APES ON FILM: How Monstrous and Shrewd We Are

Posted on: Nov 1st, 2023 By:

Chris Herzog
Contributing Writer


Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.

**I want to take a moment to welcome Ape Chris Herzog back to the fold. Chris suffered a stroke earlier this year and we’re really happy to have him back doing what he loves most, writing about film – Anthony Taylor, Supreme Ape Commander



3 out of 5 Bananas
Don Sullivan, Lisa Simone
Director: Ray Kellogg
Rated: No rating
Studio: Film Masters
Region: A-B-C
BRD Release Date: September 26, 2023
Audio Formats: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1, 1.33:1
Run Time: 74 Min.


I imagine you’ve watched THE GIANT GILA MONSTER and/or THE KILLER SHREWS by now. These are both in the public domain, so they’re pretty cheap to find (or even free). If you like these two films, you may want to take a look at one of the best bundles I’ve seen. This two-disc set from Film Masters includes commentaries on both movies, as well as a nice booklet with an essay for each film. You should know what you’re getting here by now as far as the films go, but at least the transfers and the bonus materials all look pretty damned good.

A new company, Film Masters starts out of the gate quite nicely. These seem to be some of the same folks who have worked at The Film Detective. This boutique label apparently focuses on PD monsters, horror, and general exploitation pictures. Instead of the usual ragged ninety-nine-cent DVDs, it looks like they’re tackling a lot of restoration, as well as two disc/two film packages, booklets, “special editions,” and, of course, HD media. We’ve all seen these films as well as THE TERROR, BEAST FROM THE HAUNTED CAVE, TORMENTED, and so many more for decades. Film Masters is sprucing up a lot of these dinosaurs and they are surprisingly agreeable presentations. Hopefully, the rest of their special editions look as nice as these.

Between all the various bells and whistles, we have plenty of information here, starting with the commentaries. First up, we have The Monster Party Podcast providing a fun, free-for-all discussion for THE GIANT GILA MONSTER. On the second disk, author Jason A. Ney provides a lot of interesting material for the SHREWS. Ney also writes further in the booklet, while Don Stradley takes on the GILA MONSTER. One of the interesting parts of the story is Gordon McLendon, a Texas millionaire who decided to produce a couple of no-budget movies for his drive-ins, of which he had many. He also had theaters, radio stations, and other businesses. Both were released in 1959 and often double billed, the two pictures almost certainly made a lot of money compared to their cost of production, but for whatever reason McClendon didn’t make any more movies. These two pictures, however, live on.

Both are fun, but for my money, THE KILLER SHREWS is a better film. Much like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD nine years later, the story is a bleak motif with a pretty harrowing siege. Sure, those dogs are pretty silly by themselves, but the whole shebang kind of works – sometimes. It helps to have two strong leads here. James Best and Ken Curtis later worked in television and film for years. And, yes, you get to watch Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane (THE DUKES OF HAZZARD) fight for his life with Festus from GUNSMOKE. Unfortunately, most of these other actors vanished after this film. THE GIANT GILA MONSTER is enjoyable as well – hot rods, a bunch of kids all getting together with a “giant” lizard, and, of course, the Sheriff. You’re in trouble when the film’s Sheriff is the best actor in the movie, while the lizard is a close second. But who cares?

Director Ray Kellogg helmed both films, and his first love appears to be working with special effects. He did a pretty good job in other assignments like THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT and THE KING AND I. In this case, Kellogg took some lemons and some watered-down lemonade and made something magical. After he found a big lizard, he just put together a few tiny cars, trees, and buildings – that’s all he needed. The shrews were a different story. In this case, Kellogg grabbed a few German Shepherds and made a couple of weird dog costumes. You can hear more information on the Blu-Ray.

You’ll also get two aspect ratios (1.85:1 and 1.33:1) for both films. There’s a restored 35mm trailer from the GILA, while the SHREWS have some rare radio spots. There’s also a pretty good documentary on Ray Kellogg, as well as an archival interview with Don Sullivan, GILA’s leading man. Honestly, I’m pretty sure these films (Blu-ray or DVD) have never had a commentary, a documentary, or anything else of added value on a home video release. Previously, you might have gotten a trailer if that. All in all, THE GIANT GILA MONSTER/THE KILLER SHREWS is a great package, with several hours of substantial schlock. 



When he’s not casually shuffling across dry creek beds, Chris Herzog is a writer, researcher, and teacher. His film criticism can also be found in Screem magazine and back issues of the late, lamented Video WatcH*Dog.

Apes caricatures by Richard Smith

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