Thursday, October 16, 2014

31 Days of Fright Throwback Thursday Edition: GILA! (2012)

While Facebook may have popularized the "Throwback Thursday" concept, the idea has spread to other on-line outlets as well. So, why not this one?! Exploitation flicks certainly aren't immune to employing a throwback now and then, whether it's a remake or retro homage. Exploitation film legend Jim Wynorski's GILA! seems to fall into both categories as you'll see in Jay Kulpa's review of the surprisingly wholesome entry in the director's bodacious filmography.

The Fifties were a wonderful time for toxic waste. How could anyone hate something suspected by movie-makers everywhere to make everything bigger and super-powered? If it had that reputation today, we'd put it in a pill for “male enhancement.”

Now if there's one thing THE GIANT GILA MONSTER proved back in 1959, it's that while some things were fearsome when writ large, a small, lethargic lizard wasn't one of them. Jim Wynorski's playful and surprisingly wholesome remake doesn't try to alter that legacy. GILA! shows the monster in the first two minutes, but its heart is firmly on-sleeve before that, a romp faithful to the can-do spirit and containable menace of that era's monster movies.

Our plot features the nefarious and improper disposal of that aforementioned toxic waste, leading to a giant, cave-dwelling mutated Gila Monster that can only be brought down by a plucky band of hot-rodding, yet wholesome, heroes... but not before he makes short work of a barn, a train, and a couple townspeople in pursuit of what must be a two-million-calorie-a-day diet.

The setting is a dreary, chilly-looking rural America we can assume is the Fifties, or at least a “TWIN PEAKS-ish” approximation, invoked mostly by the wealth of vintage cars on display. You can practically picture the nervous owners chewing their nails off camera. Costumes vaguely evoke the period, with extras clearly given only the loosest wardrobe directives and nary a beehive in sight. Flat sunlight and soggy, bare trees (outside of train segment B-roll clearly from a different film) evoke a specific “Indiana Winter” flavor and an unintentional “ebbing optimism, but before crystal meth” coal country atmosphere. Yet this is directly contrasted by a sense of place and time established almost in spite of itself. People and events “feel” right, and the surprisingly large cast could win over the hardest of hearts. Rumpled Sheriff Terence Knox and lovely (though anachronistic) Deputy Kelli Maroney team up with hot-rodding Brian Gross and his pals to turn our meager monster into 10,000 future lizard skin belts, shoes, and purses. The plot is simple, characters behave somewhat rationally, and the pacing breathes without sagging.

Overall, GILA! feels fast and loose, though rarely sloppy. The time-period touches and competent cast win you over to lousy CGI, with a low budget belied by the amount of material that makes it on the screen. Wynorski reminds here that he's a pro through and through. This is a callback to his Eighties output more than the POPATOPOLIS era of single-location weekend shoots where the only special effects are a couple of rack-focused racks (such as HOUSE ON HOOTER HILL). Still, would one sorely needed can of hairspray have broken the budget?

With any Wynorski film, the actresses must be mentioned. From his BIG BAD MAMA II days, he brings back two actresses most welcome to any B-movie lover, the always charming Kelli Maroney and Julie McCullough. They certainly seem to be enjoying themselves, though their screen time is far too brief. Christina DeRosa makes the strongest impression of the remaining cast, packing delicious personality into every closeup. She's more than just the pretty face and magnificent chest so signature of Wynorski's work.

Who doesn't love a giant monster? Much less classic cars and pretty girls? Is GILA! great? No. Is it a pleasurable way of whiling away an afternoon when the weather outside equals that in the movie? Absolutely. You can even share this retro monster movie with the kids, and you might even crack a smile in the process.

(A note of the DVD: it has some of the worst menu screens in the history of DVDs. If you can read gray on gray, though, you should be fine. The box art seems to want one to mistake Brian Gross for Channing Tatum, and the copy gives the entire plot away.) – Jay Kulpa

Jay Kulpa is a longtime contributor to ER and the head honcho at He recently wrote about BONG OF THE DEAD, DISCO EXORCIST and others in the pages of Exploitation Retrospect #52 (available from our website).

GILA! is available from Amazon

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