Singing pretty-boys and colossal lizards – it must be time for The Giant Gila Monster. A horror film that portrays all the innocence of the 1950s before the Beat Generation led us down the path to reality, the film has earned cult status in recent years. More accurately titled, “A Regular-Sized Gila Monster Filmed in Close-Up,” the sub-mediocrity of the movie has probably done more for preserving it in popular culture than any other aspect. The film stars the relatively unknown Don Sullivan as a great teen role model who writes and performs his own songs. The number that receives the most Internet attention, and the one that makes this movie of interest to this blog is “The Mushroom Song.” Chase Winstead (Sullivan’s character) has a young sister who is just learning to walk with leg braces. To cheer her, he picks up a ukulele and sings: “And the Lord he said I created for you/A world of joy from out of the blue/And all that is left to complete the joy–/Just the laugh of a girl and boy/And there was a garden, a beautiful garden/Held in the arms of a world without joy/Then there was laughter, wonderful laughter/For he created, a girl and a boy/And the Lord said, laugh, children, laugh/The Lord said, laugh, children, laugh” with the final line repeated numerous times.
Perhaps intended to underscore the societal norms of a time when “the Lord” made frequent appearances as an unseen supporting actor in many movies, this song is oddly out of place. The disability of Missy Winstead is obviously a device to raise tension: how will a disabled girl run from a giant lizard? The song, however, provides the resolution – the Lord will take care of all good people. Their response should be to laugh. The reference to Adam and Eve, fitting for teen fantasies of all generations, also belies the evolution of this monster. The gila grows to its great size because of chemicals in the water that wash to the delta somewhere in Texas. This creature did not evolve. The Lord will take care of it. The Lord and nitroglycerin.
Respectful teenagers with predictable haircuts and a society that believes a missing teenage couple could be doing nothing but eloping fits the world of the Religious Right exceptionally well. Even though they may not be perfect, these kids know right from wrong for they live in a black-and-white world with no ambiguity or ambivalence. Children of subsequent generations have grown up with shades of gray or psychedelic colors. The older generation is frightened by new developments, claiming that the world they know is about to end. In fact, an evolution is occurring. Those who try to hold society to the norms of the 1950s would do well to move ahead a decade and at least listen to Bob Dylan. No matter how far we progress, however, it seems that Texas will always delight in producing Lord-loving, bloated threats to rational civilization.