FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL has the distinction of being the last of Hammer Film Productions’ FRANKENSTEIN series and the last movie directed by the great Terence Fisher, who helmed THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN in 1957. The journey from there to here passed through a great many brains and body parts, but FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL seems a significant if not particularly final turn of the screw.

The movie opens with Dr. Simon Helder (Shane Briant) taking a great interest in the work of one Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing). He’s busted for “sorcery” and sent to an asylum, where he draws the attention of the depraved director (John Stratton) and his malevolent staff. But as luck would have it, the asylum has the one and only Baron Frankenstein serving as its medical director. And guess what? He’s still doing experiments. Helder and Frankenstein work together to once again create a monster.

frankenstein2

FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL comes on the heels of FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, which is the most brutal of the series. It found its Baron in an almost incorrigible place, so it stands to reason that he’s in the margins now. And while this 1974 picture does find Cushing’s character enjoying a modicum of success within the borders of an asylum, there’s sure darkness to the possibilities and blackness to the academic comedy. How seriously his science will be taken in the land of the insane is up for grabs, especially with his hands on the fritz.

Of course, it’s hard to entirely respect the Baron. In this instance, he’s yanking the body parts of the criminally insane patients of the asylum. He’s a moral individual in contrast to the director, who takes sexual advantage of the patients, but that’s not saying much. And when his latest conception is born a shaggy man-beast with generous lips, he’s a little disappointed it doesn’t quite catch on intellectually. But as anyone who’s been following the script so far is aware, a more suitable brain is always right around the corner.

DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE is Hammer Film Productions’ third adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, with THE UGLY DUCKLING and THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL preceding it. This 1971 Roy Ward Baker picture has little to no connection with its precursors, but it does forge a compelling yarn about what happens when scientific research goes too far. The Brian Clemens screenplay adds a fair dose of humour to the mix.

Dr. Henry Jekyll (Ralph Bates) is researching a panacea to cure all disease when his friend and colleague (Gerald Sim) reminds him of his mortality. This leads Dr. Jekyll to switch things up and he begins to develop an elixir of immortality, with female hormones as the critical ingredient. He begins to come up with various ways to acquire these hormones, with a pair of body snatchers doing the job for a while. When the elixir materializes, Dr. Jekyll tries it and experiences a remarkable result.

hyde1

The Sister Hyde aspect of DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE contends with ideas of sex and gender, with the not-so-good doctor transforming into a beautiful woman (Martine Beswick). This twist on the Stevenson tale contends with the merging of male and female physicality and male and female wants, with Dr. Jekyll’s neighbours providing more than a few romantic opportunities. Sister Hyde begins to manifest herself more clearly, which leads to no end of trouble.

DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE is a film about juxtaposition, so it makes sense that Baker and cinematographer Norman Warwick delves into it with delight. An early scene contrasts the butchering of a rabbit with the killing of a prostitute, while a transformation scene uses the figures of a clock to typify the change. The movie also uses the history of Jack the Ripper and Burke and Hare as context, establishing a further distorting of the lines between fiction, reality and whatever lies in the crimson splatter between.

Terence Fisher takes on the Baron once more with FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, the most self-destructive picture in the Hammer Film Productions series. It is the fifth of Hammer’s FRANKENSTEIN movies and it features a screenplay by Bert Batt, with cinematography by Arthur Grant. The 1969 outing is among the most overt in the series, with influences from Italian crime cinema and the depths of Gothic tragedy in play.

Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is once again at work. He disturbs a thief who stumbles on his experiments and has to relocate once more. This leads him to a boarding house run by Anna (Veronica Carlson), who has an intended named Karl (Simon Ward). It turns out that Karl works at the local asylum, where a former associate of the Baron resides. Frankenstein extorts the young couple into helping him, which naturally sets off a chain of awful events.

FRANK1

FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED pushes the obsession of Frankenstein to a boiling point. There is a singular scene in the picture that was opposed by the stars and director – and for good reason. In it, the Baron forces himself on Anna in a fit of sexual violence that seems only incited by the sight of her. This burst of appalling vigour from a precise but ethically-challenged figure is odd. His treatment of women has always raised eyebrows (see THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN), but it’s the loss of control that makes an unnecessary mark.

And the scene may have otherwise ruined the production if not for the excellence found in the balance. The attack on Anna infuses the rest of FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED with an odd energy, as no character approaches the subject again and the subtext is left in the mind of the viewer. But the element of the Baron pushing the bar further from civility does have rewards, especially as he blackmails the young couple into doing his will and grows more comfortable with murder and death in the fashioning of his latest offering. His distorted progress is worthy of carnage, so the real monster must be thus destroyed.

Terence Fisher’s FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN is the fourth movie in Hammer Film Productions’ FRANKENSTEIN series and it is fascinating. Terence Fisher is the director, while John Elder is the screenwriter and Peter Cushing is the star. It comes on the heels of 1964’s THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, which contended once more with the juncture of science and religion. FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN pushes further along those lines and finds the soul.

Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein is thawed after an hour of so-called death. He discovers that his soul did not leave his body and celebrates the find with Hans (Robert Morris) and the esteemed Dr. Hertz (Thorley Walters). When young Hans is sent out to procure champagne, he gets in a punch-up with a bunch of punks and defends his girlfriend (Susan Denberg) from their abuses. He takes the long road to the guillotine and is framed for murder, which aids the Baron in the next step of his discoveries.

frankenstein1

FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN asks some compelling metaphysical questions, with the Baron concerned about the soul and its capacity for transmission. He houses the soul in a sort of apparatus and wonders if the body somehow traps the soul. He pushes Hans’ soul into the body of another after a cruel turn of fate and discovers that motives and morals may be contained within the agitated scrap of conscience and matter.

Now, there’s a decidedly silly bent to FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN if Fisher’s flick is taken at face value. And there are certain delights along such a path, especially when the recreated woman promised by the title takes hold and exacts her merited vengeance on a pile of patrician jerks. The closing scene is one for the books. But the deeper questions elbowing the heart are worth examining, specifically as they take the Baron’s quantifiable cool and allow it full access to the inscrutable dominion of the soul.

While it’s heavy on dialogue and light on explicit horror, THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH is a captivating picture from Hammer Film Productions. The 1959 movie is directed by Terence Fisher with a screenplay by Jimmy Sangster. It’s based on Barré Lyndon’s play THE MAN IN HALF MOON STREET, which was made into a Ralph Murphy movie in 1945. Watching the Fisher flick, it’s easy to see its theatrical components in the prolonged conversations and minimalistic set pieces.

THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH concerns Georges Bonnet (Anton Diffring), a sculptor living in Paris. He’s pursued by pretty Janine (Hazel Court), but there’s a problem: Georges is a ripe 104. He’s been keeping himself looking like a young buck with the help of parathyroid glands, which he procures from various victims. Georges has been counting on Professor Ludwig Weiss (Arnold Marlé) to do the deed, but the fellow is getting old. He turns to Dr. Pierre Gerard (Christopher Lee) instead, but there are complications.

man1

Diffring’s Bonnet is a compelling character in that he is motivated by his fear of death. He has an extensive conversation with Professor Weiss and their complementary views make for stimulating fodder. Weiss, with death imminent, isn’t afraid of what’s on the other side. Georges, on the other hand, is obsessed with staying young. The solitude he suffers from is something he’s willing to endure, but you can tell it’s catching up with him. Relocation isn’t easy and Georges’ evolving feelings for Janine aren’t helping.

THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH is more interested in ethics than horror and that’s okay, especially because Fisher does deliver a finale that burns it all down. The best pieces come with Bonnet extenuating his existence. He finds a submissive collaborator with Weiss, but Lee’s Dr. Gerard is a tougher sell. Georges’ conceit is palpable; he believes he deserves the gift of immortality and makes a moral argument as to why the easing of illness is not the best thing for humanity. And all the while, Court’s Janine is the sexy fly in the ointment. It’s all very sophisticated and very dark.

Terence Fisher’s THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN picks up exactly where 1957’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN left off and explores the figure of Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) in further detail, permitting insight into the mind of the proverbial “mad” scientist. The 1958 picture is a true sequel, but it is less grotesque and less erotic than its forerunner. It is akin to the lab experiments that Frankenstein values so, with Jimmy Sangster’s screenplay conjuring plenty of scientific pathos from its protagonist.

THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN opens with Cushing’s Frankenstein preparing to be executed after the events of THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. He somehow escapes sure death and is off, resurfacing years later in the village of Carlsbruck. He is working as a reputable but aliased physician and serving the poor, but the medical council wants him as a member. His refusal to join the establishment draws the curiosity of Dr. Kleve (Francis Matthews), who joins Frankenstein in his work. The good doctor is back at it, attempting to transplant a living brain into a new body. Naturally, something goes wrong.

frank2

THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN is compelling because it is about intentions. Baron Frankenstein seeks “revenge” against the wrongs he believes were visited upon him, but retribution takes the form of redemption. He seeks purification through his work and he is very nearly a principled man. His service of the poor is offset by his unrestricted curiosity and his unrestricted curiosity takes him into some dark spaces. But it is nevertheless tempting to suggest him as a kind of hero, one with good purposes overall.

And consider the upper crust, with their disdain for the needy and their insistence on pushing their organization. Medicine, in their world, is not something to be misused and they don’t understand Frankenstein’s course. It is possible that his motivations are not entirely pure, but he does seem to have learned from his ethical errors in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and there is progression in his character. He wants to help dear Karl (Oscar Quitak/Michael Gwynn) overcome the prison of his mortal coil. That real horror, an accidental phantasm, lies beyond that door is honestly rather unfair.

In a world of restraint, Terence Fisher’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is a lightning bolt. This 1957 picture from Hammer Film Productions is often cited as a harbinger of a sort of newly exotic and erotic horror, a kind of sin from across the proverbial pond. It is, of course, a take on Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s 1818 chiller FRANKENSTEIN; OR, THE MODERN PROMETHEUS. It is rich and involving for all its blood and tissue, perhaps more akin to what the young author intended when she dilated upon so “very hideous an idea” in the first place.

The frame is established with Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein. He’s in prison and he seeks a priest with which to divest himself. He tells the priest of his life and curiosity, like how he hired Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) to tutor him after the death of his mother. Victor and Paul grew close in research and eventually unlocked the secret of life itself, bringing a dead dog back to existence. But Victor wanted to push things further and fabricate an actual being. The process, as explained to the priest, is dreadful.

curse1

Most are familiar with the tale of Frankenstein and his monster. In this instance, the monster is portrayed by Christopher Lee. The design is an apt hodgepodge of parts and drippings, something that feels altogether inhuman and inhumane. Something that feels like it could come apart at any moment. Cushing is terrified of his creation and fascinated by it. He pushes the realm of research further, letting it occupy his personal life and his questionable relationship with his cousin Elizabeth (Hazel Court). He also lets it solve the problem of Justine (Valerie Gaunt), a maid he’s been prodding.

Make no mistake: THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is a work of Gothic sin. Cushing’s Frankenstein begins as a palatine orphan played by Melvyn Hayes, the sort of kid destined for malevolence because nobody’s made him wear a seatbelt. When he grows up, he feels eligible to everything under the sun and most things under the moon. He conquers graves and charnels, entitled to the body parts within to construct his creature. The very world owes him and must thus grant him unspeakable power. His arrogance leads to atrocity and Fisher’s film captures the evil of ego with such colour and blood that it can hardly be contained.

The third and final entry of Shusuke Kaneko’s Gamera trilogy presents a sea of consequences and wraps things up with a philosophically invigorating blast. GAMERA 3: THE REVENGE OF IRIS is the finest one of the bunch and it justly completes what began with 1995’s GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE. This is wild-ass kaiju stuff and Kaneko doesn’t mess around, delivering a sweltering finale that builds on scene after scene of human-focused strain.

It has been three years since the events of GAMERA 2: ATTACK OF LEGION and the Japanese are disinclined to praise their hero. Gamera, the giant turtle, left a trail of destruction after dealing with Legion. Problematically, the world is also being inundated by giant birds – Gyaos – and things are once again coming apart. To make matters worse, Ayana (Ai Maeda) wants revenge on Gamera because he accidentally offed her parents and her cat. She cultivates and raises a monster of her own, the titular Iris, and wants to take the turtle down.

GAMERA1

GAMERA 3: THE REVENGE OF IRIS feels overstuffed in a way, but Kaneko is adept at handling the elements because they represent various practical viewpoints. Shinobu Nakayama is back as everyone’s favourite ornithologist and she gets to team up with Asagi (Ayako Fujitani), Gamera’s old human buddy. Asagi comes in handy on account of Ayana’s connections with Iris, see? What’s more, there’s a woman named Mito (Senri Yamasaki) who thinks Gamera is an evil spirit. And there’s Shinya Kurata (Toru Tezuka), who believes it’s all part of a master plan to reset humanity.

GAMERA 3: THE REVENGE OF IRIS is focused on the human fallout from massive events like, say, monsters rampaging through your city. When actual monsters walk the Earth, it’s useful to remember that there are indeed many views. Some, like Mito, believe it’s all part of cosmic evil. Others, like Nakayama’s character, think there’s a rational explanation. And still others, like Asagi and Ayana, connect on a more profound level to the tragedies and the monsters. Kaneko, with his brilliant trilogy, pulls us into the world of pillaging monsters and makes us feel. Also, he blows shit up real good.

What do you do when the seams of the world are falling apart? You call Gamera and hope for the best. In Shusuke Kaneko’s GAMERA 2: ATTACK OF LEGION, Earth is under threat from a rash of insectoid aliens and a giant turtle may be the only way to prevent annihilation. This 1996 kaiju picture is the sequel to GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE, the 1995 flick that rebooted Gamera and put an end to all the ingenuous mischief of the previous Daiei Film series.

After the events of GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE, things have calmed somewhat and Japan is rebuilding. Unfortunately, peace is short-lived. A meteor shower turns out to be the precursor to an alien invasion, with an army of insectoid creatures laying seed pods. With the city of Sapporo under siege and a Kirin factory missing its bottles, all hell seems set to break loose. The humans do their best, but they’re out of their element. Luckily, the giant turtle Gamera comes to the rescue just when all hope seems lost.

gamera2

GAMERA 2: ATTACK OF LEGION suggests humanity outmatched by its foe. The characters, a range of scientists and military personnel, wage war the best they can against the threat known as Legion. But they are often stuck theorizing. Even Asagi (Ayako Fujitani) loses her spiritual connection with Gamera and the pendant shatters in her hand, leaving nothing but blood behind. The certainty of defeat is pressed with an interesting sequence at the end, as the victor demonstrates a power that haunts and terrifies those rescued.

It’s not hard to unpack the symbolism, with Gamera representing a weapon both dreadful and necessary. Much of the movie is spent exploring the military response, with the Prime Minister taking to the airwaves to clarify how his country’s actions are only taken in self-defence. GAMERA 2: ATTACK OF LEGION isn’t all doom and gloom and Kaneko presents many moments of levity. The fight scenes are stunning and Junichi Tozawa’s cinematography again captures the horror of the threat. But, as the conclusion asserts, the future is uncertain. And so is Gamera.

The giant turtle is rebooted reborn in GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE, a 1995 science fiction film directed by Shusuke Kaneko from a screenplay by Kazunori Itō. This picture comes after the conclusion of the Daiei Film Gamera series, which began in 1965 with GAMERA: THE GIANT MONSTER and wrapped in 1980 with GAMERA: SUPER MONSTER. In Kaneko’s hands, Gamera is less a hero for the children of the world and more a hero to all.

GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE begins as a transport tanker full of plutonium runs aground on a floating atoll. A team of scientists investigates the atoll, discovering all sorts of interesting objects. There is also trouble on Himegami Island, as a village has been attacked. Ornithologist Mayumi Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama) is among those on the case and she discovers that a group of giant birds is behind the assault. The birds get loose and the atoll comes to life as a giant turtle. The scientists try to save the people of Japan as the monsters do battle.

gyaos1

There are other details, like how the turtle develops an spiritual connection with Steven Seagal’s Daughter/Asagi (Ayako Fujitani) or how the scientists trap the birds in the Fukuoka Dome. The Japanese call the giant turtle “Gamera” and discover that the birds are a species of genetically-engineered lifeforms known as “Gyaos.” This gives the proceedings a certain mythological feel and blends it with modern science fiction, comprising a tale of woe that speaks to the enduring evils of messing around with stuff we don’t understand.

This point is the thrust of many kaiju movies. GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE also hints at the interconnectivity between humanity and nature, as with Asagi and Gamera. They become unified in surprising ways, with young Asagi having to nurture herself as Gamera heals from the wounds of battle. And she likewise nurtures him, a contrast to Gyaos’ lethal leanings. Kaneko homes in on this as he has the bird perch atop the Tokyo Tower, a vision of ruin atop a throng of helpless humans. With this darker but no less entertaining approach, Gamera takes on weight. But there’s still levity, even as the seeds of destruction are sown.

There is a big fight feel in the air with GAMERA VS. JIGER, a smackdown for the ages from 1970. This is the sixth movie in the giant turtle series, with Noriaki Yuasa once again in the director’s chair. The screenplay is by Fumi Takahashi and the cinematography by Akira Kitazaki captures every punch, kick, heat ray, and poison dart in this epic battle between monsters. The score by Shunsuke Kikuchi features a theme song delivered with an almost absurd degree of joy by a small gang of children.

The year is 1970, which means Osaka is preparing for Expo ’70. Young Hiroshi (Tsutomu Takakuwa) is excited, as are his pals Tommy (Kelly Varis) and Susan (Katherine Murphy). The festivities include the construction of several exhibits, one of which involves a statue from Wester Island. Gamera arrives to prevent the effigy from being removed from the island, but the humans won’t be stopped. It is soon revealed that the statue has been holding a creature called Jiger at bay. With the monster loose, Osaka’s Expo ’70 is in serious jeopardy.

jiger2

GAMERA VS. JIGER is one of the most entertaining entries in the series thus far because it is so damn silly. From its humble beginnings as a corny advertisement for Expo ’70, complete with a character detailing its date and location, to its extraordinary fight sequences, Yuasa has really hit his goofy stride with this one. The human element is also impressive, with Hiroshi’s father (Kon Ômura) unafraid of sending his son anywhere and everywhere – including inside Gamera via a mini submarine.

For all the absurdity of performing an internal exam on a giant turtle or the consistent undermining of poor Miwako (Junko Yashiro), the battle scenes knock this one out of the park. The two monsters duel like proficient fighters and Gamera learns from each bout, figuring out new ways to avoid Jiger’s dart attacks and progressing his movements to finally take the thing out. He has a lot of time to work on his game plan, as he spends big chunks of the movie either flat on his back or disabled under the sea with an egg in his lung. Life is tough, even for Gamera.

Like the Wu-Tang Clan, Gamera is for the children. In GAMERA VS. GUIRON, the giant turtle is tasked with once again saving the day. This 1969 picture is directed by Noriaki Yuasa from a Fumi Takahashi screenplay and is the fifth entry in the series. It isn’t as condensed as GAMERA VS. VIRAS, but there is a fair bit of recycled footage involved. There is also a sweet new monster, a new planet known as Terra and a couple of cannibalistic space babes.

Akio (Nobuhiro Kajima) and Tom (Christopher Murphy) are buddies. They love space. One day, they spy a spaceship through their telescope. Together with Akio’s sister Tomoko (Miyuki Akiyama), they check it out. Naturally, the two boys get aboard the spaceship. Naturally, the two boys end up in space. After Gamera clears a path through an asteroid belt, the lads learn they’re not alone. Two alien women are aboard. They seem nice, but it is ultimately revealed that they want to eat the brains of everyone on Earth. Also, they have access to a knife-headed monster named Guiron.

guiron1

GAMERA VS. GUIRON is essentially a film for children and it reads like a Saturday morning cartoon. Gamera is a full-blown superhero turtle. He flies around saving kids the world over and even has his own theme song. The alien women, Barbella and Florbella, are aware of this and want to shut down the protagonist. They live on a planet not unlike Earth, but they’ve dispatched with anyone “useless” and are on a tear to find a more populated planet on which to feed. There’s a sociopolitical subtext there.

Also, the space babes claim to control the laws of nature through science. They can make the rivers run in reverse and can call upon Guiron whenever they want. Gamera, on the other hand, seems to have a will of his own. He does battle with Guiron and occasionally gets hurt when the beast lacerates the poor turtle. For the most part, though, this is a story about Akio and Tom as they navigate the inner workings of the spaceship and try to get home to their incredulous parents. But I’ll be damned if Gamera’s gymnastic routine isn’t the highlight.

The kids aren’t alright in GAMERA VS. VIRAS, the fourth film in the giant turtle series. Noriaki Yuasa is again in the director’s chair, but this entry is more truncated than it needs to be. The 1968 picture, released as DESTROY ALL PLANETS in the United States, features a chunk of footage from the first three outings and doesn’t unlock the chess game between man and monster. It does feature two frustrating Boy Scouts and a cheery score by Kenjiro Hirose, though.

The Scouts are Masao (Tôru Takatsuka) and Jim (Carl Crane). They’re pests and they fiddle around with a small submarine while on a trip to an aquarium. They even get into a race with Gamera, but trouble interrupts the fun when an alien craft snags the turtle in a catch-ray. The aliens want to take Gamera out of the picture so they can conquer the Earth and so forth. They subsequently control Gamera using a brainwave machine and wreak havoc on Tokyo using the indoctrinated turtle as a weapon.

GAMERA1

GAMERA VS. VIRAS isn’t without its fun, like when Gamera finally faces off against the giant sarcastic-looking squid giving the aliens their namesake. But the majority of the movie feels rushed and cobbled together from spare parts, with a significant portion spent reliving the past as the aliens “study” Gamera’s exploits. Even the footage of the brainwashed Gamera’s rampage comes from GAMERA: THE GIANT MONSTER, thus taking the shine off the proverbial apple.

Fans of silly sci-fi will have their fill as Masao and Jim take their irksome antics aboard the spaceship. They manage to order orange juice and sandwiches from the telepathic vessel, plus they outfox the casually-dressed aliens almost every step of the way. Masao is responsible for one of the best lines in the picture when he coolly states “Jim and I are fine, how’s the Earth?” from a position of vulnerability. Happily, the kids are saved by the better angels of our amniote nature. Unhappily, the UN seems prepared to throw us all under the bus on account of two annoying Scouts.

Gamera finds another adversary in GAMERA VS. GYAOS, the third movie in the giant turtle series. This outing is helmed by Noriaki Yuasa, who directed GAMERA: THE GIANT MONSTER in 1965. This 1967 release carries the American title RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS and features a screenplay by Fumi Takahashi. As a kaiju movie, GAMERA VS. GYAOS accomplishes its goals. The human element is concerned with stopping the new monster and that requires silly scheme after silly scheme. The monsters, on the other hand, are content to fight it out.

The action begins after a series of volcanic eruptions. Gamera is attracted to the fire and his arrival draws some researchers to study him. A young boy named Eiichi (Naoyuki Abe) is likewise attracted to Gamera. Meanwhile, a group of villagers is trying to make money by selling their homes to a company intent on building an expressway. The situation is interrupted by the arrival of another monster, the birdlike Gyaos. The creature has a supersonic ray and tangles with Gamera, who happens to have a really sweet apartment under the sea.

gyaos1

GAMERA VS. GYAOS marks an interesting progression in the series because Gamera plays the hero. He saves the little boy and even gives him a ride home on his shell. He’s humanity’s best bet for tackling the problem of Gyaos, which is a shame because some of humanity’s schemes are awesome. At one point, they attempt to subject the bird-thing to a blood birdbath that will turn until it makes the monster woozy. The particulars are astonishing and the results are magical.

GAMERA VS. GYAOS is just plain fun. The human drama is present but not overbearing. Eiichi is hysterical as movie kids go, particularly when he cries for Gamera’s help and the big turtle actually shows up. There are other things that make Yuasa’s flick a treat, like the fights between monsters or how Gyaos bites off her own toe off or how the big plan is called Operation Merry-go-round or how Eiichi believes Gamera is literally the answer to everything. And you know what? He’s right.

The giant turtle returns stronger than ever in GAMERA VS. BARUGON, the second entry in the GAMERA series. This kaiju flick is directed by Shigeo Tanaka from a screenplay by Nisan Takahashi. Released in the United States under the title WAR OF THE MONSTERS, this 1966 outing is half moral fable and half monster smackdown. Most of it works, even if the pace is a little on the protracted side and the actual smacking down of said monsters is a little on the thin side.

The movie opens a half-year removed from the events of GAMERA: THE GIANT MONSTER, with Gamera on his way back to Earth after the failure of the Z Plan. He abruptly terminates the Kurobe Dam, then strolls off to find a volcano. In the meantime, a group of treasure hunters is sent to a South Pacific island to locate an opal. There’s a lot of cash in it and they disregard the warnings of the locals to avoid the area. The “opal” is recovered but subsequently turns out to be an egg. A huge lizard appears and takes off on a path of destruction. Gamera may be the Earth’s only hope.

gamera1

Much of GAMERA VS. BARUGON hinges on the treasure hunters, especially the avaricious Onodera (Kōji Fujiyama). He wants the opal all to himself and is willing to kill for it, which sets him on a path of destruction of his very own. Not only is he too conceited to heed the guidance of the locals, he turns against his cohorts. Luckily, Keisuke (Kōjirō Hongō) and Karen (Kyōko Enami) try to stop his dumb ass from ruining the whole world with his voracity. Onodera is so worldly he even tries to swipe the diamond used to bait Barugon into a watery grave. Someone give him a job at Exxon.

GAMERA VS. BARUGON features two fights between the titular monsters. The first is lengthier and more impressive, as the beasts tangle with a series of wrestling moves and dives. The second is more critical, with Gamera defrosting and coming for a measure of revenge. He has a formidable foe in Barugon. The lizard’s rainbow attack is killer but it’s hard not to feel bad for the creature, particularly when the colours fade. It’s kind of a shame that everyone’s favourite turtle spends most of the movie frozen, but even New Guinea reptiles need some time in the sun.