Thursday, September 5, 2013

Monster From Another Franchise: Frankenstein vs Baragon

Toho wasn't the only company making monster films in the sixties. England's Hammer films were successfully mining the classic Dracula, Frankenstein, mummy and werewolf franchises. Following on the classic Universal franchise, Hammer released The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957, Revenge of Franksenstein in 1958, and The Evil of Frankenstein in 1964. Toho, never one to let a good idea slip away, produced its own Frankenstein film in 1965. They hedged their bets by making it gigantic, and threw in a new monster of their own invention. True to the film versions that have gone before, this is the unspeaking creature, not the literate and eloquent creature from Shelley's book.

Chemistry will kill us all.

Our first section is a nearly wordless scequence in which Nazi soldiers take Dr. Frankenstein's work, the immortal, beating heart of the Frankenstein creature. The brightly-colored chemistry lab recalls both the Universal and Hammer Frankenstein films. Invaded by the Allies, they send it by sub to Japan, in the hopes of creating soldiers more resistant to bullets. They bring the heart to Hiroshima Army Hospital, which sits in the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, known today as one of the few buildings left standing at the hypocenter of the Hiroshima nuclear detonation. With that small touch of foreshadowing, the atomc bomb does arrive in one of Eiji Tsubaraya's most firey sequences, one of the best atomic detonation sequences outside of the one in Terminator 2.

A rush of flames.

And an impressive approximation of a mushroom cloud.

With that dose of radiation, the Frankenstein Heart takes fifteen years to regenerate itself into a boy who continues to grow. The makeup designers clearly used the original Karloff as their model, with the vertical, square forehead, but as he regenerated without human intervention, there are no bolts in his neck.

Flat head, big forehead.  Yep, it's him.

This is another film that features Nick Adams, as American scientist Dr. Bowen this time. The Frankenstein Creature grows and grows, implicitly because of the radiation he absorbed from the atomic bomb. The science boffins have trouble keeping him contained, partially out of fear from his enormous size. In an inversion of the usual Godzilla trope of reporters being seekers of truth, the Frankenstein creature is tormented by the lights of some reporters, like King Kong. This is not all that surprising, since the script is a derivation of the Willis O'Brien script King Kong vs Frankenstein. The Creature escapes the hospital by either pulling off or chewing through his right wrist, leaving a massive hand behind. This sets us up for the next film in the series, War of the Gargantuas, in 1966. Inserted for no reason that I can tell, we have a scene of young men and women dancing at a bar just before Baragon rolls over the town. I understand at this preiod, there was a lot of concern that the youth were wasting their time, doing nothing productive. These scenes will proliferate through the late sixties, in Yongarry, Godzilla vs Hedorah, and several others I haven't yet seen. The youth are always dancing their cares away just before the giant monster crashes in on the building.

Dance, dance dance, HOLY CRAP MONSTERS!

Although even I have to wonder what's with the guy carrying the pick-axe.

Pick axe.  At a dance party.

This is the first film in which the obscure but very popular Baragon appears. Its popularity is staggering considering that it has appeared in only three films, this one, Destroy All Monsters and Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah, Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, although the suit would be used several times in Ultraman. But the design is one from the endlessly inventive mind of Tsuburaya and company, and even if it's a bit cute, I like the design.


For a while, the film's military characters believe that the Frankenstein Creature is responsible for the destroction Baragon wreaks. This despite scenes of people watching Baragon tromp over their houses. But this also brings us to the more heroic Frankenstein Creature versus the Evil Baragon. This is the direction Godzilla is taking in his more heroic ascension for the rest of the Showa era.

The confrontation between the Creature and Baragon has a very different feel than most giant monster fights. Because Frankenstein is applied makeup rather than a full suit, actor Kôji Furuhata could be very nimble, performing some tumbles that no suit actor has ever been able to. In addition, the fight portrays Frankenstein as much more intelligent than his opponent, something King Kong vs Godzilla attempted to do, but never truly succeeded at. Again like the original Kong, Frankenstein attempts to pry Baragon's jaws open, similar to Kong and the Tyrannosaur. It's not a successful tactic this time.

Frankenstein vs Barugon!  FIGHT!

Toward the end of the fight, everything is backdropped by a very impressive forest fire. Again, some brilliant effects work by Tsuburaya.

This Frankenstein is not afraid of fire.

Frankenstein, as the sympathetic monster, is victorious, but the ground crumbles beneath him after Baragon is defeated. He is swallowed by the earth at the moment of his triumph.

I just defeated my first monst---AW CRAP!

The ending is a bit different in the International version. In it, Frankenstein roars his triumph and raised Baragon over his head, throwing him down on the rocks below. At which point, he is confronted with a giant octopus that happened to be taking a stroll up the rocky cliff. They fight. According to Wikipedia, the American co-producers were so amazed by the octopus fight in King Kong vs Godzilla that they insisted that there be one in this film. Honda shot it, but without any of the live-action octopus footage that made the original so good. The puppet is much better than the one original, but it's not particularly convincing. The alternative ending was cut from the Japanese and American versions of the film, but is part of the International release. Yeah, there's a lot of rock-throwing on the part of Frankenstein. It ends with the traditional fall into the lake ending so common after Kong Kong vs Godzilla. In this case, it would almost certainly spell doom for Frankenstein. He could barely hold his own against the octopus on land. In it's home environment, he's pretty well screwed.

Frankenstein wraps some monster tentacles around himself.

Frankenstein vs Baragon is an enjoyable film, a little slow in the middle, when Dr. Bowen and his associated are puzzling out what Frankenstein is, and what do do with him. it includes a surprisingly humanist question, as to whether Frankenstein is more monster than human, even though he was made of human parts. The question is never answered, and left for the audience, which I felt was a more subtle touch that I have seen in kaiju film for a long time.

Next up, the second most successful kaiju franchise of all time.

1 comment:

amazmo said...

Frankenstein Conquers the world is one of my favorite non Godzilla films. I am really a Frankenstein Fan and always thought that the idea of a Giant Frankenstein was really the idea of Willis O'Brien when he had the idea for King Kong vs Frankenstein and became King Kong vs Godzilla. I believe Toho was considering doing King Kong vs Frankenstein. In fact went as far as waning to do Frankenstein vs Godzilla. My favorite monster in the film is Barugon. I will put a link to a film I made with Barugon.