Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Gamera VS Space Monster Viras


Gamera VS Space Monster Viras
(aka Gamera VS Viras aka Gamera
tai uchu kaijû Bairasu aka De
aka Destroy All Planets)

Japan 1965
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
and Shigeo Tanaka  
Daiei/Arrow Films Blu Ray Zone B

Well this is an interesting one. Gamera Vs Space Monster Viras is the fourth film in the massive and quite brilliant Gamera - The Complete Collection Blu Ray boxed set put out by Arrow films last year. Now, I have to say that, as someone who’d never seen a Gamera movie before this release, I have been extremely impressed with the films in here so far. That being said, this one is not nearly as impressive as its three predecessors and, once you factor in that, like Toho’s Godzilla movie Destroy All Monsters from the same year (review coming soon), this was supposed to be the last in the sequence, due to declining box office returns, it’s not that surprising... the budget of this one was slashed to just a third of the previous film in the sequence, Giant Monster Dogfight: Gamera Vs Gyaos (reviewed by me here). Of course, the irony of this is that, in both the case of this film and of Toho’s Godzilla series, both their purported last hurrahs far exceeded box office expectations and they ended up revitalising and continuing the series in the case of each monster.

Now this one, according to the one page blurb in one of the booklets accompanying the set, is supposed to be the start of both a decline in the quality of the films (no surprises their given the budget) and also a shifting to the kids in the Gamera movies being the main human focus, as opposed to the adult characters who are more on the periphery of the action.

This one starts off with a spaceship about to come and enslave the Earth. However, the occupants see Gamera flying around in space with them (goodness knows how they know the giant turtle’s name... had to suspend my disbelief and sublimate my outrage at such a leap in known information by shouting at the screen here) and attack him. However, Gamera destroys them and this leads into the credits with the cutesy Gamera March song being sung. We then cut to a group consisting of the Boy Scouts Of America and two meddling kids in particular, played by Tôru Takatsuka and Carl Craig (due to a new distribution deal with American International Pictures, one of the kids in each picture would have to be caucasian). Shenanigans ensue as the two kids try out a prototype submarine and accidentally come across, not just their giant ‘friend of all children’ Gamera, but also a second spaceship which temporarily imprisons Gamera in it’s ‘super catch ray’.

And this is where things get a bit silly...

Already, the budget dictated that a lot of the film takes place in identical looking rooms on the spaceship to allow them to just slightly re-dress the sets (just like the Cube movies) but at this point in the narrative, the aliens scan Gamera with some kind of memory ray. And this is the main difference between the various cuts of the movies... how much of this memory ray you have to endure. This sequence goes on for a shortish time in the Japanese theatrical release, a very long time in the extended AIP TV version for the US markets and, maybe around 15 minutes (somewhere in between) in the Japanese Director’s cut, which is the version I chose to watch (the new Arrow edition gives you the choice by including all three versions). And, what the memory ray is looking for, is to find Gamera’s weaknesses from previous battles. So, yeah, just like a TV show bottle neck episode (which this kind of is, in movie form), this just means loads of footage from the previous films including, startlingly, the black and white footage from the first movie, which none of the aliens seem to blink at. Very strange.

And that’s not the strangest cost cutting exercise either because, when the two kids are captured and ‘beamed up’ to the spaceship, being used as ransom so Gamera doesn’t attack the alien spacecraft, a brainwashing machine is fired onto Gamera’s head and so he is under command of the aliens. And this is where it gets even sillier because they order him to attack various places (often culled footage from previous films) and, when he goes to attack Tokyo, blow me down if it isn’t in black and white again! Yep, they even use flashbacks from the first Gamera film and try and, somehow, pass it off as new footage. What the heck is going on here? What were they thinking? I mean, necessity is the mother of invention but I think invention’s mother kinda had a massive breakdown here and started rolling around on the floor in a humongous fit of mismatching film stock.

So the rest of the film is mostly the shenanigans on the spaceship as the kids try to escape and reverse the various alien devices with their meddling ways, including the polarity of the brain device stuck to Gamera’s head, which means he ends up attacking the aliens instead of the rest of the world.

However, as disappointing as a fair amount of the movie is, the franchise certainly doesn’t disappoint in terms of being absolutely weird and cool in some of its content. For example, the humans who have been taken over and are being used as extensions of the aliens sometimes lurk in the shadows of the ship so you can see all their eyes light up. It looks curiously unsettling and is quite effective. Think Village Of The Damned but much more overtly executed. And then, when the kids try to lasso one of the guys (a scene set up in the very early parts of the film, when one of the little tykes loses his hat), the alien/human hybrid just fires off his arm and the bloody stump forces the kids up against a wall before flying back to the host organism like a fleshy version of a Transformer. Similarly, when the big squid alien (one of many but who also takes the name of his race, Viras) is finally going to have to go after Gamera itself, a gesture from its tentacles ushers in the mass decapitation of it’s human slaves, new squid monsters pushing out from the neck stumps. Then, when all the monsters are roaming around, the main creature absorbs them all  one after the other to grow to giant monster heights in an effort to defeat Gamera.

So yeah, lots of cool and strange stuff like this means, frankly, Gamera Vs Space Monster Viras isn’t a dead loss and is still quite an entertaining, if not all that impressive, entry into the series. Nonetheless, in spite of the many flashbacks and cheapness of the production, it’s an entertaining enough film and I am looking forward to seeing where the series goes from here. This new box set is quite startlingly good and definitely one of the best things Arrow has put out so far, I reckon.

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