Latitude Zero (1969) – movie review

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Latitude Zero (1969)

Directed by Iroshi Honda
Special effects by EJ Tutsaburu

stars: Joseph Cotten, Cesar Romero, Akira Takarada, Masumi Okada, Richard Jaeckel, Patricia Medina, and Akihiko Hirata

This is a fantasy science fiction film from Toho that seems like an homage to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I probably would’ve appreciated this more if I had seen it as a kid. There’s a Muppet looking flying lion and funky looking bat/human creatures. A small team of scientists researching an underwater volcano dive to the depths of the ocean in a dumbbell. An explosive eruption rips the dumbbell from its tethers and sends it freefalling through the deep waters. There it’s picked up by a super submarine of unknown origin. After meeting the captain and being inspected by a very pleasant latitude zero posterfemale doctor, they head for the underwater home base.

LZ depicts an underwater world with two technically advanced yet warring tribes looking to control the lands beneath the artificial Sun. There’s some impressive submarine dog-fights with heat seeking torpedoes and an underwater laser Canon. Once in the domed city of Latitude Zero the scientists discover a perfect Utopian world, a perfect society and existence for its inhabitants. Caesar Romero plays Malic, the bad guy trying to break thru the city’s force field defense systems and take over the land. Sneaking into Malic’s lair to free a hostage, (LZ’s top scientist) the men are confronted by giant rats with glowing red eyes, beds of sulfur gas, and an acid moat. The bat-humans fly pretty smoothly but in some spots you can see the wires.

This was a rare Toho film shot in English with American and Japanese actors. The Japanese actors learned the English needed for the script. The script was written by Ted Sherdeman, who also penned the script for Them!. It’s interesting to hear the sound effects and music queues usually associated with Kaiju monsters played in this fantasy adventure. Comparisons to the lost city of Atlantis are evident. The submarine and underwater scenes show some achievement in special effects. It’s the fantasy creatures themselves that are the biggest drawback for me. I would say that if you had seen this as a youngster it would offer some measure of nostalgia. However, to me it seems more aimed at children than adults.

latitude zero pic 5

Mixed results in FX both propel and hinder this underwater fantasy adventure. 
Will probably only be appreciated by Toho completists and nostalgic viewers.

War of the Gargantuas (1966) – Movie review

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War of the Gargantuas (1966)

Toho Films

Directed by Ishiro Honda
special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya
Music Akira Ifukube

This is my favorite Toho Kaiju film that doesn’t feature Godzilla. It is the sequel to FCtW, but suddenly it seems Universal didn’t want Toho using the Frankenstein name in its US release. However, if you look at the monsters in this film, it’s clear they both resemble Frankenstein. Picking up from FCtW, the monsters flesh has undergone further mutation to the point where a very small piece can regenerate into a full organism. It’s several years from the death of the giant Frankenstein and war_gargantuas_dvdJapan is faced with this new threat. The film begins with a fantastic sequence. A nighttime storm batters a fishing vessel. The boatswain is trying to steer the vessel through the rough waters. A large tentacle creeps up behind him and grabs him. Then another enters the room. In a wide shot we can see a giant octopus overtaking the ship looking for a midnight snack. Just when it looks like the man will be ripped apart, the tentacles make a quick retreat. Cautiously, he moves to the windows. Outside we see a giant beast battling with the octopus (one of my fave visuals of the film). But this green hairy water beast is not a savior. After dispatching the octopus he sinks the boat.

This is a rare Kaiju film that shows the monster eating humans in gory (for the time) fashion. At the airport the Green Gargantua (Gaira) picks up a woman, chews on her, then spits out her war of the gargantuas screen shot 6bloody clothes. Gaira begins invading the Japanese mainland looking for more food. I love the scale of the Gargantuas in this film. They are bigger than the original King Kong but not as big as Godzilla, allowing for some good detail in the minatures. The military attacks the beast and does some major damage until another monster show up to save him. The Brown Gargantua (Sanda) lives in the mountains and was raised by the scientists. When Sanda discovers his brother is eating humans he tries to stop him and a battle ensues. The battle escalates into the city where the two throw each other into buildings, smash through the infrastructure and bash each other with ships in the harbor. It is one amazing Kaiju battle, one of my favorites in giant monster filmdom. This was also the first appearance of the mazor cannon mounted on military vehicles. They’re put to dramatic use cutting through forest trees in the assault on the green Gargantua. It’s really a great film for fans of the genre supported by a great cast that includes Russ Tamblyn, Kumi Mizuno and Kenji Sahara. Akira Ifukube’s bombastic score is more prominent in this film with dramatic horn blasts and powerful melodies. You don’t have to see FCtW to understand and enjoy this film. If you have enthusiasm for giant monster films and haven’t seen this, I would recommend seeing it. It’s one of my top giant monster flicks of all time.

Fun facts:
Guillermo del Toro has said in an interview that War of The Gargantuas is one of his favorite Kaiju films

Russ Tamblyn became famous for his starring role in the film version of West Side Story (1961)

Kumi Mizuno, who starred in War of the Gargantuas, also starred in Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965), Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), and Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966). She also returned for several millennium series Godzilla films (2000 – 2004).


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Kumi Mizuno

More Dinosaur and Giant Monster movie reviews – overview 

Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965) – movie review

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Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965)
Aka: Frankenstein vs. Baragon

Directed by Ishiro Honda
special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya
Music Akira Ifukube

FCtW begins with movement in time portrayed with wonderful visuals. 1945 Germany, over a snow covered mountainside, we see a German scientist in a unique piece of Toho Gothic. He’s experimenting with the Frankenstein Monster’s heart which continues to beat despite the destruction of the Monster’s body. The heart is then being transported in the Pacific Theater frankenstein conquers dvd coverduring WW II, a naval waterfront of battleships and submarines. Next it’s In Japan at that moment of the Atomic blast that ended WW II.

Several years later, scientists are working with a Frankenstein feral boy. He continues to grow to giant size and eventually breaks free from his cages. When destruction occurs in the nearby villages, they authorities want to blame Frankie, much to the dismay of scientist, Sueko, who helped raise him like a son. It turns out the destruction is being caused by another Kaiju, Baragon. The two eventually duke it out in an action packed battle as Frankie uses his speed and smarts to defeat the bigger Baragon. The battle and military assault causes an earthquake and Frankie sinks into the earth with a defeated Baragon lying at his feet.

The film stars Nick Adams who had been lending his talents to various science fiction films of the time. It also stars familiar Toho actors, Kumi Mizuno, Tadao Takashima Takashi Shimura, Kenji Sahara, and Yoshio Tsuchiya. There’s some good ol’ time rock n roll in this film especially in the dance hall that is destroyed by Baragon. Awesome dancing! Haruo Nakajima the famed costumed Godzilla actor plays Baragon, and Koji Furuhata plays Frankenstein.

Lets face it, if you were not indoctrinated into the world of Toho films as a kid then you will find faults with the film. The flat-frankenstein-conquers-the-world-still_33-1966head prosthetic doesn’t transition smoothly into the face, you can sometimes see the wires and mechanics of the effects, especially nowadays with HD TVs and big screens. Not to mention the horse that looks like a little puppet on a stick, but if you can overlook some of these small inconsistencies, you may be entertained by the simple story and visual dynamics.

The American release partner, Harry G. Saperstein, was impressed with the octopus battle in King Kong vs Godzilla and urged Honda to film a similar sequence for the Frankenstein film. It was shot but ultimately not used because Honda didn’t feel it fit the storyline. It was re-shot as the opening scene in War of the Gargantuas with Gaira doing battle in the ocean.

However, the Rare Flix/Tokyo Shock DVD has the complete octopus battle in the special features listed under International Extended Scenes. It starts with the full (longer) main battle with Baragon and goes right into the battle with the Octopus.

Horror Art/Sci-Fi art – Shigeru Komatsuzaki

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Shigeru Komatsuzaki – Japanese sci-fi artist – 1915 – 2001

Komatsuzaki designed the Atragon craft for the Toho film of the same name. He accelerated at doing sci-fi themed illustrations for comics, magazines and posters. A good amount of his work was illustrating model kit boxes for Nitto, the Japanese model kit company. His depictions of the Thunderbird crafts were outstanding.

wind up model kit toys gamera and gappa kits

bronto kit


Half Human (1958) – movie review

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Half Human (1958)

Toho films

Directed by Ishirō Honda
Special FX by Eiji Tsuburaya

and Tomoyuki Tanaka

This is the second Kaiju monster film by this famous team following their iconic achievement in Godzilla. This film never reached the success of many of their other films for good reason which I will explain later.  An expedition to the Hida Mountains in Japan (which includes Mount Fuji), is hindered by a blizzard. When the group is separated, Gen and Kaji find shelter in a remote cabin. When the group reaches the cabin the next day, Gen is found dead and Kaji is missing. There are very large footprints found near the cabin and a few tufts of hair that the group is not familiar with. They eventually discover a tribe of people living in the mountains that speak of a deity which they praise, a 10 foot tall, Monster Snowman. While searching for their missing comrades they run across a zoologist with a team intent on capturing the beast. When the hunters track it to its cave, they discover a half human pic 3young Snowman. The zoologist captures the juvenile in order to lure the adult into his traps. The adult snowman is caught then escapes, killing all of the men on the team. The zoologist shoots the young snowman and the adult beast goes on a rampage, first killing the zoologist, then heading to the native village and destroying it. He captures a woman, Machiko, and drags her back to his cave.  Does the snowman have intentions to replace his lost child by keeping the woman as a mate? It is not said, but it is suggestive in the context of other scenes in the film. The original expedition members are in pursuit. They chase the snowman further into the cave where he meets his inevitable demise.

The 1958 version that I have is the American version, which has John Carradine and Morris Ankrum as scientists. John Carradine completely narrates the entire film while sitting in a lab, which not only gets annoying, but is extremely inane and off message from what the film is really about. I was able to decipher more about the film half-human pic 5by not listening to him and just watching the Japanese footage. The Japanese story of Half Human portrays the Snow Beast as an empathetic creature and shows the humans to be the real ’monsters’ in the world. This fact is driven home with the tragic scene of the young creature being killed and the emotional reaction of the adult. The narration washes right over this scene and immediately pounces on the beast for killing humans and its ‘monstrous’ behavior. In fact, I had to look up the names of the film’s characters because the American narration only refers to the actors as ‘the girl’ or ‘the boy.’ This is extremely lame and perhaps the worst translation/American-izing of a Toho film I have ever seen.

Unfortunately, the original 1955 Japanese version has been removed from circulation because of its depictions of the native people as deformed and violent due to inbreeding. Toho decided it was an injustice to portray the people of the mountains like that and to insinuate the real tribes that live there are anything like that.

It is hard enough to find this 1958 American version which is out of print, never mind the original Japanese version. I was lucky to track this down after some searching. It is not a great film because the American footage had cut the original into pieces and tried to tell a different story. However, if you can read between the lines, you can feel a good movie was in there, once. For a Toho fan like myself, it was a must have.

Related articles:
The Legacy of Kong



Creature Features revisited – Giant Robots

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Creature Features revisited – Giant Robots

A look back at the golden age of sci-fi, the 1950‘s. Our subject today…Giant Robots
One would think and associate the 1950’s sci-fi age with giant robots. Surprisingly there are very few giant robots in film during this time period. Here are my top picks:

kronos-movie-poster-1957Kronos (1957)
Ya’ know, leaving the terrible pseudo-science and phony looking flying saucer aside, this film takes an hour to really get to its namesake. The ‘robot’ is the weirdest looking thing, rectangular metal blocks stacked on columns. And forget about its means of locomotion, even at seven years old (the first time I saw the film) I knew that those alternate pumping pistons would not be an effective mode of transportation. So, what do I like about it? It’s massive, it shoots lightning from its antennae, and it soaks up all the power from a nuclear blast to redistribute it in a calculated path of destruction (I’m really stretching it here). Besides, one of the scientists was played by George O’Hanlon who later became voice of George Jetson (The Jetson’s cartoon). The other scientist was played by Jeff Morrow.

the colossus of ny cover artThe Colossus of New York (1958)
The Colossus of NY was directed by Eugène Lourié, a name that should be much more famous in the sci-fi community than it is. Ross Martin stars as Jeremy, a scientist and humanitarian, who is killed in a car crash on the night he was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. His Father transplants Jeremy’s brain into a 12 foot tall robot. This reborn version of Jeremy is kept in seclusion and away from his wife and child, who are picking up the pieces of their life after his death. From the sealed off lab he works with his father and his assistant to solve the problems of the world. But, the lack of contact with his family and a suspicion that his partner is secretly seeing his wife drive him mad. He decides the world is not decent enough to be saved by his work, so they should die by his work. He sets out on a rampage in NYC to attack a convention honoring the scientific community. In the end it is only the love for his son, who is also at the convention, that allows him to be destroyed before causing any further damage. The only score in the film is the piano composition of Van Cleave (who also did music for White Christmas, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, and episodes of the Twilight Zone) The film is mostly a sad melodrama until the short-lived Robot-attack at the conclusion of the film. But it is worth seeing for sci-fi fans of this era.

mysterians coverThe Mysterians (1957)
Aliens land in Japan and their giant spacecraft burrows into the ground. They have two simple requests in their alien ultimatum. “We want two acres of land, and all of your women!” When the leaders of earth say, “No” (everyone except Jack Benny, that is) the Mysterians release the Giant Robot, Mogera. He shoots radioactive rays from his eyes and stomps small towns. Flying Saucers come down from space and zap any military attempt at combating the alien takeover. However, the Japanese military has been working on a secret weapon to combat the onslaught of Robot and Saucers, thus, the first appearance of the Maser Cannon is seen in a Toho film. The Maser Cannon shoots a laser beam that looks like lightning and would be put to combat in many future Toho films releases. By far the best giant robot film of the era.

Target Earth movie posterTarget Earth (1954)
A young woman, Vicki, (Virginia Grey), wakes up to find the city of Chicago abandoned. The film does a great job at showing her running through the deserted city streets, and portraying her panic, which had to be an influence on the opening of 28 Days Later. She eventually stumbles upon three more people who were down and out and missed the evacuation. The alien invasion consists of robot sentinels roaming the city and zapping anything that moves. Squirrels? Gone. Pigeons? Gone. People? Zap! Zap! Extra crispy. The robots are only 8 to 10 feet tall so I don’t know if they should be considered giant, but like I said, there wasn’t nearly as many films in this category to choose from as I would have thought. This film is heavy on drama but seriously lacking in robot combat. The robots are only seen in a few scenes. They shoot an electric ray from their TV screen faces and a couple of people disappear. The robots are decent looking and the story is really well written, so I‘d give it a thumbs up, anyway. Also stars, Richard Denning.

Honorable mention:gort pic 1

Of course, we got GORT from The Day the Earth Stood Still, but he only zapped a few things then stood immobile for most of the movie. Besides, I’m going to feature this film in my Alien Ultimatums list in the future…