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RATED Not Rated
STUDIO Polyscope Media Group
RUNNING TIME 96 minutes
• Original trailer
• The original Gila Monster
• The Mushroom Song
• Gila! Trailer
A made for TV movie about a giant Gila monster that’s not nearly as awful as it should be.
Jim Wynorski (director), Brian Gross, Madleine Voges, Jesse Janzen, Terrence Knox
A giant lizard terrorizes a rural mid west community with a group of heroic young people led by Chase Winstead attempting to destroy the creature.
Tropes can be exhausting, particularly in horror, but there’s one that has never failed to hook me in: the concept of a small isolated community under siege from a malevolent force. These stories are rarely as perfect as say, Slither, Gremlins, the 80s remake of the The Blob, Jaws, or Tremors but even the weakest offerings (The Curse, Flesheater, Mutant, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem) are movies that I actually un-ironically enjoy watching.
Maybe it has to do with my upbringing in a small Midwestern town. Maybe the fact that my gateway to horror was a grocery store rental VHS of Ernest Scared Stupid caused me to imprint a nostalgic feeling for that sort of setting and story. I don’t know the reason but there’s something special about small town horror, a certain feeling to it that every single story of the type has; David Lynch described it as the sound of wind whistling through pine trees (when asked what sort of atmosphere he wanted for Twin Peaks) and that’s as good description as any. It’s a feeling of something sinister but also comfortable, small town horror deals with the perversion of familiarity, but that familiarity is also typically what’s used as a weapon to fight back. Some stories have it more than others but they all have it, at least a little.
Gila! is a pretty standard small-town horror offering, choosing to beef up its nostalgic value by being a throwback to old 1950s monster movies (specifically of The Giant Gila Monster upon which the film is based.) Our hero is Chase Winstead, a teenager (by Luke Perry standards) and hot rodder with an unbelievably decent and likeable personality.
Waco Bob, an old acquaintance, has come to town looking to get payback on Chase for getting him put in juvenile detention some years back. Bob’s grudge will have to take a back-seat though, because a Gila monster that’s grown to gigantic size due to some irresponsible disposal of toxic waste is terrorizing the countryside destroying everything in its path.
Throwbacks are the new hotness in the b-movie world and they’ve saturated the market to the point of annoyance. Gila! is definitely among the throwback crowd but it’s a little bit different. With most throwbacks there’s little asides and nods as though the characters are pulling the audience aside and saying “Hey folks, I know we’re having a lot of fun here but I just want you to know that none of us take this seriously.” And that’s fine, I enjoy those winks and nods but it’s rare to find a movie that is a completely sincere throwback.
Gila! has no winks or nods, it is a perfectly made 1950s horror movie with a modern cast and crew. The authenticity becomes a bit of a burden later in the movie as the “safety” of classic sci-fi movies just kind of tie the whole thing up with a neat bow. The movie ends on a sing-along at a Christmas party that feels like something out of a made-for-TV remake of It’s a Wonderful Life which is mostly just amusing because the man behind Deathstalker 2, Chopping Mall, and a slew of soft-core porn parodies of famous movies was responsible.
The lizard doesn’t look great but I’ve seen movies with much bigger budgets do far worse. It’s clearly CG and the creature’s gait (particularly whilst running) is really strange. Wynorski gets his money’s worth out of the creature though, it interacts with people and objects: breaking through walls, destroying cars, at one point it takes on a train. Even if it doesn’t look great I have to applaud the audacity of it all.
What wasn’t spent on lizard action was apparently spent on classic cars and the licenscing of classic rock ‘n roll songs. Gila! is almost fetishistic when it comes to classic cars; not just hot rods either. Tow trucks, pick-up trucks, even the train is period accurate. There are almost no scenes in this entire movie that don’t feature a classic car in some form or fashion.
What the budget apparently did not go toward is actors. Terence Knox does a competent job as the sheriff and Brian Gross does a wonderful job as Chase. He’s charming and likeable and his lines hold weight, it’s also easy to believe he’s the coolest guy in town because everyone else talks like an ashamed sixth-grader in a Christmas pageant.
The scene stealer is Rich Komenich as Compton, Chase’s Commie-hating gun-hoarding boss. Every one of these movies needs this sort of character to provide advanced firepower later in the movie and Komenich in all his cigar chomping glory owns every scene he’s in. His demeanor and gruff voice come across as a combination of Lane Smith and Ed Asner and he’s amazing. If you watch this movie for any reason, watch it for Rich.
Gila! is a fun movie, but it’s a forgettable fun. I suppose this is appropriate for a remake of monster movie that almost no one remembers, but it comes up lacking and that’s a bit of a shame. Still, given that it is basically the equivalent of a SyFy Channel original movie, it’s leaps and bounds beyond what someone would expect. I enjoyed this movie but I don’t find myself wanting to revisit it. It’s a decent small-town horror movie, but it’s no Eight Legged Freaks.
The special features are a bit deceptive: most of them are just slideshows and single screens with information on them. It’s pretty much just a trailer for the movie and the trailer for the original.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars