Friday, August 30, 2013

NecronomiCON 2013 after-report

Elizabeth Bear once told me that Providence is a non-Euclidian city, that it has never been properly mapped, and that you cannot fathom it's complexity. I should listen to her more.

And a very sexy program book

Aside from the 'getting there' problem (I stayed off-site , requiring me to drive in each morning. I got lost two days out of three), NecronomiCON 2013 was massively awesome. I met a lot of people who I respect (Liard Barron, Cody Goodfellow, John Langan, Joe Pulver, Scott Adam Glancy), reaffirmed friendships with people I've met in the past (Wilum Pugmire, Jack Haringa, Lois Gresh, Dr. Faye Ringel), and generally enjoyed myself having conversations with well-read Lovecraftians. The programming was pretty good, although I found the more specific panels ("Lovecraft and Sex, Gender, and Sexuality," "The Long Shadow: Lovecraft's Influence") to be more satisfying than the general ones.

Wilum Pugmire, on the very first day of Necronomicon 2013

I would estimate that the female-to-male ratio was probably 1:5, but that's a quantum leap over previous Lovecraftian conventions I have attended.

Either there's a curse on me, or proofreaders are in sharp decline. With the last three books I purchased at conventions, I've cracked the first page, and discovered a typo. This particularly egregious in the case of Cody Goodfellow's Deepest, Darkest Eden, because Nick Mamatas is such a stickler about typos. SLightly more annoying was picking up a copy of Undead and Unbound with a magnificent cover by Paul Mudie, which I have a story in. The table of contents lists my story as being on page 199, when it actually starts on page 197. Weird. And unique to my story. All the rest start on their listed pages.

Cody Goodfellow makes one, final edit.

The magnificent Paul Mudie cover for Undead and Unbound.  At Necronomicon.

Friday's lunch I spent with a gentleman whose name I don't remember. We chatted at the bar of Viva Mexica, an excellent and reasonably priced Mexican place close the Hotel Providence. Wonderful talk, and a cool place. But I'm wondering if anybody tell me anything about this statue? It appears to be a Mexican, or perhaps Aztec, woman with a bow. I've never read any stories about Mexican or Aztec women shooting archery, so I'm very curious.

Maybe she's a shooting star...

Creativity was on diplay everywhere. Here, Larry Elig sits with his quite astonoshing hand-sculpted Cthulhu. It's beautiful.

Larry Elig and his awesome Cthulhu.

MOAR Larry Elig Cthulhu!

Providence was very welcoming. Once you got in, of ocurse. The convention was split between two different buildings, meaning the con-goers got some much-needed sunshine moving from the Biltmore to the Hotel Providence. And even that wasn't bad because the troad was lovely and antiquarian. The buildings in downtown Providence are from a different era. And they're quite lovely. I didn't mind walking down this road a couple of times a day.

Down similar avenues HP Lovecraft walked.

And so I went to the Hotel Providence for a panel, and was stunned by the clock they have in there. If anything ever should stand in for Brian Lumley's de Marigny's clock, it's this bad boy. The maitre'd was kind enough to provide me with a fact sheet, which tells me it is circa 1900 from the CDilbert Company of Winsted, Connecticut. It's in the Egyptian Revival style, and made of walnut.

The Hotel Providence's beautiful clock.

A close-up of the Hotel Providence's astonishing Egyptian clock.

Saturday was more panels, and fewer pictures. I was getting wrapped up at the con, the air of Providence, and all the wonderful Lovecraftian stuff. It was wonderful, and I had a magnificent lunch with Cody Goodfellow and Wilum Pugmire. Meals like that are like rock and roll camp. You're having a conversation with people whose opinions really matrter to you, and they're listening and conversing with you. There's nothing like a conversation about tradecraft, or the process, with a cxouple of creative people. Magnificent conversation is part of the reason I drove myself to write. I remember listening to Tim Powers talk about the conversations he has had, and I desperately wanted to be part of those. Now, I'm starting to be part of them. And it's wonderful.

Sunday was the last day, but the panels were excellent. The guests were tired, so there was a bit less filtering going on between the brain and the mouth. A lot of honest opinions from some very interesting people who love Lovecraft. Special shout-out to Lois Gresh and Caitlin Kiernan for their fascinating insights into HP Lovecraft and the sexual nature that seethed under the surface of his writing.

The last lunch was with Jack Haringa and John Langan, both excellent writers. But they can sustain a dick joke longer than my Pathfinder group. Way longer. Guys, Michael Sisco's Member is neither that long, and isn't all that hard. And that's all I'm saying.

I regretted leaving Providence, but sleep was something I needed, and it was a long way back to the haunted Green Mountains. I loved Necronomicon, and plan on getting a better package for 2015. I want to go to the prayer breakfast, I want to go too the special meet and greet for gold members. Next time, when the stars are right.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Ghidorah Rides Again: Invasion of Astro-Monster

1965's Invasion of Astro-Monster marks a sea change in kaiju films. Where before, these films were primarily horror, gigantic monsters destroying towns, cities, and lives, now they had begin to step more boldly into the realm of science fiction. Invasion of Astro-Monster monster begins with a space sequence, including a Japanese astronaut, aboard ship P-1, launched by the World Space Agency. In 1965, the world's attention was captured by the American-Soviet space race. On the 18th of March, Alexey Leonov from Voskhod 2 performed the first space walk. Toho has created a couple of space films, The Mysterians in 1957, and Battle in Outer Space in 1959. But space would become an element in many kaiju films.

Everyone else has a Space Program.  Japan should have an astronaut, too.

Of course, where there are aliens, there will be an invasion. Planet X, where the Xilians are from, seems to be a moon of Jupiter, although the dialog paints it as its own planet. Whatever. Although Planet X is on the dark side of Jupiter, where the astronauts cannot get in radio contact with Earth, the scientists discuss Planet X being a source of strange radio waves. But I'll stop nitpicking.

Who's that peeking out from behind Jupiter?  It's our new antagonist!

Xilians are prototypical Toho extraterrestrial invaders. Where American alien invaders will smash famous monuments with their superior weapon technology, Toho aliens will start with a freindly entreaty, and then proceed to demonstrate their superior weapons technology. The American miniseries V is a rare exception to this trend. The Xilians do provide us with a particularly impressive dick move. On the tape that is supposed to contain the cure for cancer, the Commandant of the Xilians reveals his plans to destroy Earth and starts giving orders. For someone in such tight pants, the Commandant clearly has a serious pair.

We wish to know more of this Earth phenomenon you call Devo.

Fortunately, the Xilasns havge a weakness, a particular sound, annoying to humans, fatal to Xilians and their equipment. With it, the Japanese manage to fend off the invasion. It should be noted that this was co-produced by Henry Saperstein, who also suggested edits to the script. Thus the film is more American, right down to the triumph of the military. While Godzilla and Rodan defeat Ghidorah (Kalat claims Mothra was cut for budgetary reasons), the Japanese military are the ones to take down the Xilian UFOs and base. The military is not useless, as it has been in previous Godzilla films, partially because of the introduction of a truck-based energy canon which interfered with the Xilians Godzilla control signal. This design is a precursor to the maser which we will see in many subsequent Godzilla films.

Deploy the cool new models!

With the close links between this film and the last, I wonder if the Xilians directed Ghidorah to destroy the civilization on Venus five thousand years ago, forcing the Venusian migration to Earth. The timeline seems a bit long, since I figure that the Xilians could have figured out that comets are water in that time. But perhaps it has taken the technologically-staid aliens this long to run through all the water they got from Venus. This tenuous thread is never followed up on.

The film was made in 1965, so there's a possibility that Gene Roddenbury's Star Trek was an influence, but this was the first time we see a protagonist corrupt an alien with love. American actor Nick Adams was apparently having an affair with his co-star Kumi Mizuno, who played alien spy Miss Namikawa. This may or may not have added any authenticity to their on-screen romance. They play opposite each other in Toho's Frankenstein Conquers the World (next up). But here, "Miss Namikawa" is a Xilian spy, who are supposed to be emotionless. But Astronaut Glenn provokes an emotional attachment, and she betrays the Xilians. Love conquers all, apparently.

Love conquers all.  And it's about to get you killed.

The suit work is pretty standard, but the Planet X set deserves extra praise. The rocky, barren surface of Planet X is alien without being too fantastic. The beautiful matte painting features a gigantic Jupiter in the background, so the initial fight has an absolutely gorgeous backdrop.

Lovely background for this battle, isn't it?

Ghidorah looks even better than he did in the last film. I suspect it might be the same suit, but they seem to have worked the kinks out of working with it. There's a bit of weirdness where he knocks out the water plant on Planet X. But the Xilians can control monsters, so why the damage? I have two ideas, neither of which is supported by the film. One that it's entirely theater, which would be a pity, because it gavet eh first inkling to the astronauts that the Xilians were looking for something on Earth. Alternately, the Xilians let Ghodorah loose, and the damage is more than they initially thought it would be. Either way, Ghidorah is as nasty as he was in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster.

Who's a three-headed BADASS? That's right.  ME

Godzilla continues to evolve into a benevolent monster, a journey he started in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. He would become more and more human-friendly until the franchise reboot of 1985. The ultimate villains here are the Xilians, their Commandant is more the hands-off evil schemer as opposed to the direct threat that was Malness in Ghidorah.

the big eyes make him look intelligent.

Unfortunately, Invasion of Astro-Monster also begins the discouraging trend of recycling footage, both from itself, as well as Rodan. The special-effects spectacles were running low on money, and reached a dissappointing nadir with Godzilla vs Megalon. The use of previous footage is fairly subtle here, consisting mainly of repeated shots of tanks firing and Godzilla's gigantic foot crushing a town. Scenes from Rodan are spotted by the alert viewer because of the change in Rodan's suit color. The size of the city Godzilla crushes is much smaller than with previous, better-funded films. After this, and until Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, monster fights will happen in forested areas rather than Tokyo or Yokohama. But we have a reduced-size refinery here, and some excellent footage of Godzilla stomping buildings.

Ghidorah stomps a refinery.  With antennas and stuff.

We are also treated to a few shots, real shots, rather than models, of cities. These are an unintentional time capsule of the day, and the smog is immediately apparent. And frightening.

Smog Monster, is that you?

The military attacks the Xilians with their sound assault, and Xilians immediately expereince technical difficulties, since the annoying noise incapacitates them and blows up their equipment. The Commandant's last line is an interesting one, with the potential to bring the Xilians back at some time, a possibility which took some forty years to come to fruition in Godzilla, Final Wars. No doubt due to the limited supply of tight silver jumpsuits and punk glasses.

We're going to TIME TRAVEL.  Possibly to Godzilla vs MechaKingGhidorah.

Once free of the Xilian influence, Godzilla follows his natural instincts and attacks Ghidorah. The fight is satisfying. Ghidorah is demonstrably too much for either Godzilla or Rodan to fight alone, but together, they manage to get the job done. In a very post-King Kong vs Godzilla ending, Godzilla and Ghidorah fall into the convenient lake. But as with Kong, Ghidorah, the 'villain' of the piece escapes, and we are left wondering if Godzilla has survived. Rodan sort of floats off somewhere.

Get ready to TUMBLE!

Invasion of Astro-Monster is a fun film. Toho was making a lot of sci-fi spectacles in the middle sixties, but their budgets were running a little thin. But the real cost-cutting wasn't here yet, and the Ishro Honda/Shinichi Sekizawa/Akira Ifukube/Eiji Tsubaraya/ Tomoyuki Tanaka machuine was still running pretty well.

Get ready to TUMBLE!

Next week, I take a break from Godzilla, and we look at the first appearance of Baragon, and a return appearance by Nick Adams.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Godzilla Gets a Worthy Foe: Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster

The first thing that I noticed is that structure for 1964's Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster is very different from the previous films. For the first time monsters work together. Mothra, Rodan, and Godzilla fight each other, and then, realizing Ghidorah is a greater threat, join forces to defeat him. Godzilla is, for the first time, really a member of an ensemble cast. He's nothing special, compared to Rodan, and cannot take on Ghidorah, even with help from Rodan. The real powerhouse here is larval Mothra, who doesn't play macho games.

The invasion from outer space trope hasn't yet been fully formed. That would come next year, with Monster Zero. Instead, the film starts off with a 50's UFO cult in which Naoko, our woman reporter is the only non-believer. Her negative waves have prevented an anticipated communication from the stars. It's no coincidence that she is up against a group of male leaders.

The sign explicitly states that they are not a creepy cult.

Further, Princess Salno, of Selgina, which seems like a Middle-Eastern nation, is coming to Japan, and our manly Detective Shindo is assigned to covertly keep an eye on her. This is, again, the beginning of a creeping James Bond-style spy thriller plot that will surface periodically in the franchise. After this, actress Akiko Wakbayashi would play a spy in the Bond film You Only Live Twice. Detective Shindo falls in love with her after viewing her photograph (it's not the jewelry she's dripping with in the photo, I'm sure!).


Aside from Ghidorah himself, the main antagonist is Malness, an assassin sent from politically unstable country of Selgina to kill the princess. He's a cold customer who never removes his sunglasses, and manages to be threatening, even while wearing a ridiculous white ruff in his first scene. His car gets buried under an avalanche, but he gets out and keeps on gunning for the princess. Even our detective can't lay a glove on him, but his end comes in another avalanche caused by the conflict of the giant monsters.

Malness.  Clown or unstopable badass?

This is also the first Godzilla film with any sort of psychic phenomenon. Later, the longest-running recurring character in the franchise will be psychic Miki Sagusa from the Heisei series. In fact, Godzilla vs Biollante seems to take a lot of its tone from this film; spies, psychic powers, and fictional Middle- Eastern countries. Anyway, Princess Salmo is posessed by a Venusian consciousness, and sets out to warn the world that Ghidorah is coming, and that he will destroy the world. In the backstory, we learn that Venusians came to Earth five thousand years ago, and interbred with humans, whose descendents lost their ability to see the future.

The film also features the recently-completed Kurobe Dam, an engineering feat that remains the largest hydroelectric dam in Japan. Toho knew its monster films were being exported, so it would not surprise me if this was a deliberate moment of nationalist pride.

This film also involves Mothra, so the Shobijin fairies also make an appearance. David Kalat points out that this, the Peanuts last appearance as the Mothra fairies, is radically different from previous appearances. In the last two Mothra-related films, the Shobijin have been kidnapped. Here, they appear, by request, on a television show, and are treated with respect and deference. And a good thing, too, since Mothra is a pivotal character in Godzilla's heel-face turn. As per usual in a Mothra film, there's a brushstroke of religion, here provided by the Venusian-posessed Princess, who prays for the world to be spared. Unfortunately, as she does this, she becomes an immobile target for her assassin. Good thing Malness learned to shoot at Stormtooper school.

We shall conquer the forces of destruction with the power of my Big Damn Hat!

This is also Mothra's first appearance in which she does not become the giant moth version. Oddly, we don't see what happened to the other Mothra larva. The last film ended with the two larvae swimming towards Infant Isle.

My hypothesis?  This one ate the other one.

Godzilla and Rodan are humanized in this film to make them more sympathetic. Godzilla and Rodan talk with each other, and Godzilla takes a couple of shots to the groin. Seeing him take a humiliating blow like this makes the audience more sympathetic. When Mothra attempts to get the monsters' attention, she sprays each one with her silk. When Godzilla gets a facefull, Rodan yucks it up. When their roles are reversed, Godzilla has a good laugh. These point to a growing desire to make the, characters, ratehr than just rampaging plot points. Godzilla demonstrates a capacity for sympathy. When Mothra fails to convince the other monsters to fight Ghidorah, she sets off to do so alone, and gets smacked around. Godzilla and Rodan won't stand for that, so they join forces and attack.

Godzilla shows his sensitive side.

Ghidorah is thoroughly and well built up. He destroyed Venus, and now he's coming to destroy the Earth. Some of the Venusiam Princess's best lines are her prophecies of destruction. We ate treated to portentious fireworks display before the three-headed monster hatches from his meteor/egg. And although no one-really listens to the Venusian prophet, the name she gives the monster is instantly adoped by the local government. And we know Ghidorah is bad, because the very first thing he does is blow the roof off one of Japan's remaining castles! He gets a very good sequence of flying over a city, indiscriminately blasting the crap out of it. This film shows Ghidorah as an evil menace, even in a franchise filled with evil menaces.

Ghidorah SMASH!

There are, as usual several different Godzillas. It seems that the suit from Godzilla vs Mothra is used when Godzilla rises out of the sea, probably because the special effects team didn't want to expose the current suit to deterioration due to submersion in water. Again, there is a long-shot with the Godzilla puppet (I've noted at least one of these scenes in King Kong vs Godzilla as well as Mothra vs Godzilla). Puppet scenes are generally have Godzilla in the far backgroud. They are easily notable because the arms move as a whole from the shoulder, something the suit has a lot of difficulty doing. This is, of course, difficult to show in a still.

The Godzilla puppet.  It's more obvious in motion.

Godzilla's breath is surprisingly ineffective. And he doesn't use it against Ghidorah, only Rodan. Like Anguirus in Godzilla Raids Again Rodan just shrugs off two blasts of Godzilla's breath. It works on the puny constructions of humans, Godzilla lights a bunch of stuff on fire, but apparently, it's just not working against Rodan today.

And down goes Godzilla, bridgework and all.

This movie has the exceptional bonus of two different monster fights. The first involves Godzilla and Rodan as antagonists, and the second has Mothra, Godzilla, and Rodan ganging up against Ghidorah. Godzilla vs Rodan is mostly played for laughs, but it's a good monster fight, despite the brief descent into rock-throwing. The real treat is the battle against Ghidorah. Even Godzilla and Rodan together can't keep Ghidorah down. Larva Mothra has to save the day with her silk.

An battle the likes of which will not be seen until Destroy All Monsters.

Toho, or at least director Ishiro Honda and screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa, knew the value of a good monster. With the money flowing freely, they knew better than to kill off such a useful opponent. Ghidorah is defeated, but flies off, ready to engage our familiar monsters once more.

I'm sure there's a curses foiled again in monster dialog as Ghidorah flies off.

It turns out, we only have to wait a year before he turns up once more. And when we advance the clock to 1965, another studio decides to horn in on that sweet, sweet monster movie money.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Godzilla and the Island God: Mothra vs Godzilla

As a monster, Mothra is weird. It's a moth. Moths are delicate. So what's this gigantic moth doing facing down the King of the Monsters all by herself? We have to remember a few other things about Mothra. In her 1961 debut, Mothra was decidedly different from other monster films. Unlike Godzilla, Varan, and Rodan, who were relics of the past awakened to wreak havoc on mankind, Mothra is worshiped as a living god by the people of Infant island. Mothra also has twin miniature fairy girls, the Shobijin, to speak for her, giving her understandable motivations. Like Gorgo, released the same year, the first Mothra film allows the monster to walk away from its confrontation with humanity. Also unlike Rodan, Varan, and the Big G, Mothra is brightly colored, with red and yellow on her wings and luminous blue eyes.

Christ-Symbol Moth vs Giant Radioactive Lizard.

Mothra's human-like motivation and compassion are demonstrated when it becomes clear that she will sacrifice herself for others. Mothra does not expect to come back from its mission to fight Godzilla, but fight even though humanity has refused to help her not an hour ago. In an expansion of her previous powers, Mothra deploys her poisonous powder, a weapon of last resort from a dying monster. Amid a thunderous rendition of her theme, Mothra dies minutes before her egg hatches. In keeping with the twins theme, and possibly in honor of the Peanuts, a rare set of Japanese twins, the egg hatches into a pair of Mothra larvae.

With a nearly Shakespearian sense of tragedy, the larvae hatch from under dead Mothra's giant wing.

Mothra films also involve themes that other Kaiju fulms tend to neglect, from religion to the role of women. Junko is a woman photographer, apparently new to the job, but whose photographer's eye catches the important detail in the midst of the debris in the opening sequence. She doesn't do much other than follow the protagonist around and notice things for the rest of the film, but at least she's there, and she's doing something. In a nod to the religious motifs of the first Mothra, we see a Shinto priest go out to banish bad spirits when the giant Mothra egg drifts into the luckless village. Obviously, he should have driven away the greedy industrialist.

Bless this gigantic egg.  Or something.

Despite Mothra's innovative nature, Mothra vs Godzilla is essentially a retread of King Kong vs Godzilla. A monster from another franchise challenges Godzilla. The similarities between Kong and Mothra are quite apparent, each is a living god to an island-swelling people, each is more thoughtful than the Godzilla-style monster of rampage and destruction. The worshippers of Infant Island seem more Pacific Islander than the ones from the previous film. And their chief may have the most impressive hat in all of moviedom.

This is one of the few films in which Godzilla does not come directly from the sea. Instead, he wakes up on the beach, after being washed ashore and buried by the typhoon at the beginning of the film. Of course, he immediately begins destroying everything in sight.

Let's shake some dust.

Although the film eschews the humorous edge of King Kong vs Godzilla, it has a few funny moments, such as when Godzilla gets its tail stuck in a tower. Reporter Jiro is constantly being told about the Mothra egg as he eats a hard-boiled egg. The addition of humor to relieve the grim nature of the film will play a larger role in future Godzilla films.

The human plot is OK. Reporters are once again present to show the truth, and cut through the industrialists' lies. We have not just one greedy-head but a pair of them who receive morality-play justice. After they quarrel over money, one shoots the other in the back. The survivor then attempts to haul a heavy load of money out of a hotel as Godzilla approaches. He doesn't get out in time.

Only a fool fights in a hotel when Godzilla approaches.

As with the three previous Godzilal films, Godzilla takes down a castle. In this case, it's Nagoya Castle in Nagoya. It's worth noting that in Godzilla's last Showa film as a villain, he destroys a famous landmark that was rebuilt after being bombed and burned by US forces in World War II. Godzilla's association with the American military is fading with this film, as Japan's economic boom let people look forward to the future, rather than back to gone glories.

Godzilla tears down more of Japan's national heritage.

And again the military does its best to stop Godzilla. Now that Japan has expanded its industrial capacity, the military is expecting to run some 20 to 30 million volts through Godzilla, to see if that stops him. And, for a wonder, it does. Metal nets are dropped on Godzilla, and they light him up. Godzilla writhes on the ground, obviously in pain. But in a moment of incompetence, the commander orders the voltage increased. The wires melt, and Godzilla is freed. Naturally, no-one ever tries to stop Godzilla with electricity again.

We got him! So close! Now, let's never try this again!

The monster fighing scenes are extensive, as are the military ones. In particular, there are a lot of explosions and fires, as if Tsubaraya was suddenly interested in the practical application of lighter fluid. Unfortunately, his inexperience shows, and we are treated to a brief moment when the Godzilla suit's head catches fire.

Apparently, the suit actor didn't know it was on fire.

Godzilla's roar in this flm is one of my favorites. There's a metallic grind as it bottoms out, making it monstrous and angry. The suit is a bit overly-rubbery, and has two lighter eyebrows that give him a look of concentration.

Themes of motherhood and nurture are continued when it is discovered that a group of schoolchildren are on Iwa Island, which seems to be Godzilla's destination. A ferry crew risk themselves to save the children. Luckily, the Mothra larvae understand teamwork from birth, and move to intercept Godzilla as the children are rescued.

The ending leaves me a bit flat. At first, a larva grabs Godilla's tail, only to be thrown around in a scene that will be repeated a couple of times in the franchise. When this fails to work, the larvae dodge Godzilla's atomic ray as they coat him with their silk. Practically cocooned, he falls into the ocean. The Shobijin wave their goodbyes and ride back to Infant Island on the Mothra larvae. The End.

Godzilla goes into the drink.  But he'll wake up in less than a year.

Despite the let-down of the ending, Mothra vs Godzilla is one of the strongest of the Showa era Godzilla films. The plethora of themes, the long monster action sequences, and the well-scripted B-plot all combine to make this a film that's a pleasure to watch.

Next up, the first appearance, of Godzilla's greatest, most enduring enemy. Who has more than the usual number of heads, and some of Akira Ifikube's most beautiful music.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What I Get From Googling Myself

It's quite nice to see that even in 2010, there were positive reviews of my story “Arkham Rain” from the Arkham Tales anthology. Specifically, on, reader N'Gah-Kthun said:

‘... two in particular impressed me: “Disconnected” by Brian M. Sammons and “Arkham Rain” by John Goodrich. “Disconnected” is interestingly arranged, is genuinely chilling, and utilizes several characters who are not often used in contemporary Mythos fiction. “Arkham Rain” is a frightening story about the Deep Ones, and deals with the concept in an interesting and original way.’

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Royal Rumble: King Kong vs Godzilla

King Kong vs Godzilla is, I think, the first Godzilla film I remember seeing. I remember catching both it and Godzilla vs the Smog Monster on the Chanel 30's 4 O'clock Movie, and I can't say which one I saw first, but King Kong vs Godzilla was definitely more memorable.

Sadly, the Royal Rumble is one of the most heavily adulterated films that is not available in its original Japanese version in America. The difference is notable: the American version opens with an irrelevant news report by some reporter opens the film, which clearly has blessed nothing to do with the rest of the fim. The special UN reporter continually pops in to tell us what we've seen, or occasionally what we're about to see. Akia Ifukube's beautiful score replaced with recycled American film music. Nevertheless, the film retains a lot of appeal.


King Kong vs Godzilla owes it's origin to Willis O'Brien, who was looking to make another King Kong film. After several iterations, he attempted to sell King Kong vs Promethius (another name for the Frankenstein creature) to Hollywood, and then abroad. In a delightful irony, Toho bought it. Kong's role went to Godzilla, and Kong was put in the role of Frankenstein's creature. Which is why Kong is strengthened by electricity. O'Brien's history of disappointing unproduced projects makes it difficult to tell whether the unscrupulous character of Mr. Tako comes from O'Brien's original idea, or the influence of Gorgo. Regardless, the jerk entreneneur becomes a stock character and MacGuffin for many kaiju films, from Gorgo's Joe Ryan to Mr. Tako to Pacific Rim's Hannibal Chau. Chau, as the product of a genre-savvy director, manages to be a better-rounded character than Tako or either of the selfish businessmen in Mothra vs Godzilla.

The rewrite is pretty competent. The film acknowledge Godzilla Raids Again. Godzilla is released from an iceberg, which makes sense since he was buried in ice at the end of the last film. The American insert, unwilling to assume the audience has seen either of the previous films, just claims the monster has been frozen for 65 million years, ignoring the fact that they already know it's name and express no surprise that it has atomic breath.

Out of ice and ready to RUMBLE!

King Kong vs Godzilla sets the standard for “versus” monster films to come, in much the same way that King Kong set the template for the single-monster rampage. The two monsters appear, and the humans are caught in the middle. The small human dramas play themselves out, as each makes a small contribution that either benefits humanity or makes life difficult. In the last half hour of the film the two titans clash, giving the audience what they've come for, and resolving all plotlines, occasionally by fiat of monster stomp.

After Godzilla awakens, Kong must be brought into the picture. The scenes from Faro Island scenes are careful studies of the original King Kong ones. I cringe at the portrayal of the 'primitive' people, dressed like Hollywood Africans, leaping and yelling like Hollywood Indians. They are astounded and won over by Western technology and cigarettes. According to David Kalat, the Japanese version is more of a satire than American version. Still, these stereotypes were only just beginning to fade from American films. However, if the Japanese film is more satiricial in tone than the American one, this may be intentional. It's difficult to say.

I'm neither a stereotype, nor do I look silly.  Or maybe I do.

Kong's setup is very similar to that of the original film. He lives on an isolated island, is restrained from the human-inhabited part of the island by a great fence (much more flimsy than the orignal). Ultimately, he is hauled off the island after being drugged (in original Kong, Denham has gas grenades. Here, he drinks local berry juice, and listens to the drumming of the locals).

Of course, it doesn't matter how big the fence is.  Kong will get through it

A fair amount of the film is homage to the original Kong. Tokyo, for example, lacked anything as tall as the Empire State Building, so Kong stands on the National Diet Building instead. It's about as tall as he is. But the military lights him up with spotlights, and he's got a girl in his hand. During the climactic battle, Kong shoves a tree into Godzilla's mouth, an homage to a promotional still that wasn't in the actual Kong vs tyrannosaur fight. Kong also throws Godzilla, something he did with the tyranosaurus, which Godzilla closely resembles. Legend has it that suit actor Shôichi Hirose threw the Godzilla suit with actor Haruo Nakajima inside, as a way of demonstrating his strength. If true, it's a hell of a throw.

Godzilla clears it in his inimitable way: he burns it out.

A *hell* of a throw.

The Kong suit doesn't look good. His face is very immobile, and the costume looks sewn together. However, the Shôichi Hirose, the suit actor who showed up in a lot bit parts in Kurosawa's work, looks like he's having a wonderful time, and attacks the role with a lot of energy. Godzilla has also gotten new suit, with clawed hands and larger eyes to make him look more intelligent. The neck is more stocky, and the head set into it, rather than perched on top.

Director Ishiro Honda had not yet shifted the film's completely into fantasy. In keeping with the real world, rather than showing us the human cost of the devastation the monsters' rampage, we instead use the unique device of following Fumiko Sakurai, played by future Bond babe Mie Hama. As the love interest of Kenji Shara and desgnated princess-to-be-rescued, Fumiko has train encounters with both Godzilla and King Kong. The Godzilla encounter is similar to the one in the original Godzilla, and the Kong attack is rather different from the one from the original film, since Kong is so much larger. Still, Fumiko gets to play tiny Fay Wray to gigantic Kong. I imagine that after this experience, Fumiko will never take a train again.

Kong will never make peace with trains.  Let's accept this and move on.

There's a strange technical effects goof when Kong stands on the Diet building. Rockets are being fired off artillery pieces. The rockets themselves are animated onto the artillery barrels, probably because they had no way to make the models launch convincingly. The first round goes off fine, but in the second shot each rocket leaves a black negative of itself on the film after it is launched. It's an odd error, and the shot is as quick as possible to prevent the viewer from noticing.

People will only notice if they have a pause button.  Ah, crap.

This is the beginning of the regrettable stone-throwing, which infests the franchise for the next five or six films. It's silly and I find it uninteresting time-filler.


The military has a different trick up its sleeve. this time, rather than running the usual ineffective wires, they dig a trench and fill it with gasoline. Godzilla falls in, and explosives are detonated. This, predictably, does not stop him. However, the high-tension wires do. We aren't given an explanation for this, given that high tension wires didn't stop him in the original Godzilla. Perhaps these carry a higher voltage, what with Japan's surging industrial capacity and power production.

The climactic scene, unlike that of later versus films, is surprisingly short. But if you look for screenshots of the film, or remember it for yourself, those are hugely memorable eleven minutes. The fight is fast and furious, filled with building-stomping action, gigantic fires, and several reversals. Initially, Kong doesn't come off too well. He's knocked unconscious, or at least unresponsive twice in four minutes.

The fight also includes the only bit of stop-motion Godzilla footage ever filmed, in a jump kick that sends Kong sprawling. This could not have been done by suitimation, and I wonder if Honda created the scene to keep Tsuburaya in practice? There had been a single scene of stop-motion in the original Godzilla, also. Perhaps it was included as an homage to O'Brien. It's good quality, I might add. I wonder what might have happened if Toho had had enough money to pursue a fully animated Godzilla film. There are a few scenes with puppets, also. While unconvincing, they are quick enough that it's difficult to tell.

Kong looks better in stop-motion than he does in suitmation.

Only after Kong is struck by lightning (since he's the Frankenstein of the fight) does he gain enough strength to deal with Godzilla on a more even footing. And he seems to be able to channel the electricity through his hands, which hurts Godzilla. This will be an important part of Godzilla vs Mothra, the next film in the series, and later contradicted by Ebirah, Horror of the Deep and Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla. In these films, Godzilla gains strength from lightning.

Fire!  Electricity!  Giant Monsters!.

As with Godzilla Raids Again, the end comes as the two monsters destroy a castle, Atami this time, and plunge into the ocean. The fight up till this point has been furious, once of the most intense seen in the series.

Kong looks better in stop-motion than he does in suitmation.

Despite being flawed in several critical ways, King Kong vs Godzilla remains a touchstone for many of us who stumbled on it flipping channels. Although Godzilla vs Megalon is said to be the most seen Godzilla film by American audiences, King Kong vs Godzilla seems to be the one that is most remembered. Megalon was never referenced in The Simpsons, for example. This is a clear reference in the episode “Wedding For Disaster”

Kong looks better in stop-motion than he does in suitmation.

Let's hope that Toho and Sony will release the Japanese version of the film, as they have with every other Showa-era Godzilla film. Perhaps in the lead-up to the release of the 2014 Godzilla

Next up, Godzilla faces his weirdest opponent with a exceptionally strong script.