EDITOR’S NOTE: On one of our Drive-In Asylum Double Features, I mentioned that this is my favorite giant monster movie. I decided to bring this back — the original post was on October 7, 2019 — to explain why.
Today’s theme is close to my heart. As a young kid in the 1970’s, WFMJ-TV 21 in Youngstown, Ohio played monster movies every night at 1 AM (or later, if Tom Snyder was on). They only had so many Godzilla films before they’d run out and have to run a secondary Toho franchise.
Yes, this movie is a franchise, the sequel to 1965’s Frankenstein Conquers the World. Instead of Nick Adams, this time we have Russ Tamblyn as the American star. This is the third and final film that Toho would collaborate with Henry G. Saperstein on (in addition to the Frankenstein, they also made Invasion of Astro-Monster together).
Saperstein was an interesting guy — he specialized in licensing, working with Col. Tom Parker as Elvis Presley’s licensing agent as well as creating and selling merchandise for Debbie Reynolds, Rosemary Clooney, Chubby Checker and the Three Stooges. He’d go on to syndicate golf and bowling shows in the infancy of TV, as well as buying UPA, the studio that made Mr. Magoo. He led them to syndicating the Dick Tracy TV show, another merchandising goldmine. He also purchased the rights to the Japanese spy spoof Kokusai Himitsu Keisatsu: Kagi noKagi (International Secret Police: Key of Keys), which became What’s Up, Tiger Lily? with help from Woody Allen.
At the end of 1965, Toho informed director Ishiro Honda that his director’s contract would not be renewed, despite successes like the original Godzilla, King Kong vs. Godzilla, the unstoppable Destroy All Monsters, Rodan, Mothra and many more. Of course, he kept directing for Toho, but now there was the stress of wondering if each job would be his last.
To add to that stress, it’s said that Russ Tamblyn and Honda were often at odds, with the American actor refusing to read his lines. Honda’s chief assistant, Seiji Tani (who would go on to be the second unit director for Destroy All Monsters) would tell the authors of Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa: “Honda-san had to hold back and bear so much during that one. Russ Tamblyn was such an asshole.”
I don’t know how much you know of Japanese culture, but for someone to go on record saying such a thing is a major deal. For what it’s worth, Saperstein would later say that Tamblyn was “a royal pain in the ass.” As all of his lines were dubbed in Japanese, the American actor had to go back and redub the US version. He forgot all of the words, so what’s in the film is completely improvised. If only Tab Hunter, the original actor picked for this movie, stuck around.
The film was originally announced as The Frankenstein Brothers, then The Two Frankensteins, Frankenstein vs. Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s Decisive Battle and Frankenstein’s Fight. Regardless of the title, this is one of my favorite Toho films. I’m not the only one. Brad Pitt has gone on record saying it’s the reason why he wanted to become an actor. The battle between Uma Thurman and Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill: Volume 2 was called the “War of the Blonde Gargantuas,” with Tarantino screening the film for Hannah. And both Tim Burton, Nicholas Cage and Guillermo del Toro cite the film as one of their favorites.
Maybe it’s because of the scene where Kipp Hamilton sings “The Words Get Caught In My Throat,” which ends with one of the titular beasts grabbed her as she finishes her act. Has any monster movie been this gleefully crazy? I mean, would Devo cover any other monster movie song?
It all begins on a dark and stormy night, as a fishing boat is attacked by a giant octopus, which is then destroyed by a green giant who proceeds to decimate the boat. Only one survivor makes it, telling the authorities that it was Frankenstein.
The press picks up the story and interviews Dr. Paul Stewart (Tamblyn) and his assistant, Dr. Akemi Togawa (Kumi Mizuno, who starred in plenty of kaiju epics), who once had a baby Frankenstein in their possession.
Yes, in the original film, Frankenstein was born in a very strange way. German officers had taken the heart of the original Frankenstein’s monster from Dr. Riesendorf and sent it to Hiroshima for further experimentation. Of course, once the bomb dropped, the beast was irradiated and became a feral boy running loose through the streets, eating small animals and becoming immune to radiation. He eventually becomes a giant and battles Baragon, who would go on to appear in many Toho films (you can also see his skull in Pacific Rim Uprising).
There end up being two beasts in this one: Sanda, who is the original from the first film and Gaira, a piece of tissue that was torn off, made its way to the sea and fed off plankton until it grew into giant form. The new creature hates humans and is hurt by daylight, while Sanda attempts to save people.
The final battle, as the two monsters fight into Tokyo Bay, is amazing. Their skirmish is so violent, an underwater volcano ends up taking both of them out. Sadly, there would be no third film in the series, despite rumors that one of them would battle Godzilla in an upcoming film.
There are multiple American versions of this film, with the Saperstein cut removing all references to Frankenstein Conquers the World and the creatures called gargantuas instead of Frankensteins.
Haruo Nakajima, who played Godzilla in 11 of the original 15 movies, has claimed Gaira as his favorite role, as the costume was very easy to move in and his eyes were visible, allowing him to show more emotion.
I have a test as to whether or not I can be friends with someone. If they watch a kaiju movie and make fun of how cheap it is or how fake it looks, they have no imagination. In my mind, this movie looks incredible, with huge sets and intricate monster costumes. I’ve watched this hundreds of times and it gets better with every single viewing.