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Monster Features: The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews

    The golden age of drive-in schlock cinema was nearing its twilight in 1959, yet it granted us the delightful extravagance of “The Giant Gila Monster” and “The Killer Shrews,” two low-budget gems brought to life by the resourceful producer Gordon McLendon.

    “Only Hell could breed such an enormous beast. Only God could destroy it!”

    Film Masters has done an exceptional job in meticulously restoring these two films to their original glory. Through their painstaking efforts, they have breathed new life into these low-budget cinematic treasures, allowing audiences to experience their visual and audio splendor as if they were freshly created. The dedication and expertise of Film Masters shine through in the stunning rejuvenation of these movies, a testament to their commitment to preserving and enhancing the art of film.

    In “The Giant Gila Monster,” a seemingly ordinary lizard embarks on an extraordinary rampage through a quaint, unsuspecting town. If the prospect of a colossal reptilian threat isn’t sufficiently enticing, the film generously treats its audience to a feast of sleek, vintage automobiles and a dose of faux rock ‘n’ roll, belted out by the film’s lead actor, Don Sullivan (famous for his role in “The Monster of Piedras Blancas”).

    The second feature film on the bill is the one I’m genuinely eager to watch. “The Killer Shrews” boasts an intriguing ensemble of characters that make purchasing this double-bill set an even more enticing prospect.

    “The Killer Shrews” holds a special allure, not only for its unique narrative but also for the distinct personalities that populate its cinematic universe. This motley crew of characters brings a blend of charisma and intrigue to the film, making it an indispensable part of the double-bill experience.

    “The Killer Shrews” features the talented James Best, known for his later stint on “The Dukes of Hazzard,” portraying a riverboat pilot marooned on an island where the shrews have astonishingly grown to the size of German Shepherds. This peculiar adventure boasts a supporting cast, including the seasoned Ken Curtis from “Gunsmoke” and the stunning Ingrid Goude, who held the title of Miss Universe in 1957.

    During this era, James Best was truly at the zenith of his acting prowess. His extensive repertoire spans both film and television, illustrating a remarkable career defined by diligence and versatility. Best was undeniably a formidable presence in the entertainment industry, demonstrating his ability to seamlessly transition between mediums.

    Long before he secured his iconic role in “Dukes of Hazzard,” Best had already established himself as a seasoned and accomplished performer. His impressive body of work revealed a dedication to his craft that few could match, and this unwavering commitment was one of the key factors contributing to the enduring success of the show.

    “They had to eat 3 times their body weight each day… OR STARVE!”

    The inclusion of Ken Curtis, renowned for his role in “Gunsmoke,” adds yet another layer of incentive to watch this film. Curtis, like Best, was a tirelessly dedicated actor, and it is somewhat disheartening that he may have been unfairly pigeonholed due to his association with one of the longest-running television Western series in history. Despite the potential limitations of typecasting, Curtis’s talents shone brightly and deserve recognition beyond the confines of a single role.

    Both James Best and Ken Curtis are underappreciated gems in the world of entertainment, and their involvement in this film further underscores the compelling reasons to give it a watch.

    What’s the rationale behind combining these two films in a double feature? “The Giant Gila Monster” shared its production crew with “The Killer Shrews,” while the latter was a locally brewed Texas endeavor masterminded by Ken Curtis and the affluent Gordon McLendon. McLendon, a towering figure in the realm of entertainment, not only founded the Mutual Radio Network but also possessed the largest chain of drive-in movie theaters in the United States.

    I can see influences from low-budget films like “The Killer Shrews,” which featured greyhounds dressed up as shaggy creatures, in Tremors. It incorporates similar elements, such as giant man-eating underground worms, reminiscent of those found in Tremors.

    What makes these two cinematic marvels even more remarkable is that they were initially released together as a double feature, offering viewers an unforgettable night of cinematic absurdity and creature-feature thrills. They rightly belong together.

    BONUS MATERIALS:

    • Ray Kellogg: An Unsung Master, a Ballyhoo Motion Pictures documentary written by C. Courtney Joyner and narrated by Larry Blamire
    • Archival interview with star, Don Sullivan, conducted by author Bryan Senn in 2009
    • Full commentary of The Giant Gila Monster by Larry Strothe, James Gonis, Shawn Sheridan, and Matt Weinhold from The Monster Party podcast
    • Full commentary of The Killer Shrews by professor and film scholar Jason A. Ney
    • Original, vintage radio, marketing spots for both features, provided by Gary L. Prange
    • Full-color inserted booklet with essays by Don Stradley and Jason A. Ney
    Tony M.