IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966)

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war of the gargantuas - two gargantuas

WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966) has always been one of my favorite Toho giant monsters movies.

One reason for this is nostalgia. In addition to its regular play on the popular Saturday afternoon Creature Double Feature back in the day, it also received a much-hyped prime time showing on our local UHF Channel 56 in Boston that had all the neighborhood kids, myself included, chirping about it before, during, and after it was aired.

But the main reason is it’s a darn good movie. Well, at least among films in the Toho canon, and this is no surprise since it was directed by arguably their top director, Ishiro Honda, who also directed the original GODZILLA (1954), THE MYSTERIANS (1957), KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962), and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968) to name just a few.

I was recently able to view the original Japanese version of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, which includes the Frankenstein references that were removed from the film when it was released in the U.S. back in 1970.

And there are Frankenstein references because WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is a sequel to Toho’s Frankenstein flick, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965). I’m not sure why the Frankenstein connection was initially severed, but it’s too bad it was done, because the film works even better as a Frankenstein movie.

The story of a giant Frankenstein monster and his “brother” is much more intriguing than a story about two random gargantuas. And WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is a better movie than FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, which means it’s one of those rare cases where the sequel is an improvement on the original.

In WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, a mysterious monster is terrorizing the countryside attacking and eating people. It is also avoiding detection, as it always disappears quickly after it attacks, preventing the authorities from being able to stop it. It’s assumed that this is the same creature which escaped from the lab of Dr. Paul Stewart (Russ Tamblyn) and his fellow scientists. Of course, in the original version, this was the Frankenstein monster from FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD. Dr. Stewart doesn’t think it’s the same creature, because the one which escaped from his lab was peaceful and would never harm humans.

It’s later discovered that there are two gargantuas, the original who escaped from Stewart’s lab, and a new more menancing one, who is believed to be a sort of clone from the first. These two behemoths eventually do battle. Hence, the war of the gargantuas.

The best part of WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS is that there are lots of scenes featuring the gargantuas. In lesser Toho movies, you have to sit through long stretches of usually boring dialogue and bland characters while you wait for the monsters to make their appearances. Not so here with WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. These creatures are in this movie a lot. There is a ton of giant monster action.

And director Ishiro Honda, who also wrote the screenplay,  fills this one with a lot of memorable scenes. The film opens with a frightening sequence where a slimy looking giant octopus attacks a ship, only to be deterred by an even scarier looking gargantua, who makes quick work of the octopus before turning his attention to the crew of the ship which he promptly consumes for a yummy dessert

There are a bunch of rather frightening scenes in this one. In spite of this being a silly giant monster movie, there are some dark moments. The scene where a group of hikers encounter the gargantua waiting for them in a dense fog has always been one that gives me the shivers. Likewise, in another sequence on a boat, the gargangtua is seen staring up at the passengers from under the water. We’re gonna need a bigger boat!

And the battle scenes here are second to none. There’s an excellent sequence where the gargantua comes out of the water to attack an airport, and of course, the climactic battle between the two garagantuas is a keeper.

If you’re a fan of the Toho movies, this is one film you do not want to miss, and if you’ve never seen a Toho film, this is a good one to start with, although I do recommend watching FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD first, since this is a sequel to that movie.

All in all, if you love giant monster movie action and want to see an A-list director at the top of his game, then check out WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS.

It’s a gargantuan good time!

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: KING KONG ESCAPES (1967)

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This IN THE SPOOKIGHT column is a reprint from February 2007:

king-kong-escapes-vs-tanks-tokyo-

 

Think of Japan’s Toho productions, and the first name that comes to mind is Godzilla, and rightly so, since Toho produced more than 25 movies starring everyone’s favorite giant mutated dinosaur.

However, Toho also made a couple of King Kong movies in the 1960s.  They made some Frankenstein films as well, but we won’t go there today.  Their second (and last) Kong film was KING KONG ESCAPES (1967), generally considered to be one of the worst Kong movies ever made, right up there  with KING KONG LIVES (1986).

My vote for the worst goes to KING KONG LIVES, and that’s because I have a soft spot in my heart for KING KONG ESCAPES.  Maybe it’s because KING KONG ESCAPES was the first Kong movie I ever saw. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s not that bad after all.

KING KONG ESCAPES borrows heavily from the 1960s James Bond craze.  There’s a supervillain, the evil Dr. Who, beautiful women, and a dashing hero, played by Rhodes Reason doing his best to impersonate Sean Connery.  What passes as a plot has Dr. Who building a robot Kong to dig up the precious “element X” which of course, once he has, he’ll be able to use to rule the world! (cue crazed evil laugh). When the robot Kong fails, Who captures the real Kong to do the work.  Of course, Kong isn’t interested.  He’s too busy falling in love with the young blonde lead in the movie, Susan, played by Linda Miller.

Unlike Fay Wray in the original, there’s no screaming here. Linda Miller’s character hardly seems frightened at all by Kong’s presence, and converses with him as if talking to her pet dog.  Better yet, Kong listens and understands everything she says!  Gone are the days when Kong tossed women who weren’t Fay Wray from New York buildings.  In KING KONG ESCAPES, Kong is clearly a hero and a gentleman— or is it a gentle-ape?

Still, he packs a punch when he needs to.  Japanese monster movies are famous for their giant monster battles, and on that front, KING KONG ESCAPES doesn’t disappoint.  Kong fights a dinosaur, a sea monster, and in a “colossal struggle of monster vs. robot” as the film’s original movie posters boasted, he takes on his duplicate, the giant Robot Kong, in an epic climactic battle, which is actually quite well done.

The special effects really aren’t that bad.  They’re on par with other Japanese monster movies of the decade, maybe even a bit better.  Kong looks silly, but his appearance is several notches above his previous Toho stint, in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1963), where he looked sort of ragged, as if he’d been pummeled a few times by co-star Godzilla before the cameras rolled.   And the Robot Kong is pretty cool looking.

KING KONG ESCAPES was directed by Ishiro Honda, who directed many of Toho’s better films, including the original GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! in 1954.  The English version screenplay by William J. Keenan is extremely silly, with awful dialogue, but it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is Kong, and he gets plenty of screen time.

KING KONG ESCAPES doesn’t come close to either the original KING KONG (1933), or Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake.  It is not a great movie nor does it pretend to be.  The inept 1976 KING KONG with Jessica Lange, if you remember, compared itself to JAWS.

However, it is fun and entertaining, and in the world of monster movies, that’s often enough.  At the end of the day, Kong is still king, still roaring, still on top, even after KING KONG ESCAPES.

—END—

THE HORROR JAR: TOHO GODZILLA Series

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The "friendly" Godzilla from the 1960s-70s.

The “friendly” Godzilla from the 1960s-70s.

THE HORROR JAR: TOHO GODZILLA Series
By Michael Arruda

The new GODZILLA (2014) movie opens in theaters, on Friday May 16, 2014. To help celebrate the occasion, here’s a look back at the entire Godzilla series.

I’d like to thank my teen sons Lucas and Jonny, the Godzilla scholars in my household, for their help with this article. Their knowledge of all things Godzilla far outweighs my own. Thanks guys!

So here it is, in order, the list of the TOHO GODZILLA movies:

GODZILLA (1954)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Original is still scary even by today’s standards.

GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955)
Directed by Motoyoshi Oda
Guest Monster: Anguirus
Neat sequel

KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Guest Monsters: King Kong, Giant Octopus
My favorite Godzilla movie from the 1960s, with a rousing climactic battle between King Kong and Godzilla.

GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1964)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Guest Monster: Mothra
Hello Mothra, welcome fairies!

GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (1964)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Guest Monsters: King Ghidorah, Mothra, Rodan
A nemesis is introduced with King Ghidorah.

GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO (1965)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Guest Monsters: King Ghidorah, Rodan
Nick Adams stars in this one.

GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966)
Directed by Jun Fukuda
Guest Monsters: Ebirah, Mothra, Giant Condor
This one actually has a neat plot featuring a reformed jewel thief and some teenagers taking on some bad guys on an island. Godzilla shows up to help out.

SON OF GODZILLA (1967)
Directed by Jun Fukuda
Guest Monsters: Kamacuras, Kumonga, Minilla
Who knew Godzilla was a daddy?

DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Guest Monsters: Anguirus, Baragon, Gorosaurus, King Ghidorah, Kumonga, Manda, Minilla, Mothra, Rodan, Varan
All out monster bash.

GODZILLA’S REVENGE (1969)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Guest Monsters: Anguirus, Ebirah, Gabara, Gorosaurus, Kamacarus, Kumonga, Minilla,
It’s HOME ALONE Meets Godzilla.

GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (SMOG MONSTER) (1971)
Directed by Teruyoshi Nakano)
Guest Monsters: Hedorah
Godzilla goes green.

GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972)
Directed by Jun Fukuda
Guest Monsters: Anguirus, Gigan, King Ghidorah
My favorite Godzilla movie from the 1970s. One of the best climactic battles in the entire series.

GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973)
Directed by Jun Fukuda
Guest Monsters: Gigan, Jet Jaguar, Megalon
Least favorite film of the entire series.

GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1974)
Directed by Jun Fukuda
Guest Monsters: Anguirus, King Caesar, MechaGodzilla,
MechaGodzilla bursts onto the scene.

TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975)
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Guest Monsters: MechaGodzilla, Titanosaurus
More MechaGodzilla

GODZILLA 1985 (1985)
Directed by Koji Hashimoto
Lots of hype, not much of a movie

GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989)
Directed by Kazuki Omori
Guest Monster: Biollante
Excellent Godzilla movie

GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH (1991)
Directed by Kazuki Omori
Guest Monsters: King Ghidorah, Mecha-King Ghidorah
Includes neat Godzilla origin story

GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA – BATTLE FOR THE EARTH (1992)
Directed by Takao Okawara
Guest Monsters: Battra, Mothra
Mothra and the little fairies again

GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA II (1993)
Directed by Takao Okawara
Guest Monsters: Baby Godzilla, Rodan, MechaGodzilla, Mecha-King Ghidorah
MechaGodzilla is back.

GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA (1994)
Directed by Kensho Yamashita
Guest Monsters: Little Godzilla, Moguera, Space Godzilla
Space Godzilla is born

GODZILLA VS. DESTROYAH (1995)
Directed by Takao Okawara
Guest Monsters: Destroyah, Godzilla Jr.
Film ends with memorable meltdown

GODZILLA 2000 (2000)
Directed by Takao Okawara
Guest Monster: Orga
Caught this one on the big screen

GODZILLA VS. MEGAGUIRUS (2000)
Directed by Masaaki Tezuka
Guest Monsters: Meganulon, Meganula, Megaguirus
Interesting creatures in this one.

GODZILLA, MOTHRA, KING GHIDORAH – GIANT MONSTERS ALL OUT ATTACK (2001)
Directed by Shusuke Kaneko
Guest Monsters: Baragon, King Ghidorah, Mothra
My favorite of the 2000s Godzillas. One of the best in the series.

GODZILLA AGAINST MECHAGODZILLA (2002)
Directed by Masaaki Tezuka
Guest Monster: MechaGodzilla
Incorporates elements from the original 1954 movie into its story.

GODZILLA TOKYO S.O.S. (2003)
Directed by Masaaki Tezuka
Guest Monsters: MechaGodzilla, Mothra, Kamoebas
Godzilla and MechaGodzilla are at it again.

GODZILLA FINAL WARS (2004)
Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura
Guest Monsters: Anguirus, Ebirah, Gigan, Hedorah, King Ghidorah, Kamacuras, King Caesar, Kumonga, Manda, Minilla, Monster X, Mothra, Rodan, Zilla
Disappointing finale to the Toho series

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

PICTURE OF THE DAY: KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962)

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King Kong prepares to hug---er, battle Godzilla in KING KONG vs. GODZILLA (1962)

King Kong prepares to hug—er, battle Godzilla in KING KONG vs. GODZILLA (1962)

PICTURE OF THE DAY: KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962)

Like most other horror/monster movie fans, I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the new GODZILLA reboot, scheduled to hit theaters on Friday, May 16. I can’t wait. So, in the meantime, I’ve got Godzilla on my mind.

As a kid, I loved the Toho Godzilla movies, and the first one, GODZILLA-KING OF THE MONSTERS! (1956) even gave me nightmares. Godzilla in that first flick was oh-so-scary! The thunderous sound of his footsteps alone terrified me.

But my favorite Godzilla movie from the 1960s was KING KONG vs. GODZILLA (1962) because it included my other favorite giant monster, King Kong.

KING KONG vs. GODZILLA is a silly movie, anyway you slice it. It features the worst looking King Kong in the history of the movies. Kong here is so bad that even the gorilla suit used in the old Three Stooges shorts looked better. The awful Kong looks like a ragged beat-up stuffed toy, something the family dog plays with. He looks like King Louie from Disney’s THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967) on steroids with a hangover.

The dialogue is goofy, and most of the Kong scenes are played for laughs until the end when he finally meets Godzilla. However, the Godzilla scenes in this one are actually pretty good, with memorable scenes of Godzilla battling the army, attacking a train, and just looking menacing and plenty scary. And of course, the best part of the movie is the climactic battle between King Kong and Godzilla, pictured here, a bout that does not disappoint. It’s among the best Toho monster battle scenes in the entire series. I love it.

In fact, I love the whole movie, in spite of how silly it is, for a number of reasons. Number one is the pure nostalgia of the film, as it brings back memories from my childhood, but also this movie and Godzilla films in general are simply fun to watch, in a mindless sort of way. It’s just a hoot to watch an hour of bad dialogue followed by colorful scenes of Godzilla beating up on the military and then on other giant monsters. In this case, he meets his match with King Kong, which shouldn’t be the case since Godzilla is 400 feet tall and the original Kong was around 40 feet tall. Did I mention this movie was silly?

That being said, I have to admit that I’ve only seen the American version, and to my knowledge, for some bizarre reason, the Japanese version still has not been released here in the United States. Let’s get with the program, people! Release the damn movie, already!

And you can’t talk about KING KONG VS. GODZILLA without mentioning the urban legend which has been around for as long as the movie, that the film was shot with two different endings, with Kong winning in the American version, and Godzilla winning in the Japanese version. Supposedly, this just isn’t true, as Kong wins in both versions, or so they tell me, since I still haven’t seen the Japanese version which still hasn’t been released here in the States!

In today’s picture of the day, we see King Kong about to do battle with Godzilla as helicopters fly about in the background, and Kong even clutches one in his hand. I believe this is a publicity shot because I don’t remember this scene actually appearing in the movie. Sure, they do battle, but I don’t remember Kong smashing a helicopter.

Kong actually looks like he’s about to hug his old friend, Godzilla. Godzilla, dude, long time no see!

Gotta love that Kong suit!

So, there you have it, today’s picture of the day, a publicity shot from my favorite Godzilla movie from the 1960s, KING KONG VS. GODZILLA.

Of course, there are other Godzilla movies that I like better than this one, from other decades, but that’s a story for another day.

Until then, enjoy the picture, and let’s all hope than on May 16 we’re treated to a worthy reboot which would make Godzilla proud, and Kong too, for that matter, when GODZILLA (2014) hits theaters.

Here’s hoping Godzilla stomps his way back to the top!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael