Sunday, June 1, 2014

I saw the Giant Gila Monster...Remade!!!

I recently had the good fortunate to catch (at long bloody last!) Jim Wynorski's remake of the Ken Curtis/Ray Kellogg drive-in classic, "The Giant Gila Monster." The new version is called "Gila!" and much to my content, pretty much mirrors the original (a personal favorite, I might add), at least in spirit and zeal. 

In fact, like the original, this one's also low-budget and proudly hip, with Brian "2001 Maniacs" Gross playing Don Sullivan's most famous role (and that's not to take anything away from "Monster of Piedras Blancas", "Teenage Zombies" or "Rebel Set"), as the amiable hot rodder/mechanic, Chase Winstead. This Chase doesn't sing much, but he's friends with the conscientious Sheriff Parker (Terence "Children of the Corn II" Knox) and has a gracious girlfriend named Lisa (Madeline Voges), though this time without the French accent. Most significantly, he has a knack for combating mutant lizards!

In this instance, toxic waste is defined as the creature's cause, with workers dumping barrels of such in a cave, just outside a small (Texan?) town. When the giant Gila appears, it's computerized, but just as a real Gila was unpretentiously "magnified" for the Curtis/Kellogg classic, the new version stomps shamelessly about in the sunlight: never once concealed by fog, mist or rain, as is the case generally with behemoths in bigger budgeted films. Indeed, when this specimen strikes, you damn well know it!

Quaint and quirky characters punctuate the monstrous proceedings, with Rich "Amityville Horror" Komenich as Sherwood Compton, Winstead's tipsy, survivalist boss, and Gerard "Monster Cruise" Pauwels as the cantankerous Mayor Norbert Wheeler (named after an equally surly chap from the original). Chase Adams and Callie Burk are warmly convincing as Winstead's young friends, Elsa and Pike, with Wynorski favorite, Kelli "Chopping Mall" Maroney, as Wilma, the dippy deputy. Good, ol' Don Sullivan even makes a cool cameo, indirectly attributing a spot of green slime to the mammoth reptile.

Back on the lead-character front, Chase faces an old, junior-high rival, the wayward Waco Bob (Jessie "Cry Wolf" Janzen), who's accompanied by his sultry, but wise-acre gal, Carla (Playboy's "After Hours Babe", Christina DeRosa), who during a sock hop, belts a mean cover of "Fever".

For what it's worth, "Gila!" is full of such golden oldies, ranging from the '50 to the early '60s, though one might simply assume the story takes place in '59: the original's time frame. 

The script (by William Dever, Steve Mitchell, Jim Nielson and Paul Sinor), obviously doesn't follow the first film to a tee, even setting it during the Christmas season, but the redux should ooze more than enough innocent charm to please traditionalists. Oh, and fear not! Chase does finally croon at least one Sullivan tune, the beloved "Mushroom Song" ("Laugh, Children, Laugh"), to his crippled, little sister, Missy (Jenna Ruiz). Trust me, the rendition (touchingly accompanied by town folk) will bring a tear to your eye. 

"Gila!" won't likely eclipse the fondness many of us hold for the original, but the remake still stands as a swell, nostalgic nod: a gem, in essence, in a spree of larger, more heavily publicized, fantasy films. "Gila!", however, is lots more fun than most of those. In all honesty, who's to say that, in its own humble (but equally competent) way, it's undeserving of the same, respectful attention, especially among monster aficionados?

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