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Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Lost World (1925) – Review

When one thinks of author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle most will simply consider him the father of Sherlock Holmes, one of literature's greatest detectives, but what many don’t know is that he practically birthed the dinosaur adventure genre and filmmakers like Ray Harryhausen and Steven Spielberg owe a great debt to him. Published in 1912 his novel The Lost World may not have been the first book to have man encountering dinosaurs, that honour goes to Jules Verne Journey to the Center of the Earth, but it was the film adaptation of Doyle’s novel that first introduced the idea of a prehistoric beast rampaging down modern city streets.

The plot of the 1925 film is a fairly faithful adaptation of the book, with some story elements trimmed due to time constraints and the limitations of the silent film medium, but the movie does toss in a love interest that wasn't in the book because, to quote Carl Denham from King Kong, “The public, bless 'em, must have a pretty face.” The film opens with young newspaper reporter Edward Malone (Lloyd Hughes) learning that his fiancée Gladys (Alma Bennett) has one stipulation before tying the knot “I will only marry a man of great deeds and strange experiences, a man who can look death in the face without flinching.” It’s at this point that any sane man would have told the “love of his life” to go jump in the lake but our hero decides to prove himself and so he asks his editor for a dangerous assignment that could impress his girl.  Lucky for him, there just so happens to be such an assignment as turns out renowned zoologist Professor Challenger (Wallace Beery) is attending a meeting at the Zoological Hall to profess his claims of dinosaurs living in a remote part of South America and he wants some brave souls to join him on an expedition.

 

Would you travel into uncharted jungles with this guy?

When ridiculed by both peers and students alike Challenger issues a challenge - no surprise there - that he will prove the existence of living dinosaurs, “If any of you spineless are brave enough to go back with me into the trackless jungle where these monsters live.” Despite Challengers apoplectic views towards reporters, he apparently nearly killed three reporters already due to his uncontrolled animosity to the profession, he agrees to bring Edward but along with him, we get sportsman Sir John Roxton (Lewis Stone), Professor Summerlee (Arthur Hoyt) the group’s resident skeptic and Paula White (Bessie Love) whose father went missing on the previous expedition to that mysterious plateau in South America and it's his journal that depicts dinosaurs alive and well atop this isolated mountain. The character of Paula White is not to be found in the novel and the idea that a group of early 20th century explorers bringing a woman along on such an expedition is quite laughable and though the movie tries to explain her involvement by mentioning that Paula was her dad’s assistant it’s clear her existence stems more from the filmmakers need for a proper love interest than any narrative sense.

 

Call me crazy, but with this kind of action, I don’t need a tacked-on love interest.

What is most surprising about 1925’s The Lost World is the sheer amount of dinosaur action that is brought to the screen as this particular plateau is literally littered with dozens of dinosaurs of varying species. We get an Allosaurus attacking a Trachodon and Triceratops family, a Tyrannosaurus Rex snatching a pterodactyl out of the air to then battle with a Brontosaurus before pushing that poor animal off a cliff, and then you have an amazing stampede of dinosaurs fleeing a volcanic eruption and all of this was brought to glorious life by legendary effects man Willis O'Brien who, along with sculptor Marcel Delgado would bring this prehistoric haven to life. The art of bringing these dinosaurs to life would later be perfected when the men would re-team for 1933’s King Kong but what is on display here is still quite spectacular. I would love to have been in the audience back in 1925 to see the reactions people had to such amazing and groundbreaking effects, in fact, when Doyle showed test footage of O’Brien’s work to the Society of American Magicians a reporter for The New York Times wrote: “If fakes, they were masterpieces." You can’t get better praise than that.

 

Question: Why do volcanoes always erupt when humans arrive in a lost world?

One thing that always bothered me about the Challenger Expedition is that it is never made clear as to how exactly they were intending to prove what they found, even Challenger himself questions this point when discussing the dinosaurs with Summerlee, “What will our fellow scientists say when I tell of this in London? They’ll call you what you called me in London, a liar!”  Now, bringing a camera along is the obvious solution to this problem yet not one single member of the party, including the newspaper reporter, thinks to bring a camera along with them. Lucky for them a Brontosaurus falls off the edge of the plateau and becomes trapped in a mud bank, which allows them to capture it and transport it back to London and provide that much-needed evidence. Now, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, it was pterodactyl that was brought back to the zoological society to prove Challenger’s claims but as a flying reptile can’t quite rampage through the city streets this was changed to the more exciting Brontosaurs for the film version, which is an idea that animator Willis O’Brien would later revisit with his 1959 film The Giant Behemoth, but that entry would provide the added bonus of it giving off lethal levels of radiation. What should be noted here is that the Brontosaurus in The Lost World is portrayed more as a confused animal rather than a rampaging monster and though it does cause a significant amount of damage it is more sympathetic than monstrous.

 

“None of you guys would call out bi-panes on me, right?”

What’s nice about the conclusion to The Lost World is that the poor Brontosaurus isn’t gunned down by the military, instead, it is allowed to escape into the river Thames to presumably either swim back to South America or take up residence in Loch Ness.  Meanwhile, young Edward, upon returning home and seeing that his betrothed Gladys has married some random store clerk finds that he is now able to marry Paula. So it’s happy endings all around. Now, this being a silent film it may scare some viewers away but I’d like to point out that anyone who loves dinosaurs or monster movies this is a must-see classic as not only does this film give a fantastic look at early cinema and the growth of the special effects industry it also tells a great story and Wallace Beery as Professor Challenger is simply fantastic. Overall, The Lost World was a major milestone in this history of cinema and well worth checking out, trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988) – Review

What do you do when your horror franchise has gone so far off the rail that it is barely recognizable from whence it came? To screenwriters Freddie Rowe and Clive Turner the obvious answers was to get back to the basics and return to the source material, in this case, that meant trying to make an entry that was a more faithful adaptation of Gary Brandner's original novel, which was the basis of 1981's The Howling in the first place. A noble idea to be sure, but to say things didn’t turn out quite as they’d hope would be a bit of an understatement.

The film’s protagonist is best-selling author Marie Adams (Romy Windsor) who after being plagued by images of a nun and a fiery demonic form she is declared to be suffering from a nervous breakdown due to her overactive imagination – which I’m pretty sure isn’t a thing – and her boyfriend Richard (Michael T. Weiss) is told that she needs rest and relaxation and so he takes her to a cottage near the small town of Drago, some hours from Los Angeles. Almost immediately Marie becomes rather concerned about the howling she hears during the night, which both the townsfolk and her asshat husband try to convince her is probably just an owl, but when her little poodle goes missing she becomes even more distraught. What should be more concerning is her husband’s wandering eye when it comes to the mysterious Eleanor (Lamya Derval), a local artist who owns a shop of antiques and knick-knacks.

 

Be careful, she’s a real bitch, and I mean that literally.

Howling IV: The Original Nightmare may include several elements from Gary Brandner's original novel, such as the town being named Drago, a local woman seducing the protagonist’s husband and the big reveal that all the local townsfolk are werewolves, but aside from that it has even less in common with the source material than Joe Dante’s movie. This "reboot" throws in a mystery surrounding a missing nun and the disappearance of the previous owner of the cottage Richard rented for them and none of it quite gels; we get an ex-nun named Janice Hatch (Susanne Severeid), who is investigating the disappearance of her closest friend, Sister Ruth (Megan Kruskal), who went missing over a year ago – a picture reveals that this nun is the one Marie had disturbing visions of – and later Marie gets a ghostly warning from the cottage’s previous owners, which leads to Marie and Janice going all Nancy Drew in an around the town of Drago. It’s at this point most viewers will be wondering, “What has any of this have to do with werewolves?”

 

“Honey, we are going to get werewolves in our werewolf movie, right?”

To say not much happens in this fourth entry in The Howling franchise would be a vast understatement, as not only is this film almost devoid of either horror or action but when the film finally crawls to its "explosive" conclusion we are left with a rather anti-climactic “Who cares” feeling as the film never bothered to get us to care about any of the characters.  I suppose we are were to feel some sympathy for Marie but she is such a bland dishrag of a protagonist that I was actively praying for her to get eaten. The bulk of the film is her claiming to have seen or heard something and then everyone telling her it’s just her overactive imagination, and when her husband is finally bitten he goes from “Oh my god, I wolf attacked me!” to a Stepford Husband claiming to have just fallen down a ravine and scratched his shoulder. It’s not that these nonsensical moments are intrinsically bad it’s just that the filmmakers don’t bother to properly explain anything, and when we eventually get a transformation it’s of Richard turning into a puddle of goo that a wolf then emerges from.

 

Is this a werewolf movie or The Incredible Melting Man?

Stray Observations:

• If the cottage in the woods you are renting has large claw marks in the door maybe a different vacation spot would be advisable.
• In the original film the husband only became a dick after being bitten by a werewolf while in this one he’s a complete douchebag from the start.
• Her best friend and literary agent would appear to be the one who would show up at the end with silver bullets, if one were going by the source material, alas he dies pointlessly.
• It’s not a good idea to make the viewer wait over an hour for a werewolf attack, especially when your film is only 90-minutes in length, but worse is the fact that the first attack barely lasts two seconds.
• When the big finale does arrive we do get some unique werewolves but as we're at the 84-minute mark by this point it’s a case of too little too late.

 

Was this what we were waiting for, seriously?

It should be noted that Howling III: The Marsupials had pretty much nothing to do with either the source material, or the original film for that matter, but it at least was balls-to-wall crazy and thus provided some entertainment value while this particular outing is guilty of the cardinal sin of being incredibly boring and without merit of any kind. The acting is bad, the pacing is beyond lethargic and the eventual arrival of werewolves in the last act almost seems like they’ve wandered in from a different movie. I know much of the problem this film suffers from stems from director John Hough and co-producer Clive Turner not seeing eye-to-eye on anything, not to mention the lack of a decent budget, but that all said the end result is unforgivably bad.

 

“Who let the dogs out, Who, who, who, who, who?”

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Ninja III: The Domination (1984) – Review

You can pick up a lot of interesting pieces of information by watching movies – you can learn about great moments in history or about how important it is not to run upstairs when a serial killer is chasing you – but it was with the viewing of 1984's Cannon film classic Ninja III: The Domination that I learned one of the most important pieces of information, something that shaped the very person I am today, and that little nugget of knowledge is “Only a ninja can destroy a ninja.”

What do you get when we blend the dance craze of Flashdance with the supernatural elements from The Exorcist and then wrap it all up in the Ninja mania of the 1980s? If you were to ask producers Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan the obvious answer would be Ninja III: The Domination a film that centers around an aerobics instructor who gets possessed by the spirit of a “Black Ninja” and goes on a one-woman rampage of revenge. If that all sounds insane, as well as awesome, then this movie could be right up your alley because as cult films go Ninja III: The Domination has to be one of the most memorable if only for the seduction scene involving pouring V8 juice down the chest of the lead actress, and with the likes of Shô Kosugi and James Hong making an appearance you can’t go too wrong, but just how does one get possessed by a ninja?

 

Clearly, Linda Blair was too busy filming Chained Heat.

The movie opens with Black Ninja (David Chung) – his title must be referring to his soul as he never wears the more popular black ninja outfit – attacking a man and woman at a local golf course, the man we will later learn is a “very important scientist” of some sort, but not only does the Black Ninja brutally murder this pair he also kills his security detail and a dozen or so responding police officers. It’s at this point we learn that as effective as a katana and a shuriken are in a fight they will be trumped by a hail of gunfire, but as pointed out “Only a ninja can destroy a ninja” and so he is able to escape and stumble across Christie Ryder (Lucinda Dickey), a telephone lineswoman and aerobics instructor – Note: If that seems like an odd career combo don’t forget that Jennifer Beals was a welder/dancer in Flashdance – and before he dies he is able to transfer his dark soul into her.

 

I think this is why the arcade game Bouncer was recalled.

Where in the case of Flashdance Jennifer Beals landed the hunky rich owner of a steel mill in Ninja III: The Domination our heroine is saddled with Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett) a cop who after questioning her about her encounter with the dying ninja immediately goes into fall on stalker mode and even shows up at her aerobics class, yet his constant harassment – which includes his threatening her with arrest for defending herself against rapists – she somehow finds this all charming enough to invite him in for sex. They don’t even have a first date! Call me crazy but I don’t think Golan and Globus had a clue as to what was or was not romantic, not helped by the infamous scene where Lucinda Dickey pours V8 juice down her chest so that Jordan Bennett can lick it off.

 

A bizarre sex act or the strangest case of product placement ever, you be the judge.

The basic plot of Ninja III: The Domination has to deal with Christie being occasionally being “taken over” by the spirit of the Black Ninja and while in this fugue state she hunts down and kills the police officers that were responsible for the Ninja’s death. It should be noted that Christie was very lucky to never having been fingerprinted in the past because while possessed by the Black Ninja she literally leaves dozens of fingerprints at the various murder sprees – I guess ninjas are averse to wearing gloves – and when her blackouts and strange bruises begin to concern her she goes to the worst doctor in the world, a quack who tells her that she is perfectly healthy and that “Aside from your exceptional extrasensory perception and your preoccupation with Japanese culture. No harm in that!” Excuse me, but was having ESP just a commonly accepted thing in the 80s? So with no help from the medical community, it’s up to Billy to solve things “sigh” and his brilliant idea is to turn to Japanese exorcist Miyashima (James Hong) to see about getting rid of whatever evil spirit is possessing her. Sadly, James Hong is only able to confirm what we already know, that she has been possessed by a ninja, but he is the one to offer us that immortal piece of knowledge, “Only a ninja can destroy a ninja.

 

“Are you crazy...Is that your problem?”

Lucky for them a ninja by the name of Goro Yamada (Shô Kosugi) has arrived stateside in pursuit of that very same Black Ninja who has been troubling our heroes – these two have the standard antagonistic history, Goro lost an eye to the Black Ninja – and after stealing the body of the Black Ninja from the morgue he proceeds to hunt for the new vessel of his enemies spirit, which will eventually result in a badass showdown between the two ninjas atop what looks a Shaolin temple full of monks for the Black Ninja to somehow control. Needless to say, not much in Ninja III: The Domination makes a lot of sense and when the credits roll, with our heroes embraced in a kiss while Shô Kosugi walks off into the sunrise, you will be left either gloriously pleased or confused out of your mind, but that is kind of the hallmark of Cannon Films.

 

Do you think he’ll run into David Carradine from Kung Fu?

Stray Observations:

• A daylight attack on an open golf course doesn’t seem to be a great setting for a ninja attack. Ninjutsu is "the art of invisibility" which is a tidbit someone should have let the Black Ninja in on.
• Who was this “very important scientist” that the Black Ninja was sent to kill and why did he have so many armed bodyguards? Was he working on a new Manhattan Project or possibly the latest iPhone?
• Apparently, ninjas have the ability to crush golf balls and billiard balls with the bare hands, who knew?
• I refuse to believe a ninja would drive around in an El Camino. The Brady Bunch station wagon was an even cooler vehicle than that goofy-ass vehicle.
• During the big fight at the policeman’s funeral service we get one cop handing nightsticks out the trunk of his car to all his fellow officers, but why? Did the police blow their bullet budget during the first ninja fight?
• If the Black Ninja can animate his own dead body what was the point of possessing Christie?

 

“Tonight on a very special episode of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

Despite this being the third entry in Canon’s Ninja Trilogy – following Enter the Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja – this film has nothing to do with those previous installments other than that they all-star Shô Kosugi but even with that he plays a different character in each film. It should also be noted that this was Lucinda’s “big break” having previously been a Solid Gold Dancer and a background dancer in Grease 2 and while her career never took off – though starring in Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo is something any actor could be proud of – she actually puts in a very credible performance in a film that lacks credibility at every turn. The same cannot be said of her co-star Jordan Bennett who is stuck playing one of the most loathsome love interests I have the displeasure of ever watching, sure, much of this is due to the script but at no point in this film did I not want to punch him in the face. As for the awesome Shô Kosugi, well, what can be said other than he is the epitome of cool and any film that he makes an appearance in is well worth checking, with maybe the exception of The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, and he is easily one of my favourite cinematic ninjas. It should be noted that films like Ninja III: The Domination are certainly not for everyone but if you are looking for a goofy fun time you could do a lot worse.

 

Just remember, only a ninja can destroy a ninja.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Goldfinger (1964) – Review

In this third outing, the poster proclaims “James Bond is Back in Action” and with Bond facing off against the likes of the nefarious Goldfinger and the sexy femme fatale Pussy Galore we get all that promised action and a whole lot more. It’s with this entry that the series truly came into focus as not only do we get multiple “Bond Girls” but also a plethora of gadgets including the iconic Aston Martin DB5, all of which went towards making this is the quintessential Bond film, one that would set the standards for all subsequent Bond films to follow.

Fans of author Ian Fleming are quite aware that the films often have very little to do with the source but these differences are something that really grew over time, the film adaptation of Dr. No and From Russia with Love may have changed a few things but the plot and characters were left relatively intact, but with the film adaptation of Fleming’s seventh novel Goldfinger we start to see some major changes from the source material. In the book, Auric Goldfinger was the treasurer for SMERSH, the Soviet counterintelligence agency and one of Bond’s chief nemesis, while in the movie Auric is just a man who loves gold so much that he gets in bed with the Chinese in a plot to increase the value of his own holdings. Now, I will give the film credit for improving on the actual criminal plot itself because the one in the book is simply to rob the gold depository at Fort Knox, which is pretty insane, while in the movie the idea is to set off a dirty bomb that would irradiate the gold and thus make Goldfinger's own stockpile worth ten times more than it previously was, and I’ll admit, this was a rather inspired change.

Note: The movie has Bond explain just how impossible the book's plot about robbing Fort Knox was and how ludicrous the idea of driving off with 10,000 tons of gold truly is.

As close as some elements of this movie have to the book it should be pointed that it is with the film Goldfinger that Bond’s relationships with women became even more problematic. As in the book, the movie introduces us to Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton), a beautiful girl hired by Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe) to help him cheat at cards, but when James Bond (Sean Connery) arrives on the scene he blackmails Goldfinger into losing and then to add insult to injury Bond has a brief sexual fling with the poor doomed girl, and it is here that we begin the long unfortunate trope of women who sleep with Bond ending up dead.  Poor Jill is painted gold and left for Bond to find dead in his bed. This does occur in the novel so we can’t blame the filmmakers for this but when Bond later encounters Tilly Masterson (Tania Mallet), who is trailing after Goldfinger to get revenge for her sister’s murder, she is killed off by Goldfinger’s mute henchman Oddjob (Harold Sakata) with nary a thought and it’s kind of off-putting.

 

Note: The idea that all-over gold paint would suffocate someone is something Ian Fleming totally made up but it does provide for a striking visual.

One certainly can debate whether or not Bond and the Bond films are rife with misogyny – that they are very sexist at times is not up for debate as that is quite apparent in most of the films – but with Goldfinger, we hit new extremes and a lot of that stems from this particular entry having an overabundance of Bond girls. What's a better way to get rid of an unwanted girl than have her knocked off so Bond can freely move onto the next one?  But what if the next girl is the head of an all-lesbian organization of cat-burglars? In the film we are introduced to Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) who is Goldfinger’s personal pilot and the leader of Pussy Galore's Flying Circus – they’re no longer acrobatic cat burglars, as they were in the book, but stunt pilots – who have been hired to help with the plan to irradiate Fort Knox, but wherein the book Pussy Galore is a completely out-of-the-closet lesbian the film barely alludes to this personality trait with the only evidence of her sexuality being when she tells Bond “You can turn off the charm. I’m immune.” Yet despite this claim Bond does manage to win her over, in the worst possible way imaginable.

 

To say that Bond’s “Raping the gay away” is completely offensive is a vast understatement.

In the documentary Bond Girls Are Forever, Honor Blackman stated that she believed that Pussy Galore only believed she was a lesbian because Goldfinger abused her pretty badly and that Bond's charm got her in touch with her actual heterosexuality, now, I love and respect Honor Blackman but in my opinion, this is a pretty lame explanation for her switching teams, in more ways than one. Her learning that the gas being used was actually lethal, and not knock-out gas as she had been told, should have been enough of a reason for her to turn on her employer with no "Power of Boners" needed. On the plus side of things, Honor Blackman is the oldest actress to ever play Bond's love interest and is only one of two Bond girls to be older than Bond himself, which is certainly a nice change when you consider how absurd the age gap between Bond and his sexual conquests reached in the Roger Moore era.

 

Honor Blackman, a great femme fatale and one of the best of the Bond girls.

Needless to say, Bond will never be considered a progressive “woke” character but as long as he isn’t championed for that aspect of his character I think we can all get along.  What really makes this film work isn’t simply the fact that it is chock full of beautiful women and features Bond up against one of his most iconic villains but because it is with Goldfinger that we are also given an extravaganza of Bond gadgets. Not only is this the first movie to give us a look inside Q Branch, run by the ever-lovable Q (Desmond Llewelyn), but it is here that we are introduced to Bond’s most prized possession, the Aston Martin DB5. Sean Connery may have been the star of this film but this vehicle could be argued as to be worthy of second billing – the Corgi toy was one of my most prized possessions – and with its concealed machine guns, smoke screen emitters and ejector seat it is easily the best of all Bond vehicles.

 

Sean Connery and his co-star.

Stray Observations:

• As cool as Bond is even he can’t convincingly pull off that “Seagull Hat” we see him wear in the pre-credit sequence.
• It’s with Goldfinger that we get our first pre-credit action sequence that has no bearing on the plot whatsoever.
• Shirley Bassey belting out the lyrics to Goldfinger still gives me chills and it has remained one of my all-time favourite Bond themes.
• With the inclusion of Japanese-American weightlifter and professional wrestler Harold Sakata as Oddjob we get our first true henchman of the Bond franchise.
• Oddjob’s killer derby must have two settings.  When we first see it used he decapitates a stone statute with but one throw, yet later when it kills Tilly Masterson it doesn’t even leave a mark let alone decapitate her.
• Not only does Goldfinger give us the first “Death Trap” for Bond to escape from it also provides us with one of the best hero/villain exchanges with James Bond asking “Do you expect me to talk?” which Goldfinger calmly informs our hero “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”
• Goldfinger gives an elaborate briefing to a group of American gangsters, using elaborate maps and models to explain his plan, but then he kills them all, which begs the question “What was the point of briefing people you then immediately kill?”

 

Also, I’d love to know where villains go to get their amazing models.

This film also has one of my favourite John Barry scores and I love the way he blended the music from the “Goldfinger” theme with the classic “James Bond Theme” and as mentioned Shirley Bassey’s rendition of the title song is, to put it frankly, pure gold. With the risk of compounding “gold puns” I must say that Goldfinger set the gold standard for Bond films and will most likely forever remain on the "Best of Bond" lists. The previous two films had included such elements as megalomania villains, gorgeous women and stunning locals but it is in Goldfinger that all these things are ratcheted up to eleven, but with the edition of the iconic henchman and Bond’s tricked out Aston Martin this entry raised the franchise to a whole new level, not to mention throwing the entire world in Bondmania, and sure, some elements haven’t dated all that well but overall this is still one of the better Bond films and it cemented Sean Connery as a superstar.

 

“Cubby, this isn’t how one negotiates a salary increase.”

Friday, May 28, 2021

Gamera: The Heisei Period (1995–2006)

Gamera, everyone’s favourite giant fire-breathing turtle, had a good run during what is referred to as the Shōwa Period, with eight films spanning the years 1965 to 1980, then with the bankruptcy of Daiei Films in 1971 and the failed attempt at reviving the franchise with Gamera: Super Monster – which consisted almost entirely of stock footage – the series was rebooted to once again compete with Toho’s Godzilla franchise during the King of the Monsters “Millennium Series” but this reboot would no longer be the family-friendly Gamera of old but a fiercer and more destructive entity that considered saving humanity to be only incidental to saving the Earth. This Gamera was no “Friend to all children” but a creature of immense power who would do whatever it took to defeat threats to the planet, even if that threat was us.

 

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)

In what is a hard reboot of the Gamera franchise Gamera: Guardian of the Universe is an epic kaiju adventure film that brings the classic monster back to once again rampage across Tokyo and also returning is the horrifying winged creature Gyaos, this time with a small flock of friends, and though Gamera is apparently the "Guardian of the Universe" that doesn't mean he won't destroy a city to achieve his goals. Collateral damage, thy name is Gamera. This particular reboot of Gamera moved away from the "Friend to all children" and completely ditched the family-friendly fantasy elements that had dominated the Shōwa Period in favour of a more realistic approach to a kaiju film – well, as realistic as two guys in monster suites fighting through a miniature city can be – and with much of the big monster attacks being filmed from the perspective of the humans, which goes a long way in preventing everything from looking like a kaiju pro-wrestling match. Now, there is a young Japanese girl who inadvertently forms a spiritual bond with Gamera, and she is the one to inform people that "Gamera is coming!" but the fact that she also suffers the same wounds and fatigue as Gamera suffers from makes everything just a bit darker.

 

What does not kill Gamera makes him stronger.

It should be noted that Gamera: Guardian of the Universe is not just a reboot but also a re-imaging with both Gamera and Gyaos getting in a new origin story, back in 1965 with Gamera, the Giant Monster the big turtle was a creature that dated back to ancient Atlantis but in this reboot, we get a more fleshed-out history where we learn that Gyaos was a genetically engineered Atlantean creation, one that got out of control and thus Gamera was created to end that threat. Super science turning on its maker is nothing new to science fiction and having both Gyaos and Gamera be bioengineered beings goes a long way to explain why one of them has an ultrasonic beam attack while the other is a giant rocket-propelled turtle.

 Tonal changes and new origins aside Gamera: Guardian of the Universe is not just one of the best Gamera movies but easily one of the best kaiju movies period, Godzilla films included, and the incredible battles that unfold are vibrant and energetic.  The model work on display is simply spectacular and gives these two titanic foes a fully realistic cityscape to hold their grudge match, and when fireballs fly and the ground shakes you'll be glad that Gamera is on our side, even if we might get crushed in falling rubble in the process.

 

Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion (1996)

"My name is Legion, for we are many" and with that quote from the Bible, we have the basis for one of the best kaiju movies ever produced. Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion may owe its origin to the Gamera films of the Shōwa Period but the terrible terrapin of the Heisei Period is a much darker beast and has scenes that are more reminiscent of a straight-up horror film than that of a giant monster movie. Not only do we get a monster straight out of one's nightmares but director Shusuke Kaneko throws blood and carnage in a way that is anything but family-friendly.

 

You can't get much creepier looking than Legion.

This second installment of the Gamera trilogy starts out with a very X-Files feel to it, with various individuals scrambling to unravel the mystery of a meteor that seemed to somehow slow its entry into the atmosphere before impacting in a snowy region of northern Japan. Soon an army of insectoid extraterrestrials are marching south, wrecking beer bottles and massacring some passengers aboard a subway car, until eventually forming a hive beneath a mall in the city of Sapporo. It's here where the movie borrows a page from the 1960s science fiction series Ultra Q by having the legion of insect warriors nurturing a mammoth flower that was a nice nod to the fourth episode in that series, which in turn could be considered an inspiration to The X-Files many years later.

 

This not a home for Flower Children.

There are more than a few truly terrifying moments in Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion, one being that brutal attack on the subway, but also when Gamera is is ambushed by a swarm of the alien insect soldiers – seeing the giant turtle in a writhing mass of insectoid creatures is more than a little unnerving – but Gamera isn't alone in this fight as he is aided by the human characters in this film, an equal mix of scientists and military.  Sure, there is one general who is against helping a monster, despite that monster currently fighting a clear threat to the planet, but eventually everyone buckles down and does their best to end the threat of Legion.  Let's hear it for the good guys!

If it's possible the special effects work in this movie are even better than what was seen in the previous films, with jaw-dropping miniatures and kaiju fights that would make any kaiju fan's top ten list. The design for the Legion queen is also one of the best kaiju creations with its multiple arms and legs as wells numerous grab-like pincers – a suit that would require two operators inside and numerous puppeteers outside – and the two titans clash it is a sight to behold.

 

The Ultimate Showdown.

Now, once again, this Gamera is not really "Friend to all children" because even though he may go out of his way at times to save humans he is more a guardian of the Earth and not so much humanity in particular, and the film ends with the uneasy thought "What would happen if Gamera considered us a threat?" a question that would be answered in Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris.  Overall, Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion is the best of this particular Gamera trilogy and also one of the greatest kaiju movies ever made. That's not hyperbole folks, that just the god's honest truth.

 

Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999)

How do you deal with the fact that the supposed "Guardian of the Universe" is responsible for the death of your parents? It's questions like that which lead to director Shusuke Kaneko taking a bit of a step back from massive kaiju on kaiju action for this third and final chapter of his Gamera trilogy, so as to focus more on the emotional cost of such battles and not the monster smackdowns, and in this case, we have a young girl who had watched her mother and father becoming collateral damage to Gamera's battle with Gyaos and this has caused her to stew in hatred for the giant terrapin, which would be a key factor in releasing one of Gamera's greatest foes.

 

Beautiful but Deadly.

Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris may not have as many monster fights as the previous two installments in the trilogy but the two big encounters we do get easily make up for that "shortcoming" as it is in this film that we truly get a feel for the consequences of such cataclysmic fights. In Gamera: Guardian of the Universe it was made clear that the survival of humanity was secondary to Gamera's duty to protect the Earth but that agenda reaches staggering levels in this third chapter as a battle between Gamera and new evolved Hyper Gyaos results in almost the complete destruction of Tokyo's Shibuya District – during a busy Friday night – and the resulting death toll reaches upward of 20,000 people. The imagery on display during this particular showdown is as awe-inspiring as it is terrifying and one can almost understand the military flipping their pro-Gamera stance and considering the giant turtle to be the pre-eminent threat.

 

Who wouldn't trust this turtle?

One element this trilogy has clearly revelled in would be its horror aspects and the creature Iris, motivated by hatred and bitterness, is quite the horrifying creation as not only does it evolve into an incredibly threatening giant monster but even in its early stages it leaves desiccated husks of its prey – meaning any poor human who crosses its path – and when it "bonds" with a young girl bent on revenge against Gamera it is sad as it is horrifying because this girl is not the film's antagonist but simply a victim of a war she had no say in.  It should also be noted that this entry has four female leads and that the males mostly have supporting roles – barking generals and concerned possible boyfriends – and when the film reaches its conclusion it comes down to Gamera and these women to end the fight....well, mostly Gamera. As to the big bad in this film, the creature Iris has a very distinct look – no mouth and many waving tentacles – and though the revenge-fueled creature has only one fight with Gamera it is a very intense encounter, Gamera even has to blow off one of his own limbs to escape having his energy drained, and the choice to have the fights within the confines of Kyoto building added an extra sense of claustrophobia to the battle.

 

"Gamera, could you please take this outside?"

Once again the filmmakers prove that they are best at what they do as Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris provides not only some of the best miniature work but the use of CGI is well balanced and gives us some of the more impressive visual moments in the film, but as amazing as the movie's special effects look it is the emotional core of this entry that makes it an excellent conclusion to what was already an amazing run of kaiju excellence.

 

Gamera the Brave (2006)

Following the success of the Gamera Trilogy by director Shusuke Kaneko we get a new creative team behind this final Gamera movie, at least as of the writing of this review, and with Gamera the Brave the filmmakers decided to take the franchise back to the Shōwa Period when Gamera was "Friend to all children" but the fact that this outing is more family-friendly, with the prerequisite child as a protagonist at the center of things, it doesn't stop the filmmakers from getting a little dark at times.

 

Who invited the Gyaos back for this reboot?

How dark you ask? Well, the movie opens with a prologue that takes place back in 1973 where we see Gamera battling a trio of bat-like Gyaos monsters and just before the wounded giant turtle is overwhelmed he self-destructs, detonating himself like a personal hydrogen bomb, taking the Gyaos with him. That certainly wasn't what I expected to find in the opening ten minutes of a Gamera movie. The film then jumps ahead to the distant year of 2007 where a young boy named Toru, whose father witnessed the self-destruction of Gamera when he was a little boy, and this film is about Toru's journey as he is the one to discover an unusual egg that gives birth to a cute little turtle. Three guesses who this turtle grows up to be and the first two don't count.

 

"Gamera is really neat, Gamera is filled with meat!"

As far as child protagonists in Gamera films go Toru is easily the best of the lot and as he is fairly well-rounded and is plagued by memories of his late mother as well as the fact that the girl next door will soon be undergoing dangerous heart surgery, so when a little joy comes into his life in the form of an adorable little turtle that he names Toto, we can't help but sympathize with the kid. Now, this sympathy does get strained a bit by the fact that Toru keeps running towards giant monsters fights – what he hopes to achieve I have no clue – and I'm totally on the dad's side here when Toru gets a big slap for his complete lack of self-preservation, but then we get this glorious moment where all these random kids start relaying the red stone which Toru had found with the egg – Toru believes this will allow Gamera to grow big enough to fight the current kaiju threat – and it really is a sweet moment.

Gamera the Brave doesn't have the scale of the previous run of films and their citywide destruction, and though the action is well-orchestrated it doesn't have the same impact that the previous Gamera Trilogy had and even the kaiju fights, with Gamera up against a man-eating creature named Zedus, it doesn't have that same scale or impact of his previous encounter. Now, to be fair, during most of the film's runtime we are not dealing with a fully grown Gamera so his inability to fight is not a story flaw, then there is the fact that even as he gets larger he still looks adorable and is a dead ringer for Morla, the giant turtle from The Neverending Story.

 

"Has anyone seen Atreyu or Falkor around?"

That all said, Gamera the Brave is a wonderfully engaging chapter in the life of one of cinema's greatest heroes and though it may not have the scope or scale of earlier entries it does have a lot of heart and when it comes to Gamera films that has always been a key ingredient.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Gamera: The Shōwa Period (1965–1980)

With the popularity of Toho's Godzilla film series sweeping the country the people over at rival Daiei Films decided they could use some of that kaiju money for themselves and thus Gamera, the giant fire-eating turtle, was born.  Though many have described the Gamera films as simply rip-offs of the Godzilla franchise that is not really the case, frequent series director Noriaki Yuasa, who helmed all but one of the Shōwa entries, had in mind something more lighthearted and whimsical with its target audience being that of children. 

The first Gamera movie can be easily compared to 1954s Gojira as it was also shot in black & white and featured a rampaging monster, the only real difference is that this one briefly shows that he is a "Friend to all children” and with that, the series quickly embraced a more fantasy element that centred much of the action around a young protagonist and when American International Television made a distribution deal with Daiei Films one of those protagonists would usually be Caucasian, because heaven forbid North American kids not having a white kid to cheer for, and as the series went on it got weirder as themes drifted almost into the realm of faerie tales rather than that of science fiction.

 

Gamera, the Giant Monster (1965)

What happens when an ancient Atlantean giant fire-eating turtle is awoken from its frozen slumber by a nuclear detonation? The obvious answer is Gamera, the Giant Monster, which was Daiei Films' answer to Toho's Godzilla and its bid to cash in on the monster mania sweeping across Japan. Filmed in black and white the first Gamera movie is a rather dark and atmospheric piece that mirrors much of the look that you will find in 1954's Gojira but while both monster movies stemmed from the threat of nuclear bombs this Gamera film wasn't trying for any kind of analogy between its story and that of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The movie does have elements of the Cold War but the overall message of Gamera, the Giant Monster is that differences in ideologies can be set aside for the common good.

 

This is the common good.

In this first entry in the Gamera's Shōwa period, the big turtle was treated more like a rampaging menace than he was a "Friend to all children," which would be the focus of his character in the later films, in Gamera, the Giant Monster he is simply a creature seeking nourishment while destroying anything that stands in his way. It's not his fault that enflamed cities are the ultimate snack food for him. Gamera is not an evil monster but simply an animal that is "out of time" and looking for a home in a strange new world.

Now, there was a subplot dealing with a turtle-obsessed eleven-year-old boy who latched onto Gamera with a passion bordering on true psychosis and the problem here is that there was pretty much nothing likable about young Toshio as he's basically a tiny sociopath with the delusion that his little pet turtle has somehow turned into a giant fire-breathing monster, and he will risk his life and all of those around him to be reunited with his pal. Throughout the film, Toshio acts like a candidate for the Darwin Awards and your enjoyment of Gamera, the Giant Monster will hinge greatly on how much of this little shit you can stand.

 

"Gamera, please let him drop."

It should be noted that there is a scene in the film where Gamera saves Toshio from falling to his death, from a lighthouse that Gamera himself was in the process of destroying, and somehow this inexplicable act exploded in the collective consciousness of Japanese children and thus the franchise would wholeheartedly embrace the idea that Gamera was a "Friend to all children" whether it be warranted or not.  Overall, Gamera, the Giant Monster is a solid entry in the Kaiju genre and is a worthy contemporary of Godzilla, and though he may not have spawned an equal number of films this first chapter provided viewers with some truly nice visuals, great miniature city destruction and a turtle that rocketed across the sky, so what's not to love?

 

Gamera vs. Barugon (1966)

Watching this entry in the Gamera series and one thing is abundantly clear, and it's the fact that Japan just can't catch a break. At the end of Gamera, the Giant Monster everyone's favourite fire-eating turtle had been trapped inside a rocket ship and was blasted into space - cue MST3K theme song - but Gamera wasn't going to spend his life on the desolate landscape of Mars because, lucky for him, an ill-timed passing meteorite collides with the ship allowing Gamera to return to Earth.

 

Seriously, what are the odds?

Released a mere five months after the first film Gamera vs. Barugon was given the "A" picture treatment due to the success of Gamera, the Giant Monster - strangely, the director of that film was demoted to effects director for this outing - and we'd also have "Gamera, now in colour!" but where the first film consisted mostly of Gamera rampaging across Japan the sequel would launch the "Versus" motif to which each proceeding film would feature a new antagonist for Gamera to fight. For this first sequel, Daiei Films would pit Gamera against Barugon, a gigantic quadrupedal reptile with a long whip-like tongue that could emit a freezing mist to encase his foes in an icy death, but one power wasn't enough for this creature so Barugon also has the ability to use the spikes on his back to project a super-heated rainbow off of his back that could disintegrate missiles and tanks. One has to admit that's a strange power combo but as the Gamera series progressed, things would only get weirder from here.

 

Barugon could get a side job as a mascot for a Gay Pride parade.

Where citywide destruction was the main theme of Gamera, the Giant Monster in this film we veer into the domain of Allan Quatermain as we take a trip into the dangerous jungles of New Guinea with a trio of treasure hunters who are looking for a giant opal. This rather odd divergence into the jungle adventure genre, rife with quicksand and deadly scorpions, takes up a great deal of screen time and as fun as it is to shift into The Treasure of Siera Madre territory, is, as greed amongst the hunters leads to death, one can't help but ask the question "Aren't we supposed to be watching a giant monster movie?" Gamera, the Giant Monster is twenty minutes longer than its predecessor but we find Gamera missing for the bulk of the film - though to be fair, the destruction Gamera wreaks on the Kurobe Dam is spectacular - and our terrible terrapin is treated more like a deus ex machina rather than the star of the movie.

Now, in Gamera, the Giant Monster we had an eleven-year-old sociopath with a turtle fixation to contend with but in this entry, we do not yet embrace Gamrea as "Friend to all children" so instead, we have to put up with one of the world's greediest and dumbest villains in cinema history. In the case of this movie, we are saddled with a man who would try and steal a diamond while its' being used for monster bait. There's dumb and then there is suicidally stupid.

 

"We could fight, or maybe eat some stupid humans."

The focus on the human subplots may put younger viewers off - I actually found some of that jungle adventure stuff to be quite amusing - and the lack of Gamera action is a definite negative, but when we do get our monster smackdown it is pretty damn impressive. Gamera vs. Barugon definitely has a more serious tone than later entries, with its major destruction and a high death toll being rather impressive, but even with its greater budget it was hampered by some serious pacing issues. I still love the hell out of this movie, the lack of a "Kenny" a definite plus, but it falls a little short of being a truly great kaiju entry.

 

Gamera vs. Gyaos (1967)

With Gamera vs. Barugon receiving less than then stellar ticket sales it was decided that for this third outing pleasing the younger fans was to be the main focus - no longer making kids wait for the big monster fights was an integral part of this decision - and thus from here on out Gamera would most definitely be the "Friend to all children" but this didn't stop returning director Noriaki Yuasa from doubling down on the monster carnage, with Gamera vs. Gyaos not only do we get to see stunning moments of citywide destruction but when the two titular monsters clash purple and green blood will gush forth like water from a bursting damn. Oh, and did I mention that Gyoas is basically a giant bloodsucking vampire bat?

 

"I beat out Christopher Lee for this part."

Gyaos is easily one of Gamera's best opponents and when the two titans clash it truly is a sight to behold and as was the case with most of the monsters in the Gamera series Gyaos has multiple abilities, not only does this flying menace have the destructed wing power of Toho's Rodan but he can also emit a powerful ultrasonic beam than can cut through anything, especially aircraft, like a hot knife through butter. But that's not all, being that fire is something Gyaos fears he can also spray a fog-like gas, from his nipples no less, which works as a flame retardant. It should be noted that making biological sense has never been a factor in kaiju films but the people at Daiei Films seem to go the extra mile in creating fun and ridiculous monster powers.

 

"Did you hit me with a frickin laser beam?"

Of course, it wouldn't be a proper kaiju film without it having a healthy dose of human drama and for Gamera vs. Gyaos that drama comes in the form of an expressway corporation that runs into problems with the local villagers who are protesting and sabotaging their efforts to build a new expressway. As human greed is a common element in these films the villagers aren't protesting out of some ecological worry, instead, it all stems from their hopes of extorting more money from this big corporation. Is the arrival of Gyaos some kind of Biblical retribution for mankind's folly? And if so, what does this make Gamera?

 

"Just call me, Mister Tibbs."

As mentioned, this is the entry that solidified Gamera's "Friend to all children" ethos and in this outing, a young boy named Eiichi is saved from the brutal clutches of Gyaos by the giant turtle, but what is more interesting here is that the filmmakers decided to create a bond between boy and beast and its actually Eichi who comes up with the plan to save the day and not the useless adults.

 

True hero or annoying kid, you decide.

Note: The military's plan to defeat Gyaos is goofy as hell, their idea was to immobilize the monster by making him dizzy using the rotating platform on top of a nearby hotel, then lure the creature there via a fountain of artificial blood and while trapped by the centrifugal force the sun's ultraviolet rays would "shrink" Gyaos to death. Yep, that's a goddamn brilliant plan. No wonder they eventually have to turn to a ten-year-old boy to save their bacon.

 

Gamera vs. Viras (1968)

It only took four films in the Gamera series for invaders from space to make an appearance, unfortunately, they weren't the true threat to our wonderful giant turtle. The men in charge of Daiei Films were sure that the kaiju boom was about to bust and thus Gamera vs. Viras was given a third of the budget to what had been provided for the previous film, needless to say, this resulted in a Gamera entry of decidedly less than stellar attributes. Basically, to say this film used a lot of stock footage would be a gross understatement.

 

"Get me my agent on the phone."

To be fair, Gamera vs. Viras does have a bang-up beginning, with an alien spacecraft proclaiming their dominance over Earth mere seconds before Gamera arrives and totally wrecks their shit., which results in the aliens initiating plan "B" as in "Kill Gamera, then take over the Earth." As promising as that sounds the movie quickly devolves into a kid-friendly adventure film - a direction the series was always heading towards - with two mischievous Boy Scouts being kidnapped by the aliens as hostages against Gamera compliance, it's up to these two annoying kids to save the day.

 

I hope you like kid shenanigans cause you're going to get a lot of it.

Here's where things really go wrong. After kidnapping the two kids the alien invaders manage to mind control Gamera, ordering him to destroy a damn and rampage through Tokyo, they then deliver the ultimatum "Surrender the Earth or the two boys die." Strangely enough, the United Nations immediately capitulates - what is the life of millions when compared to a couple of idiot kids - and if not for the actions of these "heroic" Boy Scouts mankind would have been doomed. What's even weirder is after mankind surrenders these invading bastards go ahead and order Gamera to smash more shit.

 

Seriously, if you can't trust invading alien cuttlefish who can you trust?

Aside from the annoying kid factor what really hurts Gamera vs. Viras is that about 80% of the destruction we see Gamera unleash is nothing but old footage from previous entries - talk about being cheap- and even the final battle between Gamera and the giant version of Viras was a tad disappointing as the alien monster was clearly out of his league and didn't stand a chance, and how does our big turtle hero win?  Gamera accidentally lands on his back after using Viras as a jet-ski which resulted in him crashing into the beach, landing on his back and allowing the giant squid-like monster to impale his vulnerable belly.

 

It would have been a terrifying moment if it hadn't also been so completely silly.

I will admit that the alien menace in Gamera vs. Viras had a decidedly menacing look to him, those creepy glowing eyes were a nice touch, but when you end up being defeated by a couple of annoying Boy Scouts it's hard to take you seriously. Strangely enough, this was intended to be the last of the Gamera films but the kids simply loved this outing and the film became a huge hit. Clearly, the filmmakers behind Gamera vs. Viras knew their target audience and hit a bullseye with this kid-centric formula, as to how much enjoyment the average viewer will get out of this film, well, that will depend on how much you can stomach a couple of little boys repeatedly screaming, "Gamera, Gamera, Gamera, Gamera!" like the two worst cheerleaders in the universe.

Note: This film is also known as Destroy All Planets but after seeing the film one must admit that particular title comes across as a bit laughable as these aliens couldn't even stop two eleven-year-old boys let alone destroy an entire planet.

 

Gamera vs. Guiron (1969)

With the surprise success of Gamera vs. Viras, the Gamera franchise was taken off life-support as the heads of Daiei Films quickly ordered another movie starring everyone's favourite fire-eating turtle and as was the case with the previous entry Gamera vs. Guiron would be a kid-centric adventure with a young Japanese boy teamed up with a Caucasian counterpart who would work together to defeat the current threat - in this case, a pair of space women with nefarious plans - of course, the boys would also be helped by Gamera, "Friend to all children."

 

But who will help Gamera?

What makes Gamera vs. Guiron a standout entry in the series is in both the grave nature of the threat and the massive on-screen violence, with the whole production having the feel of a Grimm's fairy tale with two young children being lured away to be eaten - this time not by a witch in a cottage made of candy but a spaceship remotely operated by aliens - and it's on a distant alien world that they would have had their little skulls cut open by a bone saw and their brains eaten by the aforementioned space women, "While they're sleeping we'll eat their brains raw."

 

If that's not nightmare fuel I don't know what is.

Now, due to the box office success of the previous film Gamera vs. Guiron was also given a slightly bigger budget - though this wouldn't stop the studio from using footage from earlier Gamera films to save a buck - and the production designs of the planet Tera, this unknown tenth planet in our solar system due to its location on the opposite side of the sun, are simply marvellous and gives one the idea of what a science fiction film would look like if made by Dr. Seuss.

 

“I do not like boy's brains and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.”

The plot has that dreamlike quality one would expect in a fairy tale but it also has elements from the classic science fiction film Forbidden Planet as we learn that the alien race who, like the Krell, were basically destroyed by their own advanced in technology and overall hubris - somehow creating Space Gyaos which led to their doom - but what is not dreamlike about this film is the more nightmare-like quality in the film's scope of violence. The monster Guiron sports a massive axe-like blade on its head that it uses to brutally sever the limbs of its opponents - it makes quick work of Gyaos, cutting off his head and chopping its body up like a plate of sushi, and as if that deadly blade wasn't enough Guiron also has a pair of four shurikens stored in two circular indents in the blade that it can launch via telepathic waves.

 

A monster with Ninja throwing stars in its head, sure, why not?

The adults in Gamera vs. Guiron are treated as either disbelieving parents or inept comic relief - if not both - and this is because it is the children who are the heroes of this series, they are the friends of Gamera after all, and so any involvement of parents or authorities is downplayed and we spend the bulk of the film with the two boys trying to outwit their alien captors. Overall, this is a very fun entry with the monster fights being as brutal as they are entertaining and the two child actors actually manage to remain engaging rather than annoying.

Note: At one point in the film Gamera uses "parallel bars" to launch an attack on Gurion, and it made me wonder, could that moment have inspired such films as Gymkata and Jurassic Park: Lost World?

 

Gamera vs. Jiger (1970)

You can learn many life lessons watching a Gamer a film such as "*If a giant fire-breathing turtle doesn't want you to remove a supposedly cursed statue maybe you should listen." In Gamera vs. Jiger once again idiot adults ignore the advice of children, who are always right in these movies, and because of this they inadvertently release a terrifying monster onto the world. This sixth entry in the Gamera film series also seems to be a promotion for Expo '70 which was the first World's Fair to be held in Japan and much of the film's action surrounds the various pavilions that are in danger of being smashed during this particular kaiju smackdown - though the fair's representatives insisted that no pavilions be destroyed during the conflict, so the fights all kind of happen next door to the Expo - but what really makes this particular entry standout is Gamera's opponent, a triceratops-like beast that as a virtual arsenal of powers to attack with.

 

Jiger kicks ass and takes names.

As the Gamera series progressed the filmmakers continued to ramp up the powers and abilities of Gamera's opponents, Guiron in the previous film had psychokinesis, which allowed him to launch shuriken at Gamera, but not only does Jiger have the telekinetic - or possibly magnetic - abilities to launch rocks at our heroic turtle it can shoot deadly saliva-compacted quills, which like the shuriken can hamper Gamera's ability to retract his legs and go into rocket mode. Jiger can also fly via jet propulsion - which puts her movements on par with that of rocket-powered Gamera - but its most feared weapon is her "Magnetium Beam" an Ultrahigh frequency ray that is capable of dissolving buildings and ships and even people, reducing them to skeletons. Now, one would think that's a pretty badass threat but the people at Daiei Films weren't about to stop there.

 

Let us take a closer look at Gamera.

As the series progressed the family-friendly nature increased exponentially - despite the amount of violence and gore provided by the monster fights - and in this particular outing our pair of child heroes are even more key to saving the day than in previous films. In something that is right out of Richard Fleischer's Fantastic Voyage, a young Japanese boy and his Caucasian pal must pilot a min-sub into Gamera's body to save him from Jiger's most despicable attack. But what could be worse than an ultrasonic beam that dissolves everything in its path? Well, it turns out that Jiger has a stinger-like ovipositor which it uses to implant its young inside the giant turtle. Yikes, that's horrifying! This embryo will then parasitically live off the host up until it hatches, turning Gamera into a lifeless husk in the process, and it's up to the kids to pilot their little sub down Gamera's throat to do battle with Jiger's progeny. If that is not one of the craziest things to ever be proffered forth in a Kaiju movie I'll eat my hat.

 

Gamera vs. Zigra (1971)

It's kind of sad that an alien race can travel hundreds of light-years, easily wiped out a moon base, then instigate earthquakes of immense magnitude that devastate the planet but can then be easily defeated by a couple of preschoolers. Director Noriaki Yuasa's desire to make the Gamera series into a collection of childlike fantasies is fully realized in Gamera vs. Zigra as not only do the kids in this movie save the day, with the help of Gamera of course, but the adults are even more moronic than in previous entries.

 

"Tom, I hope we don't get alien probed again."

Much of the film's running time is spent on an "alien" spacewoman trying to kill the two children because "They know too much" but aside from knowing that the Zigrans are incredibly lame I'm not quite sure what the kids know that is such a threat to the invaders. I was okay with adults being portrayed as narrow-minded idiots in these films, so that the kids could be the ones to save the day, but when your villain can be thwarted by a five-year-old throwing a stuffed toy, well that's not just sad that's downright embarrassing.

 

"If they find out items made of plush are my only weakness, I'm doomed.

Also, that the Zigran spaceship looks like something Willy Wonka would have designed does not help to create a menacing threat, with its glowing gumball aesthetic it's just too goofy looking to be taken seriously, and when we finally get to the kaiju fight between Gamera and the alien monster Zigra it's just as disappointing.

Now, the idea of an aquatic alien race fleeing their polluted ocean world so they could then take over Earth's oceans and have us land-dwellers as a primary food source is not a bad plot - it gives the film a nice ecological bent to it - but the ineptness of the invasion cannot be overstated and the alien threat is undercut at every turn. I'll grant that when Gamera destroys the Zigran spaceship and a giant space shark pops forth that was pretty cool but Zigra just didn't have the cachet of the previous monsters.

 

"He's got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eyes."

It's clear that at this point Daiei Films was running out of money - in fact, they were about to declare bankruptcy - and thus we don't get a lot of kaiju action in this movie and all that earthquake destruction the Zigrans apparently unleashed on the world will have to happen off-screen. Then to add insult to injury we get the standard armchair quarterbacking from the two kids - as they scream out fighting advice during the climactic battle - and this is where we see that, apparently, Gamera needs to be told to use his fire-breath against an aquatic monster. "Sigh"

In this penultimate entry in the Showa Era poor Gamera literally jumps the shark as he tries to save both Sea World and Daiei Films, sadly, he was only able to do one of those things, basically, Gamera vs. Zigra works better as a commercial for Kamogawa Sea World than it does as a kaiju film.

 

Gamera: Super Monster (1980)

This would be the final entry in the Shōwa Gamera series, what with the studio going bankrupt after the release of Gamera vs. Zigra back in 1971, but with Gamera: Super Monster they had every intention of pulling their struggling production company out of debt, unfortunately, this was not to be the case as the film failed drastically at the box office and Daiei Films filed for bankruptcy about six months later and we Gamera fans were left with nothing more than "Clip Show" rather than a true Gamera feature film.

 

It does have synchronized superheroes, so that something, right?

The movie opens over some nice space paintings - why spend money on visual effects when van art can be just as effective - where we are then treated to a "Star Destroyer" suddenly lumbering across the screen, and it's here where one would love to point out to the filmmakers that "If you have almost no money in your budget maybe don't try and rip-off Star Wars in your lame attempt at reviving your franchise."

 

"A long time ago in a broke movie studio far far away."

The framing device that makes up this film collects all the library footage of Gamera's previous battles together as part of a plan by an evil alien named Zanon, who has come to enslave the Earth only to find his diabolical plans thwarted by a young boy who has a special connection with Gamera. There is also a trio of resident superheroes - Spacewomen in spandex and capes hiding out on Earth - but they are pretty much useless as their principles do not allow them to have weapons or harm any living thing.  Just what one hopes to find in a giant monster movie, pacifist superheroes.

What is even weirder is that not only does this film incorporate every big monster fight from Gamera's history - this movie featured only about two minutes of new Gamera footage - but we also get this kid's bizarre ass dreams where we see Gamera flying alongside the Space Battleship Yamato and the Galaxy Express 999 and are given no explanation for any of this.

 

In a crossover that nobody asked for.

Aside from harvesting every second of stock footage Gamera: Super Monster provides us with some of the worst video effects brought to screen, stuff that wouldn't pass muster on an episode of H.R. Pufnstuf or The Bugaloos, and when we aren't being subjected to such lame visual assaults we have this stupid little kid banging away on a Casio keyboard with his version of the Gamera March.

 

Could this kid be the one behind the lyrics to the Gamera March?

I'm not saying Gamera: Super Monster is simply a worthless cash grab but what I want to make clear is that this was an incredibly painfully cobbled-together travesty that fails at humour, drama and action - setting aside the excellent stock-footage sequences that make up the bulk of the film - while consistently providing some of the worst acting ever witnessed in the history of cinema, all to bolster up a plot that barely exists. We can only thank the gods that in fifteen years the Gamera Heisei period would be born and with Gamera: Guardian of the Universe everyone's favourite giant turtle would get the respect he deserves.