Double Feature

Creature features were a regular part of my youth, and, I suspect, where my appreciation of horror films began.  Nobody was really afraid of Godzilla or other monsters that were clearly people in rubber suits.  The use of forced perspective to make regular-sized animals into giants was obvious even to a child, but that didn’t make such movies any less fun to watch.  The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews both involve gigantic versions of rather small animals and both of them were produced outside of the studio system by Gordon McLendon, the owner of a chain of drive-in theaters.  Looking for B-movies for double features, he decided to make a couple of his own.  These two didn’t cost that much, but the special effects artist, Ray Kellogg, agreed to do them if he could be the director.  Together they make quite a double-feature of their own.

The Giant Gila Monster is never explained beyond the effectively shot beginning stating the who knows how big some things grow in the unexplored west.  Not even using a real gila monster, the lizard (unlike Komodo dragons, which one expects, were too expensive and untamable) isn’t aggressive and seems, from my perspective, to be just barely putting up with the fake trees and models it has to crawl over and around.  And everyone, apart from Mr. Wheeler, is nice.  The local Texas teens want to drag race but Chase Winstead, the gold-hearted mechanic, keeps them in line.  It’s a perfect world, in a Republican kind of vision, except for that darned giant lizard.  Winstead even figures out a way of getting rid of it so the authorities don’t have to.

The Killer Shrews, in reality puppets and dogs dressed up as shrews, is more adult-themed.  Four scientists on an island—contradicting the voiceover at the opening—have bred giant shrews.  The supply-boat captain and his Black mate are trapped on the island by a hurricane, where the mate predictably gets eaten by the escaped shrews.  McLendon himself appears as an over-the-top nerdy scientist while the producer, Ken Curtis, appears as another, more action-oriented man of science.  In a move a little unexpected for the fifties, Dr. Craigis’ bombshell blonde daughter is also a scientist.  But she’d be willing to be a sea-captain’s housewife if only she could get away from these awful shrews!  There’s a bit more tension in this one as one of the scientists is already engaged to Miss Craigis, but he’s a drunk and she wants out.  So might some audience members, but both films found international distribution and made money.  Now widely available for free, they are a slice of childhood served up in giant proportions.

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