"Gamera is really neat, he is full of turtle meat…"
It's been a few years since Gamera came squirting out of the nuclear ooze that was the arms race of the 1950s and 1960s, and he's really improved on his image. Where he was known as an evil flying turtle with a tendency toward reptilian urban renewal, he is now a go-go dancing happy smile face friend of all children. As part of his pro-people platform, he now sticks his oversized snout into international politics and theme park construction. See, it's 1970 and Japan is hosting the World's Fair/Expo and as part of their exotica exhibits, the planners want to remove a cursed island Tiki from its Polynesian pedestal and replant it near the people mover. As vaguely British scientists try to pry the idol off its perch, our titanic tortoise tries to stop the statue snatch. Yet despite his indecipherable warnings, Gamera gets the inarticulate turtle brush off. Naturally once the figurine is filched, chaos ensues. Jigar, AKA Monster X, AKA Pissed-off Prairie Dog the size of a sperm whale comes crawling out of the earth to seek revenge for having his favorite knick-knack nicked. This multi-horned pig/dog unleashes his nuclear heat ray on outlying areas of Japan and even impregnates Gamera with his half-ling. Naturally, it's the really annoying kids who understand all the scientific falderal that saves the day.
Over in Osaka, they've also got their cultural desecration issues to deal with. When Playmate Magazine (apparently not famous for its pictorials and centerfolds) decides to build a theme park, they want something special to go between the monkey house and the oversized turkey petting zoo. The egomaniacal publisher spares no expense and sends some staff to Obelisk, a (sham) South Seas island. The local natives worship a deity named Gappa, AKA the Monster from a Prehistoric Planet. It's never really explained why the late great leader of the Mothers of Invention is so revered. When they run across its inhuman offspring (no, not Ahmet) they determine that a strange griffin-like freak would fit perfectly along side the wasabi corndog stand. The terrifying toddler is shipped to Japan, his ticked off parents close behind. There's even a strange island boy in Al Jolson offensive blackface tagging along. Ma and Pa demolish several city blocks in order to register their child napping complaint. The minstrel show kid runs around proclaiming the sanctity of his homeland and looking sticky with filth. Eventually, everyone learns that sending the brat back will make his 15-story guardians simply go away. The periodical poobah relents and the Gappas return to their tropical nuclear testing playground.
It has taken some time, and careful consideration, but fans and well wishers of Toho's tantalizing film frenzy have finally uncovered a rationale as to why Gamera, Godzilla, and all other "man in suit" movies are so freak flag flying fantastic. Aside from the poor dubbing and errant Anglo-Saxonizing, which are not inherent to the flicks in their natural state, but are instead qualities imposed on the movies by foolhardy foreign marketers, the main appeal of these battling behemoths is crystal clear. When it comes right down to it, your typical big beast brawl is really nothing more than some good old-fashioned wrasslin' with 40 foot tall bad-ass brutes taking the place of muscle cases. Watching a typical bout, like the one between Gamera and Monster X in the movie of like name, you will see the suplex, the piledriver, the double choke hold, and the most deadly of all square circle maneuvers, the premeditated impregnating of your opponent. The wild and wacky Mt. Fuji fudge matches in this sixth cinematic installment of the hyper-pituitary turtle tale is just one of its nonsensical, nifty attributes. We also get a faux English fishwife-in-training named Susie who, at the age of six, has the mouth of a potted Chelsea pub owner. You half expect her to ask if she can pull you a pint in her gutturally quasi-cockney squawk. She is also part of a cheerleading trio of kids who seem to be self-appointed know-it-alls and expert corner men for Gamera in this heavyweight weirdness. Their nonstop barrage of chants, cheers, jeers, suggestions, and stopgap measures make the film's final 15 minutes almost unbearable. But would you want your zipper-back story told any other way?
As an example of Gamera's salmonella silliness, Gamera vs. Monster X is resplendent with obtuse, unruly ridiculousness. As part of the plot, we get a tour of the World's Fair/Expo circa 1970, complete with strangely Disney-like pavilions and retro-Jetsons building designs. There is also the deity daffiness of the colossal island Tiki, which resembles something Trader Vic would have discontinued as too tacky. When Monster X appears, he has horns that shoot spears and a super fertile tale talon. One spike into Gamera's gullet and our snapper is saddled with a fetal X all his own. This then leads to a Fantastic Voyage-style scene were our two male children maneuver their way down into Gamera's womb and perform an angry what's-it abortion. The list of lunacy just goes on and on and in between, the friend of children and the curse of mankind duke it out, gonzo ginza style.
Monster from a Prehistoric Planet, which actually comes from underneath a tropical island in the South Seas, is just as jaw dropping and dragging. You know you're in for some potty political incorrectness when natives of this Polynesian paradise are nothing more than Kabuki theater extras in layers of brown lacquer. Yet the black face farce is only one of several strange aspects of this film, things that will make you go "hmmm…what the hell?" Questions like: what is the subject matter of Playmate Magazine? Why does its publisher want to build a steamy Garden of Eden in Japan? Why does he want to populate it with oversized domesticated animals (or at least, that's what it looks like from the mock up he has in his office)? Why does he employ a triangle of love-starved professionals to find his freak show attractions? And why do primitive peoples who worship gigantic chicken hawks use so much bronzer? The mood swings this movie goes through are intense. First there is fear, then panic, then trepidation, then horror, then happiness, and finally some incredibly sappy, cheese ball sadness. You too may weep (out of internal misery) as the bumbling Baby Gappa learns how to fly. But the best balderdash is saved for the end. Our scientist heroine just up and decides to ditch her career ambitions to become a "normal woman, married, in the kitchen, folding diapers." Her anti-feminist manifesto is the final crazy coating on this already cuckoo confection. While not up to its G-funk brothers' standards, Monster from a Prehistoric Planet is still a strange experience in miniature set destruction and arcane effects foolishness. And it's all the better for it.
Now, you can argue that there is some inherent worth and value in the Kaiju eiga of Japan, but thanks to such pulp product luminaries as Sandy Frank and AIP, all the artistic merit and motion picture professionalism is flushed down the commode in bad editing, awful English language reinvention, and more than horrendous transfers and prints. Poor Retromedia must then rely on these cinematic atrocities (they even warn us about it before each film starts) to present these titles to the eager audience. Sadly, the full screen images here are just appalling. Gamera is faded, fuzzy, and constantly panning and scanning to capture what is going on. Monster takes a more forward approach and merely locks the frame down on the center of the composition. If the action happens to pass in front of it—great! If not, then no one really needed to see it in the first place. And when we do see it, it is either so dark as to be almost indecipherable or so bright as to be drained of all tint. Honestly, these are some of the absolute worst prints ever placed on DVD and it lowers the value of the digital presentation overall. This combined with the complete lack of extras—just a link to Retromedia's website—makes these movies for completists and crazed fans only.
So if you miss the sweet kiss of turtle against creature, the smack of rubber touching rubber as two stunt men topple over a scale model of a major metropolis, then you will thoroughly enjoy Gamera vs. Monster X / Monster from a Prehistoric Planet. But if you expect these offerings to be pristine, remastered wonders, preserving the memories of these kiddy matinee movies for years to come, you're in for some major shellshock. Fun never looked so foul.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
Review content copyright © 2004 Bill Gibron; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.