January's always a fine time to plow through a pile of movies. Perhaps it's example of having the wrong priorities but what better way is there to spend a frightfully cold Saturday night than watching a small cinematic marathon? A portion of this month's viewing has been the second half of the original Gamera series. Finishing them marks a nifty little achievement as I'm now just one entry away from having seen the entire franchise. How do these back four compare to other monster turtle adventures? Read on and find out.
Gamera vs. Guiron
Let's just start this off by making it clear what a huge improvement this installment is over its predecessor. I'd been under the impression for some time that every Gamera flick beginning with part IV was a smorgasbord of stock-footage and flashbacks. While this particular adventure does include some reused footage it's nothing like the sad-sack story that was Viras. Likewise the entire movie has a certain delightful madness that makes it a better entry within the franchise. Hear me out.
The plot yet again revolves around a biracial boy team who are abducted by aliens. Well...perhaps abducted isn't really the right word as the pair strolls aboard a flying saucer with little care for their own safety. Once in flight they are whisked away to a hidden world within our own solar system. Rather neat idea right here. This planet is roughly the same distance from the sun as Earth but is in just the right orbit as to always be on the other side of the sun from us. This may well be the most logically written concept in any of these flying turtle movies so let's give a round of applause for that.
Back on Earth one of the boys sister tries to inform her elders of the situation only to be met with scorn, insults, you name it. These parents are the worse. Not only do they incorrectly assume the boys ran away when their daughter tells them otherwise but they continue to shrug off the whole affair even as their boys stay missing and reporters show up to inquire about the UFO.
Meanwhile on planet crazy the lads encounter two alien broads with sparkly tights and a tendency for brain consumption. Oh and did I mention they have a giant monster pet with a knife nose? One so evil that in an early scene it chops another Gamer villain into pieces for fun.
To think I've gone this long without even mentioning our hero. Our guy gamgam benches himself for a surprising amount of this tale, but it's ok since his battles with Guiron are the stuff of Kaiju peyote dreams. Have you ever seen the clip where Gamera spins on a bar like a gymnast? That's right here. Still; nothing tops his finishing move when he throws a rocket into the opponents head and breaths fire until it bursts. That's some classic fatality shit right there.
Gamera vs. Jiger
Things calm down a good bit with part VI being a lot closer to standard kaiju flicks. A lot of the formula is still intact including the white and Asian boy team who look very much like underage buddy cops. Parents are still fairly wretched people except for the main dad who's sort of an overgrown child.
It may not sound like I got much out of this one but in truth it's the biggest reason for why I bought this disc. It's definitely on the weak side of the series rankings but it was worth it for one special moment.Ya see, part of the plot concerns Gamera getting knocked up with parasite babies from his newest foe. Like any of these films there's a gathering of scientists on hand to discuss what's going on. At one point a doctor explaining the parasite issue shows real life footage of an elephant with worms in its trunk. The bit that makes this scene infamous is that they actually show parasites getting sliced out of the trunk. The reaction shot says it all. What a hoot.
Gamera vs. Zigra
Everything starts to get a little sad here in a perfect example of a series quickly losing steam. There are some small attempts at altering formula such as a boy girl pairing with the girl I believe being mixed race, a surprisingly forward thinking element for a film of this time. We're given another aquatic monster which makes for some pretty lazy battles, with only two or three properly wacky sequences.
It's tough to come up with anything to say about this one. Nearly everything in it is a repeat of elements from past stories only with less of an attempt at quality. The children are more annoying than ever. The story is limp. About the only bits of note are the cure for human dolphin syndrome and Gamera playing the villain like a xylophone.
Gamera: Super Monster
If ever there was a film begging for one of those jumbo dissection videos, this is it. I mean what a fantastic clusterfuck. Just a little background information. Daiei, the production company responsible for both this and the Daimajin series had been on a steady decline into bankruptcy until another group bought them out. It'd been close to a decade since Zigra hit theaters and somebody thought a new Gamera adventure packed full of old footage was a good idea. The movie was a colossal disaster on the production front as well as both a critical and box office failure. Still; if you're gonna fail, better make it spectacular.
What attempts to pass for a plot concerns an evil space empire's plans to destroy planet Earth. First up on their checklist is the defeat of three alien superwomen hiding among us normal folk. An evil space lady is sent down make sure everything goes smoothly. As expected there's also an annoying child with made electric organ skills and an obsession for giant turtles.
The baddies also send forth all the previous monsters to destroy us meager humans. Thankfully Gamera's got them covered thank to clips from parts II-VII. About a third of this film is made of clips from other sources. Not just Gamera ones mind you. Some anime gets mixed in as well, allowing for appearances by Space Battleship Yamato and Galaxy Express 999.
Really there's too much insanity to cover in a quick article. From the bizarre looking video edit special effects to the superwomen henshin dance. Children are allowed to sleep with strangers, electric organ music runs rampant. Oh and lest I forget the ending where Gamera saves us all by going full kamikaze against a star destroyer! Yep, they ended the series with a suicide run.
Video & Audio Quality
Normally these kind of films don't have the best AV to begin with and the prints available for restoration aren't always well preserved. If you keep expectations accordingly in check you should be mostly pleased with the sound quality. Video can vary a great deal due to the usage of stock footage. Super Monster in particular bounces all around between different video styles, especially with the wacko effects shots.
The most severe issue on this collection are subtitle timing and translation issues. Most of the time, everything's smooth sailing but there are scenes where subtitles appear long after lines have been spoken. Rushed conversations double down on that problem with some subs staying on too long and others vanishing in a flash, Expect a decent share of grammar and spelling problems to tickle your funny bone as well.
Our favorite turtle wouldn't see action again until his remarkably high quality 90's trilogy, and a stand-alone from 2006. He's also joining the current resurgence of kaiju flicks alongside Godzilla and Kong. Lord knows how long it'll take to finally reach our shores, until then, we've got always got the spacewomen dance.