Last Halloween, we brought you a blog post on The Killer Shrews, a low-budget horror movie shot in Dallas, Texas, and released in 1959. What is the film’s connection to the American Heritage Center? We hold the papers of Forrest J. Ackerman, the editor of the fanzine “Famous Monsters of Filmland,” and that collection includes a poster for The Killer Shrews.
This year’s Halloween blog post focuses on The Giant Gila Monster (1959), which was also shot in Dallas, Texas, and a poster of which is also included in the Ackerman papers. Like The Killer Shrews, The Giant Gila Monster, which Wikipedia describes as a “hot rod/monster/science fiction film,” takes as its antagonist an aberration of nature—the title creature. As such, it is akin to other 1950s science-fiction movies such as Them! (1954 – giant ants), Tarantula! (1955), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Giant Claw (1957), and Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959). Both The Killer Shrews and The Giant Gila Monster were financed and produced by Gordon McLendon, a Texas radio pioneer and owner of a chain of drive-in theatres who also provided the voiceover narration for the latter. That movie was co-written and directed by Ray Kellogg, who also directed The Killer Shrews and another movie produced and financed by McLendon, My Dog, Buddy (1960). (Kellogg is also credited with co-directing, with John Wayne, the notorious The Green Berets (1968).)
All three McLendon-financed movies were produced by actor Ken Curtis, who also appeared in The Killer Shrews and My Dog Buddy. Curtis is probably best known for his role as Festus in almost 300 episodes of the TV series Gunsmoke (1955-1975). He also appeared in numerous films directed by John Ford, perhaps most famously as Charlie McCorry in The Searchers (1956).
As for The Giant Gila Monster, you can see it online in several versions, including the original black-and-white version, a colorized version, and a comedic (or, more specifically, an intentionally comedic) Mystery Science Theatre 3000 version.
The American Heritage has numerous collections devoted to various aspects of popular culture, including movies, comic books, and television.
Blog contribution by Roger Simon, AHC Simpson Institute Archivist