Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Huge Horror - The Giant Gila Monster

Sometimes I wonder about what makes some people scared. I had a teacher that said that all fear was based on fear of death. Even stage-fright was based on performing so poorly on stage that the audience will rush you, strip you naked and then hang you from a scrim light cord. Yeah, I had my doubts about that one. But fear of death does seem to be the main cause of terror in horror fiction. Most books and movies put the perils in mortal peril and then you read about them trying to escape one way or the other.

What influences these terrors can come from what the writer of the story fears. For example, are you scared of clowns popping out from under your bed and pulling you into a knife filled embrace under the bed - don't watch "Poltergeist". And while fear of clowns (or of heavily made up humans trying to make you laugh) makes some sort of sense, you have to wonder about the inherent horror of "The Giant Gila Monster".

Now the Gila Monster is a lizard and some people hate reptiles of any kind. On top of that, the bite of a Gila monster is very poisonous. Ok, that's scary. And if you make a Gila monster HUGE then you've got dangers from being stepped on, or tail swiped or even being bitten half (poison followed by being severed in twain! That's really scary). So you see the potential for horror, right? Well kinda.

In the hit film "The Giant Gila Monster" the horror of the idea isn't translated well into existence. First off the low budget of the film made it impossible to show the Gila Monster actually on the screen with any humans. So instead of the stop motion wizardry of a Ray Harryhausen creature - we get a regular sized Gila Monster walking across model train sized sets. And these are obviously sets, or model train sets - whichever was cheaper. Sure our giant critter gets lots of close ups, and cut aways, so it appears he watching the action. But you can tell he's just looking for a quick way off the stupid plastic hill and find a rock to hide under.

When the movie tries to get the poor stunt lizard to interact with anything it's hilarious - not scary. He knocks over a model train, which gets an overlay of screams to create realism. All it really does is confirm that the sets are model train sets. He pops his head through some balsa wood to make it look like he's terrorizing a barn dance (you end up feeling sorry for him. You know some human just shoved his head through balsa wood). In my favorite scene from the movie, a toy truck is shown driving down a deserted road. Cut to Gila Monster. Cut to driver humming to himself, wondering if he'd get his tanker truck full of gasoline back to the gas station in time. Cut to the Gila Monster. Out shoots his tongue! Cut to the driver. Eyes bug out and he lets out a scream. The camera tilts crazily. Cut to a toy tanker truck on a fake road falling over and bursting into flames. One of my friends asked, "Did the Gila Monster destroy the truck with its tongue?" Yes... yes it did.

So, were the creators of the film delusional? Did they think that the Gila Monster's tongue was so horrible that it would terrify the multitudes? Did they have larger ambitions than their budget would allow? Of was it just a quick cash grab to make this movie (and "The Killer Shrews" ) to slap on a double bill for a drive in?

Yeah I pick option three.

But I can see how a giant poisonous lizard could be terrifying.

Do you have a favorite cheesy monster movie? Can you think of a way to make a giant Gila Monster scary? Would this same story have worked well in a short story or novel form? Have you seen this movie (with or without the help of Mystery Science Theater)?

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