for 74 minutes. As to be expected though, the story has more holes than Sheriff Jeff’s shotgun could make. Take for instance how the Gila monster is so damn big compared to its (miniature) surroundings but sneaks around and hides behind bushes like a mid-sized dog; there’s just no way a person is going to miss something that damned big just feet in front of it. Again, all par for the course as far as these things go. If you’re gonna be nitpicky about something like that in these schlock affairs, then they surely are not for you.

Jack Marshall’s score is pretty good and he’s got some decent credits to his name like composing the theme to the classic TV show The Munsters. On a Groovy Ghoulie note, the song playing during the climax sounds like the graveyard jam “Grim Grinning Ghost” on Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride. It’s a jazzy, sax-filled, rockabilly type tune with a theremin running through it. I dig it better than the tunes star Don Sullivan brought along to sing during the movie, which really aren’t that bad either or too awkwardly placed as in other films with singing stars. Kind of fun to think what Elvis could have done in one of these spookers? Elvis in “monster house rock” or “atomic vampire blues?” 

The Killer Shrews is the next picture on this two-disc set and features an all star cast of sorts. James Best is Captain Thorne Sherman, while Ken Curtis (yes, Festus from Gunsmoke) steps out of his producer chair to play Best’s drunken foil, Jerry. Renowned film director Sidney Lumet’s father, Baruch plays Dr. Craigis, a scientist whose work has brought him to the deserted island and in turn why Captain Sherman is there as well. Radio DJ/personality and Shrews executive producer Gordon McLendon also steps in from behind the scenes as scientist Dr. Radford Bains, who aids Doc Craigis in his research. No one can forget former Miss Sweden, Ingrid Goude, as the Doctor’s daughter, Ann. It’s this solid cast that keeps this stinker afloat and fun to watch as it’s basically the story of a ship’s captain who arrives on an isolated island to transport people off. They are forced to stay the night as the tiny shrews being experimented on have become giant, turned bad, and are out to ravage the island. The captain and crew must now try to make it back aboard ship and sail to safety as these dogs with shaggy rugs and fangs fastened to them look for their next pat on the head. I mean, killer shrews hunting their next meal. 

The Killer Shrews isn’t as bad as I remember it being either. Yes, the special effects aren’t the greatest and are more comical than frightening but they are kind of creepy at times. If I had one of those shaggy things chasing me by the light of the moon, I wouldn’t stop to offer it a biscuit. The most brilliant description of The Killer Shrews comes from a member of The Monster Party Podcast who says it “plays like a Tennessee Williams play but with giant shrews.” The cast truly saves this one from being a complete catastrophe, tackling its more adult themes well; there’s lots of drinking and fighting throughout its 69 minute runtime. Watching Curtis as a drunk in contemporary times and not a cowboy, as well as using his natural voice, is amusing. As is watching a young James Best, who may be best remembered as Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane from TV’s Dukes of Hazzard, being a bit of a jerk at times. Also interesting to watch is McLendon, who is probably best known as the radio personality who invented the top 40 format and all news radio. 

Extras on The Giant Gila Monster disc include a very entertaining audio commentary by the very funny people of The Monster Party Podcast. They provide many fun facts about cast, crew, locations and many other bits of info that relate to the movie. There’s also an hour and a half phone interview with Don Sullivan. Which is a good listen but at times hard to hear due to the nature of the medium used. 

The Killer Shrews disc has audio commentary provided by Jason A. Ney, who does a fine job of presenting all the colorful facts about this legendary piece of schlock. He keeps the commentary light and fun without mocking the movie or its participants. The gem of all the extras is the 16-minute documentary Ray Kellogg – An Unsung Master, which was written by C. Courtney Joyner and narrated by Larry Blamire. Joyner has appeared on numerous commentary tracks that range from horror movies to westerns and dramas. Blamire’s name may ring a bell as the genius who brought us the 2001 instant classic The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. If you haven’t seen that one, you have my full permission to stop here and go watch it. I insist, I really do and there’s no need to thank me after. 

The Special Edition Extras Features are outstanding and there’s also a legit 22-page booklet with an essay on each movie: one by Don Stradley about McLendon and the Gila Monster while the other by Jason A. Ney is about the “unkillable Shrews.” 

The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews are the perfect schlock double feature and look great thanks to Film Masters newly restored 4k scan. Both are better than I recall them being, the picture quality helps but they stand on their own as classics of the era. They aren’t scary movies and may make one ponder the science used in them, but they are fun to watch, especially when expecting them to be complete garbage, which they aren’t. Some solid names who worked for major studios put at least some effort into these pictures and made a good profit in return. Recommended and perhaps best enjoyed with a couple of adult beverages to further enhance these schlock-fest favorites. 

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Joe Garcia III

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