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The Giant Gila Monster | Mar 5

Only the Museum of Natural Sciences could breed such an enormous beast

Devouring people as if they were flies, cult B-movie classic “The Giant Gila Monster” crawls onto the big stage at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh on Friday, March 5 at 7 p.m.

When a podunk Texas town finds itself under attack from a 70-foot-long Gila Monster with a hunger for humans, it looks to quick-thinking “teenage” mechanic and hot-rod gang leader Chase Winstead to save the day. Musically played by Don Sullivan, Winstead appears ready to kill the monster with a deadly batch of unbelievably cheesy songs, including “I Ain’t Made That Way,” “My Baby, She Rocks” and “The Mushroom Song” (aka “Laugh, Children, Laugh”). After realizing his method would take too long, Winstead puts down the ukulele and steps on the gas.

Prolific character actor and former semi-pro baseball player Fred “Slugger” Graham plays the cagey Sheriff Jeff. Graham’s main claim to fame was as a legendary Hollywood stuntman, serving as a double for everyone from Basil Rathbone and Clark Gable in the ‘30s to John Wayne in several Westerns from the ‘40s and ‘50s. He also played small roles in two Alfred Hitchcock films, notably as the Police Officer who falls to his death while trying to help James Stewart in the famous opening scene of “Vertigo.”

Resident character Old Man Harris is played by Shug Fisher, a long-time member of “The Sons of the Pioneers,” a group of singing cowboys founded by Leonard Slye (aka Roy Rogers) in the 1930s. The group appeared in an estimated 150 motion pictures, usually providing musical backup to cowboy stars from Rogers to the non-musical John Wayne. Fisher also had a recurring role as Shorty Kellums on 19 episodes of “The Beverly Hillbillies” in the early ‘60s, and appeared in several films and TV specials for Walt Disney in later years.

“Gila” (1959) was penned and directed by Ray Kellogg, a former US Army cameraman during World War II whose assignments included covering the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. In fact, much of the footage familiar from documentaries of those trials was shot by him.

On a Natural Sciences note, the “Gila Monster” in the movie is actually a Mexican Beaded Lizard (Heloderma horridum horridum), a close relative of the Gila. Together, the Gila and the Mexican Beaded are the only two known species of venomous lizards in North America. Venom from the latter actually contains several enzymes useful in manufacturing drugs for the treatment of diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

The Museum stays open from 5 to 9 pm on the first Friday of every month, inviting visitors to wander through eye-catching exhibits, enjoy snacks and beverages from the Acro Café, and swoon to the classic honkey tonk sounds of TONK. In addition to the featured movie, visitors can check out another monster of unusual size as the Museum’s newest special exhibit, “Megalodon: Largest Shark that Ever Lived,” offers discounted admission with last tickets sold at 8 pm. Additionally, the Museum Store offers after-hours shopping and an opening reception (6:30-8:30 pm) for Ronan Peterson, whose show “Stumps and Stones” will be on display March 5-28 in the Nature Art Gallery. All exhibited art is for sale.

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