“Those who hunt by night will tell you that the wildest and most vicious of all animals is the tiny shrew. The shrew feeds only by the dark of the moon. He must eat his own body weight every few hours or starve. And the shrew devours everything, bones, flesh, marrow, everything.
In March, first in Alaska, and then invading steadily southward there were reports of a new species—the Giant Killer Shrew!” —pre-credits narration
Until I got the press release I had no idea this is one of Stephen King’s favorite movies. I, personally, had always known of it from various monster movie books I read as a kid, but really had no desire to watch it. Probably because of how I learned they did the effects for the “giant” shrews, disguising dogs with a costume. Recently, however, my tastes have changed, altered somewhat by simply getting older, so when I heard this movie was getting an upgrade I couldn’t pass up the chance to finally see what this movie was all about.
Having checked out a trailer before hand I was surprised that it had this odd, childhood vibe about it. It reminded me of a movie my brother and me might have come across one hot summer’s day on TV. Something we might have unexpectedly enjoyed and then fetched our toy guns, went outside and pretended we were battling giant, killer shrews. This happened to us a lot when we viewed certain old-fashioned sci-fi movies. And I’m happy to report this once ignored cult classic has now become a favorite of mine.
Also little did I know James Best was in it. I kept staring at him like he seemed familiar. I then re-read the press release sent with the DVD and suddenly realized he was in a TV series I used to watch as a kid, The Dukes Of Hazzard (1979-1985). He was Sheriff Rosco Coltrane. I’ll be damned!
Best plays Thorne Sherman (that’s a hell of a first name), a boat captain, who’s just taken over a job from another delivering supplies to researchers on a remote island. There’s a hurricane about to strike and he makes it to the island just in time. He’s also met by a pensive group who knows nothing of the pending storm and is under the assumption he’s only dropping off the supplies then leaving. There’s a hot, Swedish Zoologist by the name of Ann Cragis (that’s a hell of a last name) who’s more than ready to get her ass back to civilization, but news of the storm delays that prospect a whole, long 24 hours.
Her father, Dr. Marlow Cragis (Baruch Lumet ) and another scientist, Jerry Farrell (Ken Curtis), one who takes instant dislike to Thorne, reluctantly welcome him back to their base, which is flanked by a really tall fence.
Thorne, and we the audience, notice everyone is quite on edge but we don’t know why until Thorne decides he wants to go back to his boat. Ann then pulls a gun on him and tells him he can’t. She eventually fesses up this motley crew has been doing genetic experiments trying to solve the future world’s hunger problem and have created giant shrews in the process. Now the island is overrun by 2-300 of them. The movie’s budget only allowed the scientists to tangle with six of them, tops. Surprisingly, I found the movie to have a rather decent and suspenseful plot and be fairly well acted. And I didn’t mind the dogs-made-up-as-shrews effects either. The did the same thing for the 1982 giant rat movie, Deadly Eyes, and it worked fine for me in that flick as well. In close-ups puppets were used and I liked those just as much.
Believe it or not a sequel was made in 2012 called, Return Of The Killer Shrews, and James Best returned as Thorne Sherman. Unfortunately, the FX that was chosen to bring the killer shrews to life this time was crude SyFy channel level CGI. In keeping with the spirit of the first film they should have went back to using disguised dogs and animatronic puppets for close-ups, but I digress.
“In the enormity of the West there are still vast and virtually unexplored regions, bleak and desolate, where no human ever goes and no life is ever seen. It is as though the land has been posted by God. It is in these lonely areas of impenetrable forests and dark shadows that the Gila monster still lives. How large the dreaded Gila monster grows, no man can say.” —pre-credits narration
I’ve never seen The Giant Gila Monster before, only knowing of its existence through the many monster movie books I used to read when I was a kid. Odd that it was never aired in my area either, same with The Killer Shrews. Now that I’ve seen it, though, it’s not a bad little film, presenting the flick as a mystery to the characters, but not to us viewers. It’s also a very rural set movie like most of these giant monsters-on-the-loose flicks were from the black and white film era. This is also the second film I’ve reviewed recently with Don Sullivan in the cast; he was also in The Monster Of Piedras Blancas (1959). I wonder which one he did first? Just like the role he played in Blancas, he’s the hero in this one, and also on good terms with the local Sheriff (Fred Graham).
The main characters are teen Chase Winstead (Sullivan) and Sheriff Jeff (Graham), with Chase’s young friends, his French girlfriend Lisa (Lisa Simone), and his mother (Gay McLendon) and sister (Janice Stone) providing character backdrop as this giant lizard comes out of the blue from this particularly unexplored area known as Williams Wash and begins eating up the local cattle and the people.
The incident that kicks the movie off is very similar to the one in Earth Vs. The Spider (1958) where a loved one/friend goes missing one night and never comes home. In this flick it’s two of Chase’s friends, Patrick and Liz, with Pat being Chase’s best friend, only drawback is he comes from a rich family whose father makes things difficult for the local Sheriff. Both kids are hanging out in Pat’s car when the giant lizard tosses it down a ravine, then throughout the movie various victims encounter the lizard on the highway, their vehicles being toppled over and their bodies being eaten up. Of course the ‘eaten up’ part is never shown but insinuated since bodies are never found whenever Chase and/or the Sheriff discover the wrecks.
Chase and Jeff are stumped since they can’t explain how these wrecks are happening. Each vehicle looking like it’s been collided with by another vehicle, tracks veering off to the right, but no evidence of a vehicle collision being evident. Until one night a rather popular, and drunk, disc jockey visiting from the city is run off the road by the lizard. He lives to tell the story but of course Chase doesn’t believe him since he’s drunker than a skunk. Incidentally Chase is a mechanic who’s on fairly good terms with the Sheriff, which explains how he gets caught up in this mystery.
Another local drunk spots the monster too, right after it totals a bridge, causes the wreck of a train, and then proceeds to go back and menace the passengers. Were any eaten? It’s never insinuated, but there were enough survivors to inform the Sheriff that a giant lizard is the culprit. In the final act it lays siege to a barn the kids are having a dance party in, and Chase comes to the rescue as he uses his car and four cans of nitro to blow the lizard straight to Hell.
The monster scenes are rather effective, even though the effect is an actual lizard in miniature sets, with two quick scenes of a practical effect claw created for close-ups of what it might look like to get stomped on by a giant reptile.
Both of these movies have been teamed up before on disc (makes sense since they were filmed back-to-back) with the most notable coming from Legend films in 2009, and Image Entertainment in 2012 (standalone Gila Monster release). Retromedia acquired them and re-released them in a new double feature back on September 20th.
Buy Here At Amazon!
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1.66:1 anamorphic enhanced-widescreen from 35mm film elements—2.0 English Dolby Digital Stereo—no subtitles.
This release is a first for The Killer Shrews since this is the first time it’s been presented in widescreen. The Giant Gila Monster has already seen a widescreen release from Image. I have never seen Monster in that aforementioned widescreen, but it looks pretty good here despite some minor “print damage” in the beginning and at the end. Unfortunately, my favorite of this double, The Killer Shrews, even though it looks real good, the audio is a bust! The opening narration sounds normal, but once the movie kicks in everyone’s voice has this annoying echo to it. Obviously something went horribly wrong in the transfer.
Extras included . . .
In 2012 The Giant Gila Monster was remade by cult director, Jim Wynorski, but he shortened the title down to Gila!