March 10th, 2008


Legendary Japanese tough guys Sonny Chiba and Toshiro Mifune star in this sprawling, ambitious, but ultimately uneven samurai flick directed by Kinji (The Green Slime) Fukasuku.


After the shogun’s death, his two sons bicker for the throne.  The younger, handsome son is chosen to be the next shogun because the older son (and rightful heir) is ugly, stutters and has a hideous birthmark covering half his face.  Certain parties with much to gain align themselves with the opposing brothers and a bitter power struggle ensues.  There’s a lot of mudslinging going back and forth between the two brothers before they finally decide to settle their differences once and for all on the battlefield. 


Chiba looks pretty badass sporting an eye patch, but it doesn’t help that his character is little more than a glorified supporting player.  Likewise, Mifune is equally misused as his role is more or less an extended cameo.  This leaves the majority of the acting to a bunch of unknowns (at least to me anyway) who are all OK, but they just can’t shoulder the load of a movie with such an epic scope. 


The samurai carnage is fairly well executed as there’s an adequate amount of sword slashing, ritual seppuku, stomach ripping, severed heads, and even a guy getting cut in half.  The problem is you have to sit through a LOT of boring castle intrigue stuff before you get to the good parts.  I guess you have to give Fukasuku credit for trying to make this a “respectable” samurai epic after his pulpier yakuza flicks and bizarro sci-fi space operas, but he is clearly no Akira Kurosawa. 


Loyal followers of Fukasuku and devoted fans of Chiba and Mifune will definitely want to give it a look see, but most will be bored by this stiff and bloated epic.      


AKA:  The Yagyu Clan Conspiracy.  AKA:  The Yagyu Conspiracy.  AKA:  Intrigue of the Yagyu Clan.



Pop radio pioneer Gordon McClendon, along with producer Ken (Festus from Gunsmoke) Curtis was responsible for this very cheap, but highly entertaining monster movie   They hired Ray Kellogg to shoot the film back to back with the equally amusing The Killer Shrews and then sold them as a double feature to drive-ins everywhere, where they became big moneymakers.  Both films are now in the public domain and can be found cheaply in discount DVD bins (or online for free), and they are definitely worth checking out for anyone who loves corny giant lizards running amok in a small town movies. 


Don (The Rebel Set) Sullivan stars as the folk singing mechanic/tow truck driver who works night and day to pay for his little sister’s leg braces.  Meanwhile, there’s a ginormous Gila monster running loose eating up necking teenagers.  The local grown-ups poo-poo his theory that there’s a giant lizard running around gobbling people up, but the kindly sheriff always defends Don and says he’s a generally good kid.  In the end, the monster attacks a town rock concert and it’s up to Don to blow the monster up by running a car filled with nitro into the beast, causing it to blow sky high. 


Sullivan is pretty great as the misunderstood teen and a few of his songs even manage to be kinda catchy.  I especially liked the little ditty called “Laugh, Children, Laugh” that would be patentedly goofy if Sullivan didn’t perform it so sincerely.  Like The Killer Shrews, this movie features a love interest with an impenetrably thick foreign accent.  The rest of the cast is fine, with a special mention going out to Fred Graham as the concerned sheriff.  In most of these movies, Johnny Law is always after the kids for being rowdy youths, but Graham actually has a soft spot for these teeners and always goes to bat for Don.  It’s rare for a movie like this to have well rounded and believable characters, but I guess that’s what sets The Giant Gila Monster out from the rest of the pack.  


That and the awful special effects.  The GIANT Gila Monster is actually a regular sized Gila Monster that is filmed walking over model buildings, toy trains and Matchbox cars.  It’s not convincing in the least, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a helluva lot of fun.  Some of the dialogue is incredibly wooden and tedious (whole conversations are devoted to skid marks), but that shouldn’t diminish your enjoyment too much. 


Kellogg went on to co-direct The Green Berets with John Wayne.