January 21, 2005

Big ol' mean folk-stompin' sized lizard monsters

Being sick (yeah, now me too dammit), I had some time last night to put a small dent in my to-watch stack of "Ted movies" (as my wife calls them). If you're not a regular visitor, you might not realize that I love "B" movies, the low-budget efforts that I lovingly refer to as crap movies. There's a whole category here on Rocket Jones dedicated to them, full of reviews and trivia and related nonsense, and an updated list of my movie reviews. Now grab some popcorn and let's get on with this episode.

Back at the dawn of the nuclear age, a wave of giant creature movies hit the screens. My personal favorites from that time include Them! (giant ants) and Tarantula (giant spider - shudder - and an early bit part for Clint Eastwood), but I also had the pleasure of watching the following two.

First up is a cheesy little stinker called The Giant Gila Monster. See, there's this young man named Chase Winstead who lives in rural Texas. He's clean cut, polite and respectful, and works hard at the local auto repair shop. Two odd things about him though, somehow parts from wrecked vehicles he's towed tend to end up on his hotrod, and it seems that the townspeople trust him and his judgement to a ludicrous degree. I mean, the sherrif doesn't make a move without checking with Chase first, and overlooks the obvious theft of tires and such. Mental note: work on my "aw shucks" look, I've obviously underestimated its power.

Chase is the leader of the local hot rod club (if you're a classic car enthusiest, that's enough reason to watch this one right there), and they help the sherrif search the area when mysterious vehicle wrecks start happening and people start disappearing.

"Buying a car is just like getting married or goin' to New York City. Everybody ought to do it once, but nobody ought to do it twice." - Town drunk in The Giant Gila Monster

I'm not going to go into the plot much more than that, other than to say that Chase kills the giant Gila Monster in the end and saves his crippled little sister in the process (he steals car parts because he's saving his money for leg braces for sis). He also arranges to have the hottest DJ in the area show up to spin records at their club barn dance, and finds time to sing three songs during the movie. Other than the songs, this is a good kid.

And what, pray tell, could be wrong with the songs? Chase is played by Don Sullivan, who tried, and failed miserably, to become another Frankie Avalon. He wrote and performed the songs in this movie, and they are painfully bad. Painfully. Bad. Painfully. Bad. A little known fact is that in Texas it's legal to kill someone for playing the ukelele, and it's known at the Don Sullivan law. Painfully. Bad.

Ok, enough ragging on poor Don, who turned in a pretty good performance otherwise. On to the monster, the Giant Gila Monster. The monster is incredibly realistic, mainly because every time it appears it's a real lizard in closeup or on a miniature diorama. To save money (very low-budget) you never see the Gila Monster and actual people in the same shot, it always cuts from one to the other. Something I didn't know before watching this is that Gila Monsters are slow and ponderous critters. There's not much excitement when he's on screen, although it's fun watching him wreck an HO scale a train as it goes over a trestle bridge. You can almost imagine someone picking the lizard up and turning it around for another pass over the pile of toy trains hear the screams of the people trapped inside the wrecked passenger cars. Sheer comedy terror.

Merciless, I know. But I still recommend this movie. The plot is not awful, the acting is only fair to terrible, and Don sings three times, but it's still fun. And when you're watching a movie with the title The Giant Gila Monster, if you're expecting more than fun then you're expectations are set way too high.

Trivia: This movie, and it's sister flick Attack of the Killer Shrews, were produced by Ken Curtis. Ken Curtis started his career as a vocalist for Big Band leader Tommy Dorsey before going into pictures. He appeared in many movies including the small but important role of Dolan in Mr. Roberts, but he's undoubtably best known for his long-running television role as Festus in Gunsmoke.

Everyone loves giant beastie movies. The Japanese are famous for it, and most everyone else who makes movies rattled off a few. Even Denmark.

Yep. Denmark.

The movie is called Reptillicus, and I'll say right up front that this movie is rotten. Awful. Eye-gougingly, where's-my-electric-drill-I-need-to-put-it-through-my-temple, gargling ground glass bad. Making your kids watch this is grounds for a visit from the naughty-parents police.

I also recommend it (big surprise there, eh?), with reservations.

Like most movies, this one has it's good points and it's bad points.

Good: When the monster is first discovered, the explanation actually makes a kind of sense.

Bad: They hire a cartoon as night watchman at the lab where they're studying the remains of the monster. This guy is the prototype "Rose Nylund St. Olaf" story character.

Good: The monster regenerates itself. That's how they wind up with a whole monster even though they only started with a little piece. It also causes them to be creative when killing it, because blowing it up (as per usual practice) would just cause lots of explodey bits growing into many new monsters.

Bad: The monster itself is badly done (see Don Sullivan above). His primary weapon is a green acid spitball thing that is badly animated. Even for a badly done monster movie it looks amatuerish. Also, look for the guy getting eaten, it's obviously (badly) drawn in. Pitiful (and lots of 'badly').

Good: You get to see lots of pretty scenery around Copenhagen.

Bad: You get to see lots of pretty scenery around Copenhagen. In order to pad out the movie, it looks like they took stock tourist footage of the city and stuck it in here and there. At one point the lead characters go out for a night on the town and it plays like a travelogue.

Good: Pretty Scandanavian sisters. Woo-hoo!

Bad: The American General character. Another cartoon, although a super-heroic one. This guy was the inspiration for the slogan "I am an Army of One".

My favorite line from Reptillicus:

"Shoot it point blank, from very close range."

As opposed to point blank, from long range, I suppose. I think the biggest problem with this one is that it doesn't translate well into English and some of the dialog and motivations seem 'off' to me. Unlike The Giant Gila Monster, it isn't a strength here when the film tries to take itself seriously.

So there ya go, the horror of ukelele-strummin' hot-roddin' song-singing teenagers giant reptiles and extra cheese for your popcorn or chilidog. Enjoy!

Posted by Ted at January 21, 2005 06:35 AM
Category: Cult Flicks

Good review,Ted!Covered many of my feelings about this movie as well.Been a while since I've seen it though.

Posted by: Russ at January 21, 2005 08:25 PM


You must unlearn...

Point blank range is a very misunderstood term.

what it means is the range for which you would not have to alter your sight picture to hit a certain sized target.

For exmaple, a .30-06 chambered rifle firing 165 grain bullets at 2800 feet per second will have a rise of about 4 inches (roughly at 170 yards) & it'll be 4 inches below the line of sight at 300 yards (again roughly) when sighted in to be dead on at 225 yards. So the point blank range for an 8 inch target with that cartridge/rifle combination is about 300 yards. (again this are numbers off the top of my head - actual numbers will vary).

A 9mm pistol will usually have a point blank range of 70+ yards on a human sized target. Rifles increase that to 400+ (depending on the cartridge).

So point blank range can be a good ways away. Depends on the size of the target, the external ballistics of the cartridge & the sighted range of the firearm. The idea that point blank range means close is yet another example of the press talking out they ass & fooling a lot of people.

So while it seemed ackward he wasn't being contradictory.

Posted by: Publicola at January 23, 2005 04:37 PM

We just bought and watched Bubba Ho-Tep last week. I thought of you the whole time, Ted! ;-)

Bruce Campbell plays a bitter old Elvis Presley fighting a mummy in an East Texas old-folks home, with Ossie Davis playing a his senile compatriot who is convinced he's JFK. Gawd the costumes were awful...and oh gawd I loved every minute of it!!


Posted by: Denita TwoDragons at January 23, 2005 10:27 PM
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