Horror Movies You Havent Seen But Should: Gamera


Everyone knows who Godzilla is. He’s the big superstar monster who gets to destroy Tokyo over and over again until the Americans bastardize him and make a cartoon franchise that nobody likes. But Godzilla isn’t the only kaiju (giant monster) in town, not by a long shot.

Let me tell you a story, a story that begins in 1954. The Cold War was in full swing and Japan was still reeling from the psychological aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Toho Studios’ Godzilla (or properly Gojira) had perfectly captured on film the terror and deep psychological wounds of post-war Japan, and is truly a masterpiece of cinema. Hence, by 1965 it was high time for rival studio Daiei to plunder Godzilla’s success with a cut-rate imitation. The result: pure magic.

Riding on Godzilla’s coattails (and eternally in his shadow) came Gamera. Awakened when the US shot down two nuke-bearing Russian jets that had been encroaching on their airspace over the arctic, Gamera is a giant fire-breathing turtle. The real coup-de-grace though, what really makes him special, Gamera can fly. How does he fly? Does he have wings? Does he levitate? No. Gamera pulls his legs and head into his shell, fire shoots out the holes, and then he spins like a UFO. Sweet mother of God, we just hit the jackpot.

In the first film Gamera poses a bit of a problem. He’s not really evil but he is clumsy and doesn’t pay much attention to the buildings, vehicles, or people he may happen to step on. By the third film, however, Gamera becomes a bit more civically aware and begins to actively protect people. Well, you do a few good deeds, people start to like you, and before you know it, you’re stuck with the nickname, “Friend to all children.”

Some people don’t like these later films in the original series because, yes, they’re aimed at kids and yes, they have annoying child characters that point out already stunningly obvious plot points. But you know what? I don’t care. I still love these movies because they still have sweet old-timey giant monster battles, and every once in a while I enjoy a hearty laugh at the expense of a dumb little kid with bad dialogue.

I refer to the original series because Gamera has been brought to the big screen in three different incarnations in three different eras. The original series of films, known as the Showa series, ran from 1965 to 1980 and totaled eight films.

In 1995, Daiei rebooted the franchise with Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. This film reworked Gamera’s origin into a creature created by the lost city of Atlantis to defend against giant bat-like creatures called Gyaos. The Gyaos, present in the Showa series but not as prevalent, are now Gamera’s kaiju nemesis. Guardian of the Universe was followed by two more films, Advent of Legion and Revenge of Iris. These three films make up the Heisei series.

Finally, in 2006 came what is to date the last Gamera film, Gamera the Brave. Apparently somewhere between Revenge of Iris and this film, Gamera died, taking with him the last of the Gyaos. Years later though, some kid finds an egg and guess who pops out. The first part of the film is full of boy-and-his-flying-turtle shenanigans until a new giant monster foe shows up and shit gets real.

Unfortunately, there have been no new Gamera films since then, but with the recent success of Cloverfield, an Eli Roth monster (possibly of the giant variety) movie on the horizon, and the upcoming remake of Clash of the Titans, one can hope that maybe, just maybe, we may be on the verge of a new renaissance in kaiju glory. Major metropolitan areas beware.

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