The Giant Gila Monster

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 comic 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 film is considered a cult classic.

The Giant Gila Monster
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRay Kellogg
Produced byKen Curtis
B.R. McLendon
Gordon McLendon
Written byRay Kellogg (story)
Jay Simms (screenplay)
StarringDon Sullivan
Fred Graham
Lisa Simone
Shug Fisher
Bob Thompson
Music byJack Marshall
CinematographyWilfred M. Cline
Edited byAaron Stell
Distributed byMcLendon-Radio Pictures Distributing Company
Release date
  • June 25, 1959 (1959-06-25)
Running time
74 minutes
CountryUnited States


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 long 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 Gila 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)
  • Gordon McLendon as Narrator (uncredited)


Filmed near Dallas, Texas, the film was budgeted at $175,000 and was produced by Dallas drive-in theater chain owner Gordon McLendon[2] 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 and even foreign distribution.[3]

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.[4] The "Gila Monster" in the movie is actually a Mexican Beaded Lizard.


On his website Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings Dave Sindelar gave the film a positive review, writing, "Whatever flaws there are with the story, I find myself drawn to the regional feel of the movie, and especially to the likable characters that inhabit this environment.... It's rare for a movie to have this many likable characters, and I think the reason I watch the movie again and again is because I just like to spend time with them".[5] TV Guide gave the film 2 out of 5 stars, calling it "a rear-projected monster just doesn't put audiences in a deep state of fear, especially when it's a lizard. It does, however, induce occasional uncontrolled laughter".[6] Alan Jones from Radio Times awarded the film 1 out of 5 stars, calling it "unintentionally amusing rather than scary".[7]

The film was featured on a season 5 episode of Cinema Insomnia[8] and season 4 of Mystery Science Theater 3000.[9]

The film's titular monster made an appearance in the Godzilla: The Series episode "Freak Show".


A made-for-TV remake, Gila!, directed by Jim Wynorski, was released in 2012.[10]

See also


  1. "Film Reviews: The Giant Gila Monster". Variety. July 15, 1959. p. 12. Retrieved May 20, 2019 via
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 14, 2012. Retrieved January 27, 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. pp. 187-8 Garay, Ronald Gordon McLendon: The Maverick of Radio Greenwood Publishing Group, March 30, 1992
  5. Sindelar, Dave. "The Giant Gila Monster (1959)". Dave Sindelar. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
  6. "The Giant Gila Monster - Movie Reviews and Movie Ratings". TV TV Guide. Retrieved July 27, 2018.
  7. Jones, Alan. "The Giant Gila Monster – review". Radio Alan Jones. Retrieved July 27, 2018.
  8. "Cinema Insomnia, with your Horror Host, Mister Lobo! - SHOW INFORMATION". Archived from the original on March 28, 2010. Retrieved November 21, 2010.
  9. "Episode List - Mystery Science Theater 3000". Retrieved January 27, 2019.
  10. peterson, Ross. "Film Review: Gila! (2012)". Ross Peterson. Retrieved July 27, 2018.
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