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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

GAMERA: SUPER MONSTER (1980)

DVD cover art for GAMERA: SUPER MONSTER.

Despite my lifelong status as a lover of the Japanese giant monster genre (kaiju eiga to us pretentious uber-geeks), I was never a fan of Daiei's ultra-juvenile Gamera series, not even when I was of the age they were geared toward, and with the exception of 1969's GAMERA VS. GUIRON (known in U.S. television prints as ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS), I find damned near all of the pre-1995 flicks about the giant flying turtle to be just about unbearable in terms of boredom and truly saccharine kiddie material. (Although I must give props to some fun and imaginative monsters serving as Gamera's opponents, most notably the flying and flesh-eating Gaos, knife-headed Guiron and squid-like Viras, each victims of turgid scripts and somnambulistic direction.) So for years I never bothered tracking down the final film in the original series even though Gamera, "the friend of children," conclusively dies at the end of it, but the other night I found it on DVD for five bucks at one of the many mom 'n' pop DVD rental joints that are currently going out of business all over Manhattan and figured why the fuck not?

The version I found was part of a two-disc double feature that resurrects the old 1980's cult TV series MOVIE MACABRE, a weekly syndicated horror movie dumping ground that ran genre flicks of generally low quality hosted by the pulchritudinous Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, and the viewer has the choice of watching the movie with or without Elvira's host segments. Not having seen the show since it ran ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES during my senior year in high school (I was in the class of 1983), I was curious to see if the show was as corny and lame as I remembered it being — Elvira's mouth-watering curves notwithstanding — and after about three minutes of enduring her teeth-grindingly annoying schtick I could tolerate no more and opted to watch the movie "straight." Apparently the folks who released the disc used whatever dodgy source print was utilized on the Elvira show and as a result we get what looks like about a fourth generation dupe of a widescreen VHS tape with a somewhat-muffled audio track, aspects that only served to punctuate the film's overall shoddiness.

The "plot," feeble even by the standards of the original Gamera series, gives us three female alien superheroes who live in disguise on Earth and spring to our defense when needed. One of them possesses a bitchin ' van that turns into the spaceship where the trio convenes (although the spaceship is never given any more definition than a crude animated blotch that looks more like the celluloid's emulsion is decaying rather than a legitimate special effect), and it is there that they receive a threat — that apparently only they can hear — from the approaching gigantic space battleship of Zanon, a planet-conquering lot who shamelessly cruise the universe in a spaceship that's more than a little reminiscent of the Star Destroyer seen at the opening of STAR WARS (1977). In fact, the famous fly-over that held us riveted in awe when first seen is repeated here to greatly diminished effect, and when I saw it I said out loud, "You have gotta be fucking kidding me!"

Does that spaceship look kinda familiar?

Zanon tells the superchicks that if they attempt to thwart the takeover of Earth a total shitstorm will be unleashed, and in no time Zanon unleashes every monster Gamera fought previously, each of whom is seen in stock footage familiar to anyone who endured the previous entries in the series and has hopefully forgotten that each and every one of the nasty critters was quite decisively killed by Gamera. But, just like in American comics, death is only temporary in Japanese giant monster flicks, so who's counting? Even an A-lister like Godzilla got "permanently killed" what, like seventy times? And compounding this idiocy is the use of stock spacecraft footage from the classic SPACE CRUISER YAMATO and GALAXY EXPRESS 999 television cartoons series, so the bulk of the film's budget must have been spent on the Zanon spaceship and some cases of Sapporo beer for the beleaguered editor.

The film also features the umpteenth nauseating child character with whom the target audience is meant to identify, and just like his predecessors I wanted to nail him square in the gob with a sledge hammer. He's just as useless as the utterly superfluous superheroines — the leader of whom, Kilara (perhaps the most butch-looking character I've ever seen in a Japanese kiddie flick), gets into a ludicrous but kinda fun fight with Giruge , an equally useless female agent of Zanon — and in the end a disgusted Zanon announces it will handle the destruction of the Earth by itself, so Gamera flies into outer space and pulls what's essentially a kamikaze run on Zanon, destroying the would-be invader and himself in the process. When the smoke clears, the superchicks fly the annoying little boy all over the goddamned place, presumably as consolation for the heroic suicide of Gamera, and with that the original Gamera series crashed and burned right into the deepest levels of the cinematic sewage system, there to rot until gloriously resurrected some fifteen years later with GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE, an exceptional series reboot that actually proved better than the contemporary films of Godzilla.

Yes, GAMERA: SUPER MONSTER is an unmitigated piece of shit, but as a last gasp for a series it's a spectacular train wreck that is worth seeing for oneself just for the balls-out awfulness on display. Even the most hardcore of Gamera fans/apologists will be hard pressed to find any sort of genuine merit here and will most likely give it a pass for its considerable camp value.

Turkish poster for GAMERA: SUPER MONSTER that throws in monsters from Toho's Godzilla flicks, including the larval form of Mothra, Gorosaurus, Anguirus and even Baragon (not to be confused with the Gamera series' Barugon) from FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD. The title even implies the film has something to do with Godzilla, for fuck's sake!

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