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Great Car Moments in Film: ‘The Giant Gila Monster’

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A vintage hot rod
Imagine this, but in scratchy, grainy public domain quality. Also there’s a giant lizard…
Photo: Pixabay via CC

The fascinating and bizarre world of old public domain films is a cinematic rabbit hole not many dare venture into. But for the bravest cheese-loving cinephiles, there’s plenty of weirdness to discover and enjoy. One of the best-known public domain genre films is a little 1959 gem called The Giant Gila Monster. Chances are you’ve seen stock footage from this Z-grade monster flick used in documentaries, music videos, and everywhere in between. But actually watching the film reveals a treasure trove of goofiness, culminating in an explosive car-vs.-lizard finale.

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The climactic ending of ‘The Giant Gila Monster’

Spending too much time discussing the plot of a movie called The Giant Gila Monster would be a waste of both time and brain cells. Briefly, it’s the story of a small American town that’s besieged by — dig this — a great big lizard. Despite being the length of three trucks and as slow as molasses, no one can seem to track the beast down between its nighttime attacks. When local law enforcement proves ineffective, the film’s hero, a 30-something teenager named Chase, decides to settle the matter himself.

In what surely must be one of cinema’s most exciting finales, Chase loads his freshly finished hot rod with several giant crates of nitro glycerin. His goal: blow the lizard to smithereens. However, it won’t be that easy; in order to reach the lizard, he has to traverse rough desert terrain. One bump too many, and both he and his hot rod will be reduced to a debris-filled crater.

With all the ease and serenity of Jake and Elwood evading the cops in The Blues Brothers, Chase tears through the desert. Miraculously, the nitro glycerin doesn’t go boom. Once the lizard is in sight, he opens his door and jumps to safety. A few seconds later, the car collides with the titular Gila Monster, resulting in a big explosion that finally kills the beast.

Chase might be down a hot rod, but the world has one less giant monster to worry about.

A classic cheesy movie

It may be dumb, but The Giant Gila Monster is full of cheesy delights. The shots of the cute little lizard crawling on a miniature set are hilarious, and the overall low production values are undeniably charming. The film is also full of vintage cars from a variety of brands, making it a treat for auto enthusiasts. If you’re a fan of silly black-and-white creature features, hot rods, and things exploding, there’s a lot to enjoy in this film.

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But wait, there’s more: since the movie is in the public domain, it can be watched on YouTube for free. How’s that for value?