Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds (1977)

Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds (1977)‘lt’s really super big news!’

A young hiker falls into an ice cave near the foot of Mt. Fuji and finds it filled with large, petrified dinosaur eggs. An ambitious young geologist goes searching for the site, looking to justify the discredited work of his dead father and to make a buck or two on the side as well. Meanwhile, the crowd at the local Dragon Festival want their ticket money back when the event is suddenly attacked by a giant Plesiosaur.

This curiously gory tale of a legendary lake monster who finally meets its match against a giant pterodactyl was a product of Japan’s Toei Studio. Although it sounds a lot like one of the monster mashups coming from the rival ‘Godzilla’ stable, this effort is more likely to have been inspired by the worldwide success of ‘Jaws’ (1975). In effect, we have a very similar setup; a local waterfront community threatened by an aquatic menace with a taste for human flesh. Only this time the slightly more plausible presence of a killer shark is replaced with that of a savage dinosaur.

Although there is apparently a lot of local monster folklore in the area where our story is set, the film never bothers to justify this Dino’s sudden rampage or to explain why she suddenly fancies snacking on the local human population rather than sticking with her usual diet of crabs and shellfish. Oh, well. At least we get plenty of blood and guts and dismembered limbs as a young woman is attacked in a dinghy and mercilessly slaughtered!

Very little is shown of either monster at first, although this was probably down to budget constraints, rather than any skill on the part of director Junji Kurata. In fact after the initial, mysterious attacks, the film completely loses its momentum. We get a boring half-baked romance and a tiresome search for the creatures, accompanied by the usual scorn and disbelief from the authorities. The film actually attempts a serious approach to its material, rather than the (ever so) slightly silly vibe of Toho’s monster rave-ups, but this is completely torpedoed around the halfway mark when we get our first good look at this Japanese Nessie. Godzilla, she ain’t.

Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds (1977)

The mixed-species Synchronised Swimming event took a turn no-one had expected.

At first our scaly heroine is just a large, mechanical head, swinging around slowly with jaw flapping, accompanied by an (ever-so) slightly out of place disco soundtrack. Later on, she becomes an unconvincing giant puppet to fight the newly-hatched pterodactyl because I guess fighting each other is what giant puppet monsters do. The most frightening aspect of the whole enterprise is the Japanese Country band that open the Dragon Festival. Fortunately, our cut-price Nessie is only too willing to deliver an appropriate critique of their performance.

Apparently, this film became quite the cult hit in the USSR. It was the only monster movie released there until the 1990s but, by all accounts, it was the incidental trappings of a modern, capitalist country that fascinated the Soviet audience. All in all, it’s a curious project, given that giant monster movies were no longer box office gold, even in Japan. Toho’s original ‘Godzilla’ series had been mothballed two years earlier after ‘The Terror of Mechagodzilla’ (1975) proved to be the least commercially successful of the Big G’s screen outings (and it still is, all these years later).

The international success of ‘Jaws’ (1975) spawned many cheap imitations from around the world, but it still seems quite a leap from shark attacks to prehistoric dinos duking it out and knocking down model trees.

Worth a watch if you get a laugh from cardboard creatures, but probably best to try and find the ‘highlights’ on YouTube.

Space Amoeba/Yog: Monster From Space (1970)

Space Amoeba (1970)‘The bats rescued him. We were rescued when the porpoises suddenly appeared.’

A strange alien entity hitchhikes a ride to Earth on a probe being sent to Jupiter. The capsule crash lands in the Pacific Ocean near a remote tropical island where the natives still worship mythical monsters. Fusing with the local wildlife, the alien attacks their village as a giant, walking octopus, and that’s only the start…

Produced over a decade and a half after the triumphant entry onto the world stage of ‘Godzilla, King of the Monsters’ (1954), the close of the 1960s effectively marked the end of the golden age of Japan’s Toho Studios. The Big G was now a kid-friendly defender of the Earth, SFX maestro Eiji Tsuburaya had gone to the big watertank in the sky, and actors would no longer be placed under contract with the organisation. It’s a strange, muted echo of the disintegration of the studio system in Hollywood in the early 1950s. There were also major budgetary problems with this project, with location filming downgraded — twice! – from the studio’s original intention of shooting the film on the island of Guam.

There’s also a second hand feel to much of the story here. Photojournalist Akira Kubo witnesses the space probe hit the silk from the window of a commercial airliner but the authorities don’t believe him. After all, the craft was lost six months earlier. He finds unlikely allies in pretty reporter Atsuko Takahashi and brilliant scientist Dr. Mida (Yoshiro Tsuchiya) who consistently works out exactly what’s happening throughout the film, without the benefit of any evidence whatsoever. The trio make for the island crash site, joined by dubious businessman Kenji Sahara, who is involved somehow in a murky deal to turn the island paradise into a hotel resort. Luckily, this entirely pointless subplot vanishes as soon as the giant space octopus takes a stroll on the beach.

So what about the monster action then? Well, Octo is a superb creation. He walks on his tentacles, screeches like some kind of a bird, and waves his suckers around like a drunk at closing time on a Saturday night. His eyes are mostly glazed too, but, apparently that was down to expiring light bulbs and no money to replace them. But it’s tiring being Octo, so our not-so cuddly ET transforms itself into a huge crab instead, perhaps referencing one of Godzilla’s lesser known opponents, Ebirah, The Sea Monster. After that, it does a somewhat bizarre turn as a prehistoric dinosaur (identified somewhat inaccurately as a Stegosaur) and then finishes proceedings in human form. Bringing the last two monsters back from the dead to fight each other doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, but then I guess the world domination strategy of a mysterious alien entity is far too complex for mere hoomans to understand. It probably looked good in the trailer anyway. Oh, and then the island’s obligatory volcano erupts a bit at a rather convenient moment.

Space Amoeba (1970)

‘…and the winners of the World Cup semi-final will be…’

Director lshirõ Honda was the man who brought us the first Godzilla, and many of the iconic lizard’s encounters with Mothra, King Ghidorah and Rodan. He also delivered serveral other ’Kaiju’ and science fiction films for the good folks at Toho, such as ‘Varan,’The Unbelievable’ (1962) and the very interesting ‘Matango, Fungus of Terror’ (1963). But this was his penultimate film, and the ‘giant monster’ formula was wearing a little thin after so many years in play. Still, the action moves at a good pace for the most part, although we do stop for two of the islanders to get married right in the middle of the film!

Honda returned for one last hurrah with ‘Terror of Mechagodzilla’ (1975), but that ended up with the worst box office returns of any of The Big G’s outings in his entire 60 year history, so Honda and Toho gave it up and brought the first cycle of ’Kaiju’ films to an end.

One of the most entertaining aspects for a modern audience of this entry centres on the role of heroine Takahashi. She has only two functions in the film; to act scared and cry out, and to repeat the scientist’s previous comments as a question, so he can then repeat himself again with extra emphasis. ln an inspired creative decision, the producers of the US release decided to have her dubbed by a woman with an Australian accent! This is, of course, absolutely hilarious, but her inflections noticeably diminish after the first half hour or so of the film. Obviously, someone had a word in the recording studio, but didn’t bother getting her to re-dub the earlier scenes! Pure genius.

A minor monster mash this may be, but it’s still essential for aficionados of the genre.

Gamera Vs Zigra (1971)

Ganera Vs Zigra (1971)‘Explain how you managed to get here. Did you swim through the fourth dimension?’

All around extra-terrestrial bad egg Zigra shoots up the moon in his rinky-dink spaceship before heading for Earth. Two marine scientists and their kids are captured, but escape with vital information about his plan to enslave the human race. And then eat it. Luckily, Gamera turns up.

The last of the original series of five films about Gamera, the giant, flying outer space turtle. That’s unless you count ‘Gamera: Super Monster’ (1980) but that was almost entirely old footage from the previous films. Here, our heroic reptile (a ‘friend to children everywhere’) lock horns with mankind’s latest nemesis beneath the murky waves off the coast of Japan. Yes, to begin with Zigra appears to be just a stuffed shark’s head on the wall of his spaceship but, when Gamera destroys the vehicle, he transforms into a huge, tin fish with glowing red eyes and a ray that comes out of his mouth. It’s something to do with the pressure on our world, apparently, and perfectly feasible if you examine the science.

Clogging up the works from an entertainment perspective are our two pre-pubescent heroes who generally get in the way of the action as they tangle with Zigra’s right-hand girl, who looks quite fetching in a tight green number and can hypnotise people with a click of her fingers. Unfortunately, she can’t handle bombardment by cuddly toys and being shouted at through a radio.

Meanwhile, back at the movie, the Big Z is getting the better of our scaly hero, and being attacked by stock footage of jet fighters is just water off his shiny back. There’s an entertaining five minutes about two blokes arguing over buying some fish before a convenient lightning strike gives our last, best hope a new lease of life. Children sing a sterling chorus on the soundtrack and Gamera plays a nifty tune on Zigra’s backbone as their final confrontation reaches a thrilling climax. It’s a truly epic struggle.

Gamera Vs Zigra (1971)

‘Sod off, you bastard!’

A lot of the human drama is set at the local ‘Sea World’ and, years before current concerns about such institutions, it’s unsurprisingly presented in a remorselessly positive light with a fair bit of semi-documentary footage of the creatures in its care. There’s also an environmental message, which is worthy, but sledgehammered home in a less than subtle fashion.

All in all, it’s probably the best of Gamera’s films with the exception of the unhinged classic ‘Attack of the Monsters/Gamera Vs Guiron’ (1969), but what could possibly be as good as that? At times our heroic space turtle does seem like a guest in his own movie here, just showing up conveniently when he’s required. That’s not too bad a result, mind, as it’s really Zigra who is the star of the show. Simply put, he’s bloody awesome, and a string of Zigra movies should have followed. Perhaps it’s not too late.

Gamera is still one cool dude, though, and was revived for a new series of films in the 1990s and a reboot was announced in 2015. The more famous heroes in a half shell are no comparison. They can’t even defeat the less than lethal combination of Megan Fox and Michael Bay.

Hail Zigra!

The X From Outer Space (1967)

The X From Outer Space (1967)‘Doctor, whatever the origin, it’s heading for Tokyo!’

Half a dozen manned spaceflights to Mars disappear under strange circumstances. A joint Japanese-German(?) mission rocket follows, the crew hoping to both land on the Red Planet and solve the mystery of what happened to the previous expeditions.

Several other Japanese film studios tried to emulate the international achievements of Toho Studios and their monster movies in the 1960s. The most successful of these were Daiei with their ‘Gamera’ series but there was also Nikkatsu with ‘Gappa, the Triphibian Monster’ (1967) and Shochiku, who presented ‘The X From Outer Space’ (1967).

In a nod to the international market, the boffins on the ground here include Franz Gruber as a fuel expert who assists headman Eji Okada, an international name after appearing in ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ (1960). We also get blonde Peggy Neal as the space crew biologist, although she’s very poorly dubbed, her accent sometimes German, sometimes not. Neal already had experience with Japanese monsters, her previous role being in Kaitei Daisensou (‘Terror Beneath the Sea’) (1966), which featured mutant cyborg fish men.

After a mission briefing explaining things you would have thought the crew should already know, our zeroes head off to Mars but are intercepted by a UFO that looks like a large orange pie. After this unexciting close encounter, they land at Moonbase, where they dance, jump around in the low gravity and take Jacuzzis with synthesised water that isn’t real (eh?). This is obviously far more important that investigating mankind’s ‘first contact’ with alien life. Back in space, the ship is hit by the inevitable meteor shower, a circumstance for which they are pitifully unprepared considering it had happened to every cinematic spacecraft in the previous couple of decades. Another encounter with the alien pie ship leaves their capsule covered with a strange substance so they decide to call it a day and head back home for tea.

The X From Outer Space (1967

Guilala nailed the audition for ‘Super Size Me 2’

Whilst having a knees-up at their ‘welcome back’ shindig, our gormless astro-naughts find out that the strange intergalactic substance they brought back has escaped from the lab and metamorphosed into a giant, gnarly space chicken.

This fine example of intergalactic poultry goes on a rampage, shooting flame from its mouth and wading through sets of tiny skyscrapers. The military and the scientists get round the big table to try and sort it all out (as they usually do) but they don’t have any ideas. They do name the creature though (‘Guilala’) so that’s all sorted then. Later on they reject the idea of a nuclear strike and decide to use toxic soap suds from the moon as their ultimate weapon instead.

Ultimately, the films plays like a poor photostat of a Toho Production, devoid of both technical artistry and fresh ideas. The spacecraft models aren’t that badly done (although they are still obviously models) but it’s the miniature sets in particular that come up short. And the monster itself, of course. It looks like a bloke in a silly suit on his way to a primary school to teach kids some aspect of health and safety.

After the Nikkatsu studio folded, Shochiku announced a ‘Gappa vs Guilala’ movie but it never happened. Not such a bad thing in my opinion…

Buy ‘The X from Outer Space’ here