The classic era of drive-in schlock was near its end in 1959, but there was still time for The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews, a pair of no-budget howlers from producer Gordon McLendon. In The Giant Gila Monster, a lizard takes on a small town. If that’s not enough for you, there are plenty of cool cars and some ersatz rock ‘n’ roll sung by the movie’s star, Don Sullivan (The Monster of Piedras Blancas). The Killer Shrews stars James Best (The Dukes of Hazzard) as a riverboat pilot stuck on an island where the shrews are the size of German Shepherds. The cast includes Ken Curtis (Gunsmoke) and Ingrid Goude (Miss Universe, 1957). These two features were originally released on a double-bill. Trust us – they belong together!
For thoughts on The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews, please check out our discussion on The Video Attic:
The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews make their domestic Blu-Ray debut thanks to Film Masters with brand new 1080p masters in both their theatrical 1.85:1 and TV Format 1.33:1 aspect ratios. The Giant Gila Monster is noted as being derived from a restored 4K scan from 35mm archival materials while The Killer Shrews comes from a restored HD print. While Gila Monster may outshine its mate, both transfers deliver a stellar experience which allows these films to look better than they ever have, especially considering the numerous awful public domain releases these have been given over the years. By and large these two releases are similar to one another and will be discussed as a pair with any meaningful differences pointed out.
The beautiful black-and-white photography shines in high definition with natural grain intact throughout. The grain field seems less refined in The Killer Shrews, but both transfers are resolved well. Print damage has been cleaned up immensely with these presentations, with nothing but a few light nicks and scratches making its way through the restoration gauntlet. Once again, Shrews shows off a few more problematic moments where it has not been maintained as well. There are thankfully not very many moments where anything appears clumpy or unnatural. The most noticeable moments of quality degradation come with some of the stock footage.
There is a surprising amount of detail present with nice texture on the costumes and in the low budget production design. Black levels are fairly deep with no irredeemable occurrences of black crush or compression artifacts. There are moments during The Killer Shrews where you find it struggling for fine detail. This makes it the weakest of the set, but it is not a lacking transfer by any means. The contrast is well defined across the board, but the tracks do experience moments of density fluctuation and clarity in the print. These films are finally getting the respectful presentations that all films deserve. Film Masters has done a terrific job of bringing these films into the high definition era.
These two films come with a DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio mono track that represent these tales in a pretty solid way sonically. Dialogue and background noises are represented in decent harmony with all competing elements. The music never overshadows the dialogue or other important information, but it does sound a little fragile at its highest peaks. No matter what is happening on screen, the soundtrack maintains a great sense of fidelity. The artistic intention of both of these tracks is preserved with each outing. These tracks do present with a very minor amount of age related wear and tear including some faint crackles that likely date back to the source elements. The good folks at Film Masters have done their best to provide the most stable track possible for these. There are optional English (SDH) subtitles included for all feature films and commentary tracks.
The Giant Gila Monster
- Audio Commentary: Larry Strothe, James Gonis, Shawn Sheridan, and Matt Weinhold from The Monster Party Podcast provide a pretty fun and informative commentary track in which they discuss the history on the film, the ethos of producer Gordon McLendon, the special effects of the picture, the background of the creative figures involved, how this film fits into the period in which it was released, the notable elements of the feature and more.
- Recorded Interview with Don Sullivan: A terrific 93-minute interview from 2009 with actor Don Sullivan by author Bryan Senn in which the performer speaks in depth about his life and career. While it can be a bit dry at points and the audio quality is not pristine, there is a ton of great information included here that will shine a light on Sullivan.
- Theatrical Trailer: The two-minute trailer is provided here. .
The Killer Shrews
- Audio Commentary: Professor and Film Scholar Jason A. Ney provides a nifty commentary track in which he discusses the history of the film, the aesthetic of the film, the background of the creative figures involved, the film’s legacy and more.
- Ray Kellogg – An Unsung Master Documentary: A wonderful 24-minute featurette which takes a closer look at the director behind the two films in this set including his early life, his career in science fiction movies, working with John Wayne, his legacy and more.
- Vintage Radio Spots for The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews: There are nearly 13 minutes of radio spots provided here for these two features.
The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews are notoriously bad movies, but that does not mean that they do not have some worth. The scenarios are ridiculous, but this is part of what makes them so much fun. The brief running time of each film ensures that neither film gets too stale before the last fanfare has been played. While they are cheesy fun, they are anything but disposable if you want to see misguided creativity put to the test. Film Masters has released a Blu-Ray featuring a pleasing A/V presentation and enlightening special features. Fans of the gloriously cheesy genre should not pass this up. Recommended
The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews will be available to purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD on September 26, 2023.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Film Masters and MVD Entertainment have supplied a copy of this set free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.