Gila! hearkens back to the silly creature features of the ’50s
There’s one thing I want to bring up in this Gila! review: Jim Wynorski. The man certainly knows how to vary his work output, from his ’80s slasher films to the slew of recent CGI monster movies he’s put out. Going into a Wynorski film, it’s difficult to know what to expect – he’s directed some very cool horror movies, but on the other hand he’s also worked on stuff like The Hills Have Thighs and a lot of television monster movies (looking at you, Dinocroc vs. Supergator). Gila! is Wynorski at his Z-grade best, with no aspirations to be anything but a fun hot rod ride about a giant gila monster terrorizing a small town in the ’50s.
The movie is a loose remake of The Giant Gila Monster from 1959 (which I have reviewed in the early days of this blog – though the writing style makes me cringe now), and Wynorski sticks to that film’s storyline for the most part. Gila! is still about a giant gila monster roaming the woods, and it’s got the same characters in it that like to drag-race the streets, but the ’50s atmosphere that was prominent in the original film (since it was made in the ’50s) is presented on the surface of Gila! without feeling realistic. Unfortunately, Wynorski’s budget and his cast were not large enough to go all out with decorating for the time period, so most of Gila! is shot out in the woods with a couple of old cars to give the semblance of the times.
The main cast is pretty good; Brian Gross as the protagonist Chase Winstead is the best at his shtick, with his arch-enemy Waco Bob (Jesse Janzen) a close second. The secondary cast members, like Chase’s gal Lisa (Madeline Voges) and Bob’s chick Carla (Christina De Rosa), are unable to sell their sockhop lingo; and if you take a look at the extras in certain scenes like the Christmas party, you’ll find that most of them showed up in fairly contemporary clothing, like there wasn’t much left in wardrobe to give them anything but plaid shirts and leather jackets.
But even with the gripes about time-period accuracy, Gila! is a pretty fun film that upholds the outrageous premise of the original. Back in The Giant Gila Monster, the filmmakers used a superimposed gila monster and small models for their action sets. In Gila!, Wynorski opts for full CGI, which looks every bit as hokey as the original’s. What could have been just very bad graphic effects becomes an homage, something that doesn’t tend to happen in the director’s other creature features.
There are definitely some questionable moments, and the lack of experienced actors is at times difficult to ignore. The plot leaves Chase’s rival Waco Bob mysteriously undeveloped; at one point he wants to hurt Chase, the next he’s helping Chase’s family drive away from the gila monster without explanation. Perhaps it’s a realization of good in everyone, but more than likely it is just poor characterization. The radioactive science fiction element of the original film is left on the cutting room floor, given quick exposition and then forgotten in the dust of Chase’s hot rod and the large breasts of Carla. And the middle half of Gila! begins to stagnate when the monster drops out of the plot in favor of police investigation.
Still, Gila! is more successful than some will probably recognize, at least in terms of staying close to the original. It is a throwback to those ’50s creature features, and unlike some of the other lower budget films that tend to focus on updating plots to fit in with contemporary audiences, Wynorski’s old-school approach on Gila! is a pleasant surprise.