The Spin Sheet
DVD review by David Steigman of The Digital Bits
Gamera vs. Zigra/Gamera: Super Monster
1971/1980 (2011) - Daiei Studios (Shout! Factory)
Released on DVD on March 15th, 2011
Film Ratings (Zigra/Super): C-/D
Disc Ratings (Both - Video/Audio/Extras): A/B/C
By the early 1970s Japanese monster movies were long past their peak. The budgets that brought us great cinematic Japanese monster-fests such as Destroy All Monsters, Giant Monster Gamera, as well as several others had diminished. These films featured massive city destruction scenes with some of the finest miniatures of the time turned into virtual nothingness. As a result of the budget slashing, the monsters would have their once epic battles, no on desolate islands, beaches, and other places where no sets needed to be built and then destroyed. Gamera, our favorite flying fire breathing turtle, was severely affected by the cost cutting of these films.
In the 1960's, Gamera films has reached its highest peak in his series with earlier films, Gamera vs. Barugon and Gamera vs. Gyaos. After those films, Daiei studios, the brains behind the turtle, had minimal funds to make the Gamera films. So in addition to money saving locations fewer miniatures were used, and more stock footage was used. The films, although fun to watch had become cheaply made. The last two Gamera films in this era, called the Showa Era in Japan were arguably two of the most cheaply made films in the history of the first Gamera series. They are Gamera vs. Zigra and Gamera Super Monster. Both of these Gamera films have been paired together by Shout Factory. They have now released all the Gamera films during the Showa era. This term is also used in the Godzilla series as well, basically covering Japanese monster movies from 1954 (Godzilla) to 1980 (Gamera Super Monster.
Gamera vs. Zigra has Gamera fighting a giant ship that turns into a large sea creature - a giant shark from outer space is the best way to describe it. Zigra also talks. The story for Gamera vs. Zigra is relatively standard fare: Zigra has come to take over the planet Earth. Pollution drove Zigra from its own home in order to search for a planet that it could thrive and so found Earth, not knowing that we also pollute our planet. Zigra is particularly angry at the way we pollute our planet, especially the water. Pollution, incidentally, was big topic in Japanese monster movies at the time, with this film and even more in Godzilla vs. Hedorah, which was made the same year. Zigra also shows its power to the world by unleashing massive magnitude 16.0 earthquakes around the world. They threaten to unleash more destructive earthquakes if we do not surrender the Earth to them. Gamera arrives to save the day with the ever horrible Gamera theme song. This 'theme song' is sung by children. Whatever the lyrics are sitting through this will make you laugh and / or squirm. The fight scenes are also funny to say the least. Gamera plays his theme song using a rock on Zigra's spine before turning him into deep fried fish.
Sadly, Gamera vs. Zigra due to its miniscule budget has virtually no city destruction scenes, which is essential to good monster movie filmmaking. There were only just a few scenes of some exploding ships, but that was all. The film although fun in some aspects Gamera vs. Zigra is really pretty hammy, due mainly to having child actors starring again. Adults will scratch their heads over several scenes in the film. To me the 'comical' scenes took away some of that seriousness that monster movies with aliens invading Earth should have. In particular the 2 kids who are the main focus, Kenny and Helen, at least in the English language version have some really campy dialogue. Helen has a huge thirst to drink coca-cola, asking for it at least 3 times in the movie. An interesting tidbit is that the sisters who played Marlene & Helen in this film (Arlene and Gloria Zoellner) were interviewed in a recent issue of G-Fan magazine. A couple of things to watch for in this film are an underwater fight scene where Gamera amazingly uses his fiery breath, and a funny scene with a dolphin trainer having a war of words with a hotel manager over who gets to eat the fish, be it the dolphins or the people in the hotel. That scene goes on and on.
The movie was good enough (or bad enough, depending on your point of view) to be a Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K to us fans of the show) experiment during the period where the shows' creator Joel Hodgson hosted the show. The MST3K cast did a number on this movie & all the Gamera movies that were under the rights of Sandy Frank at the time. He held the rights to most of the Gamera movies (Gamera, Gamera vs. Barugon, Gamera vs. Gyaos, and Gamera vs. Guiron) with them being released on VHS from Celebrity Video. All of them, except for Gamera vs. Guiron, have opening credit scenes with the ocean background.
Gamera vs. Zigra was directed by Noriaki Yuasa. He directed the entire Gamera series from the 1960's to the 1970's except for Gamera vs. Barugon. You will notice a big difference in Gamera vs. Barugon from the rest of the Gamera films in this era. This was the only Gamera movie that had no children as the focal point of the movie. The premise of the Gamera series is that he was the friend of all children. Even in the first film, Gamera the Giant Monster, he saved the life of a child. And Gamera was a bad guy at the time too! As the series marched on, the children became the main focus of the films.
Shout Factory offers the film with a stunning anamorphic widescreen transfer - a very clean sharp transfer indeed! The Japanese language is rich, loud and clear, while on the English dubbed version, I had to adjust the volume to make it louder. The English dubbing for this is the Sandy Frank version and it is atrocious. The dubbing doesn't get much campier and is pretty much 'LOL' material most of the way through. The opening credit scene is the original Japanese version with that crazy 'Gamera Theme Song' with a view of Sea World, where most of the film takes place & not the water credit opening. Bonus features include several publicity stills and a few behind the scenes stills of Gamera vs. Zigra.
This movie did poorly financially at the box office and Daiei soon went bankrupt. There were plans for another Gamera movie called Gamera vs. Leoman which then became Gamera vs. Garasharp (a giant snake) which became Gamera loses to bankruptcy. Gamera would not be heard from until 1980 - where Daiei was brought out of bankruptcy.
Gamera Super Monster, the final film in this series of Gamera, was filmed on an even lower budget than Gamera vs. Zigra. The movie approximately 95% stock footage of Gamera fighting all his foes from his previous entrees which were Barugon, Gyaos, Zigra, Viras, Jiger, and Guiron. If you recall Godzilla's Revenge which also used a ton of stock footage from Son of Godzilla & Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, then you know what to expect in this film. Gamera has to thwart off a giant alien spaceship named Zanon. This spaceship sends the monsters from the entire Gamera series to destroy the Earth. Since it is stock footage, you can't really expect a different outcome in the fight scenes, can we? Just like in the original pictures Gamera beats his foes. There is a scene where Zanon controls Gamera with a device, which allows them to use stock footage from both Gamera the Giant Monster and Gamera vs. Baragon. Gamera, during those two movies, was a very bad turtle. The footage used was Gamera attacking Japan. The only new footage has him flying around Japan and at the end going after Zanon the spaceship. Gamera flies into the ship and after a big explosion, both the ship & Gamera were vanquished.
A child is once again the main focus of this film. A boy, Keiichi, is the main star. He loves turtles and plays a Gamera song on his organ, several times in fact. There are three super heroines in this movie as well. The heroes are three lovely Japanese ladies from another planet with costumes and capes. They basically accompany the boy and pretty much do nothing but watch Gamera battle the monsters via stock footage The English dubbing in this is awful too. There are many mispronunciations of Gamera (Guh-Meera as opposed to the correct pronunciation Gah- mera) all the way through the movie. The scenes in outer space with the giant spaceship Zanon seemed to indicate that the writer and director were inspired by Star Wars.
This was originally released from Shout Factory as an Elvira Movie Macabre double feature DVD where Gamera Super Monster was paired with They Came from Beyond Space. The transfer for that release was poor quality. This time around Shout Factory presents Gamera Super Monster in its original widescreen ratio (anamorphic, of course) with the choice of either English or Japanese language. For some reason the English language version keeps going back in forth in terms of clearly being able to listen. Some parts of the English dubbing sound like it's in an echo chamber, and then all of a sudden you will hear a blip and then everything sounds crystal clear. Let's hope this glitch was not unnoticed and was corrected so fans won't complain. Just like Gamera vs. Zigra, there is a publicity gallery for the lone supplement.
Overall, this is a very solid release from Shout Factory for a pair of Gamera movies that unfortunately do not measure up to the earlier Gamera films. But they are still fun in their own way. If you already own the other Gamera DVDs released by Shout Factory, there is no question about getting this, if only for the sake of owning the Gamera DVD run from Shout Factory. Sure, you might check your sanity after viewing them, but still you will have some fun watching & at the very least be entertained. There probably will not be a better transfer for either film stateside ever again.