This year marks the 35th anniversary of “The Milpitas Monster” a low-budget horror film that, despite tepid reviews and limited distribution, became a cult classic and put Milpitas on the cinematic and cultural map of the mid-70s.
What? You’ve never heard of the film? No worries. “The Milpitas Monster” will roar back into town for an anniversary gala and screening starting at , 200 Serra Way, Milpitas. This version is the uncut 120-minute film with original scenes and narration by entertainer Tennessee Ernie Ford. It has not been seen publicly in 35 years.
In addition to producer and director, Robert Burrill, some cast and crew members will be at Saturday’s gala which also will include a preview screening of a documentary on the making of the movie. Tickets are $5 at the door and go on sale at 10:30 a.m.
The film follows a 50-foot monster created from pollution in the bay as it wrecks havoc on Milpitas by steeling trash cans throughout the city and feeding on their contents. Produced by students and faculty from Samuel Ayer High School with help from local politicians, authorities and community members, the film gives a humorous nod to 1950s B-reel horror films.
Milpitas Patch caught up with Burrill, 65, a former photography teacher and baseball coach at Samuel Ayer High School, this week to talk about the film that he has championed for more than three decades:
Milpitas Patch: When was “The Milpitas Monster” produced?
Robert Burrill: About 1974 though 1976.
Patch: Where has the film first shown?
Burrill: It debuted in Milpitas at the Serra Theatres on May 21, 1976.
Patch: Was it seen nationally?
Burrill: It was released originally on VHS tape throughout the United States. That happened in 1978. It’s now on DVD.
Patch: How much did it cost to make?
Burrill: We figured the cost was real close to $7,000 . . . It was $2,000 to print the first edition which was two 16-millimeter reels, 120-minute version narrated by Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Patch: How did the film evolve?
Burrill: We started with a 10-minute film . . . it expanded from there. I did historical research to set the scene with historical photos of Milpitas for a prologue. We even got Tennessee Ernie Ford to do the narration. Eventually we had a feature-length film. (Editor’s note: Announcer Paul Frees did the narration on the final version).
Patch: How did the idea of The Milpitas Monster come about?
Burrill: In a commercial art class in 1974 . . . it was Halloween and I asked the kids to do a poster project. And somewhere in the conversation I said I’d give extra credit for originality. And I said “somebody ought to come up with The Milpitas Monster. “ It was alliteration; part of the creative process. Then we brainstormed. What’s the (sense) of the Milpitas Monster? . . . It’s that smell! That led us to something like a gas mask. And that led to artist David Kottas’ . . . colossal muscular image for our posters. Then it was a matter of developing this idea which was based on “Bambi vs. Godzilla,” a film done in 1969 as an animated short.
Patch: The premise of the original film reflected concerns over pollution in San Francisco Bay that the region was facing in the 1970s. If you were to make that film today, what would the issue be?
Burrill: It probably would have to do with growth. Never-ending growth where money is the most important issue. That’s pretty much what has filled in the bay.
Patch: How did the original film come together?
Burrill: It was synchronicity . . . 1974 through 1976 . . . Everything in Milpitas was in the right place at the right time. The school district, the city and the community all worked together to make this happen. This was pre-Silicon Valley; the city was much smaller. It would be much harder to do today.
Patch: What’s next for “The Milpitas Monster?”
Burrill: Telling the story of the making of “The Milpitas Monster” is such a large story, that it’s hard to get all the details correct . . . So I figured that this is a good time to make a documentary . . . I figured this documentary should be called “The Mightiest Documentary of Them All: The Making of The Milpitas Monster Movie.” In that way I can get the history correct. I’m not planning this DVD to be finished until the end of 2012 . . . we’re working on it; I’ve got the first 20 minutes completed and it will be shown (this Saturday) at the theater.
Milpitas Monster Trivia:
- The monster is about 50 feet tall.
- The monster weighs 20 tons.
- The monster has four claw-like fingers and each hand.
- The old KGSC-TV Channel 36 tower on Monument Peak is prominently featured in the film.
- Longtime San Jose State Spartan football cheerleader “Crazy George” Henderson appears in the Samuel Golden Ayer spoof at the beginning of the film.
- Bob Wilkins, longtime host of KTVU Channel 2 “Creature Features” has a cameo in the film as a chain-smoking government bureaucrat who arranged the shipment of a high-tech “Odorola” monster detector to Milpitas from Washington, D.C.
- Legendary voiceover artist Paul Frees did the film’s final narration.
- Entertainer Tennessee Ernie Ford did the film’s original narration.
- The film had a red carpet premiere on May 21, 1976 at the Serra Theaters in Milpitas.
- Part of the filming took place at the Minnis Ranch in the Milpitas foothills.
- “The Milpitas Monster” 1976 fan club pledge read: “I promise to pick up litter, lock up my garbage cans and maintain the courage to defend the City of Milpitas from any and all pollution, both rhetorical and literal.”
- A book, photo and Congressional record entry about “The Milpitas Monster” are among the items representing Milpitas that were buried in a time capsule at the Santa Clara County building in 1976. The capsule is to be opened on the 50th and 100th anniversaries of the burial.
- In 2007 producer and director Robert Burrill was recognized as Milpitas Citizen of The Year for his community work, including “The Milpitas Monster.”
- Among the movie-related collectibles released was a coloring book featuring the Milpitas Monster.
- Website is: http://milpitasmonster.com/
- See the 1976 trailer with narration by Paul Frees.