My favorite kaiju, Godzilla is the King of the Monsters, no doubt about that, but there’s a whole universe of kaiju out there to enjoy. In honor of my favorite film genre, I thought I’d share the love with a few kaiju you may not have heard so much about- ones from outside the confines of Godzilla’s own series. And what of Gamera, the friend of all children and the world’s second-favorite monster movie star? We’ll get around to him and his wild-and-woolly friends sometime in the future. For now, let’s turn the wheels of time back half a century or so and gaze up at some of cinema’s forgotten giants.
Gorgo not only has the distinction of being one of the very few kaiju to hail from the United Kingdom, but he’s also one of the forerunners of the kaiju boom of the 60s- his feature, creatively named Gorgo, is from 1961, placing it only seven years after Godzilla first lumbered out of the Pacific! That said, most of the city-stomping in his movie is actually done by his mother, Ogra. Gorgo himself is just a wee young’un, hauled up out of the ocean and put on display as a circus attraction in London. Want to guess what angry mama Ogra does to London?
This one was a childhood favorite of mine. While the design of Gorgo and Ogra isn’t much more complicated than “a big-headed Godzilla with ruby-red eyes and fin-ears,” there’s something endearing about the monsters in this movie. While the film may be pretty obscure these days, it certainly must have had its fans, because Gorgo got his own comic, published by Charlton (a company whose superhero characters would later be absorbed into the DC Universe) for a time! I actually ran across a few issues of it at Momocon just recently.
First appearing in the 1967 feature The X from Outer Space, the strangely lovable Guilala looks kind of like a giant alien chicken. In the original film, he grew to giant size from a tiny spore from Mars and rampaged across Japan (naturally).
I love this goofy bastard. He’s accompanied by this psychedelic theme music, and his particular style of destruction is pretty far removed from Godzilla’s plodding-juggernaut-of-horror routine; he swings his arms around like a petulant child, tosses freighter ships right out of the bay, and honks (not roars- honks) constantly. He’s also pretty damned cute for a kaiju- those big eyes, the wacky antennae, the puffy arms and legs... No matter how many fireballs he upchucks at the military, no matter how many high-rises he stomps flat, you’ll still find yourself going “d’awwww” every time he shows up. I mean, those little protrusions on his cheeks even curl up when he breathes fire! He claps when he’s pleased with himself! He’s like a puppy. Chicken. From space. At the end of the movie, after being doused with “Guilanium,” Guilala is returned to spore form, launched into orbit around the sun, and the world is thus saved! But why does my heart ache so?
Luckily for me, Guilala’s actually one of the few independent kaiju to come back for a repeat appearance. More than fifty years after his original film, Shochiku films brought him back in 2008’s The Monster X Strikes Back - Attack the G8 Summit! He even fights a giant statue version of Japanese cinema legend Beat Takeshi! Unfortunately, most of Guilala’s rampage in X Strikes Back is stock footage from the original, but at least it’s a comedy. I haven’t seen it yet, and I hear it’s pretty terrible, but hey, even a bad Guilala movie is good news to me. :D
But that wasn’t the end of our second-favorite-space-chicken (Gigan’s gotta be the first). A couple of years back, Guilala- and some of his little spore-buddies who didn’t luck out on the whole “giant” thing- showed up in this commercial to hawk job search website “The Ladder:” Oh, Guilala… can’t you just show up in everything from now on? Please?
Wanna take a guess at when this guy first reared his lovably ugly head? 1967, same as Guilala and Gappa. It was a big year for hopeful young kaiju with stars in their eyes, and Yongary: Monster from the Deep could’ve been a contender.
See? Japan doesn’t have a complete monopoly on Kaiju. Gorgo’s from the UK, Reptilicus is Danish, and Yongary here is from South Korea! But aside from Yongary’s country of origin, what makes this guy notable? Well, at first glance, he may just look like Godzilla’s weird cousin Marvin decided that Gamera’s tusks and Baragon’s horn were cool fashion statements and crawled up out of the earth, but what really gets me about Yongary are those big, dopey eyes. He also looks kind of wimpy, somehow- he’s got this big, unwieldy head and these tiny, tiny feet that make it look like he’s going to topple over any minute. And that’s not the only problem Yongary has to deal with. His name sounds kind of like “dungaree,” he drinks oil and sucks up fire for nourishment (because sure, why not) and has serious dry skin issues.
Really. Napping, itching, allergies, anal bleeding, and a strange impulse to dance to surf rock music are this guy’s ultimate weaknesses. He has flamethrower breath and some kind of weird laser beam that emits from his horn, but in spite of that, he’s really not that menacing; I feel like the other kaiju need to take this guy out for a drink and let him cry on their scaly shoulders for a while. It’s okay, Yongary! We still love you! Even after the absolutely horrendous pseudo-remake, Yonggary, from 1999, which reincarnated the big doofus as a crappy CGI superhero-kaiju who fought aliens. I’ll get to that chump in a future article.
So, Gappa is not so much a singular kaiju as a species of winged giant reptiles worshipped as gods by the hilariously antiquated islander stereotypes upon Obelisk Island. After a baby Gappa hatches and is brought back to Japan to be exploited as a marketing gimmick for “Playmate Magazine,” the justifiably angry Mama and Papa Gappa come stomping (and soaring) after, looking to rescue their pup- and kick the crap out of civilization in the process. Sound familiar? Well, considering it’s almost the exact same plot as Gorgo, that isn’t surprising- combine that with Rodan’s mated-pair-monsters storyline and King Kong vs. Godzilla’s corrupt corporate monster-exploitation plots, and you’ve pretty much nailed down 1967’s Gappa: the Triphibian Monster. Allegedly, the film was intended as a satire of the 60s kaiju boom, but that doesn’t really come across in the international versions I’ve seen. It has also been released as Monster from a Prehistoric Planet, a title that makes less than one lick of sense.
The Gappas are fairly cool kaiju, though. They breathe fire not unlike Godzilla’s atomic breath, swim, and fly- hence the “Triphibian” descriptor. While their flight scenes may not be especially realistic, it’s still cool to have a kaiju who’s pretty much Godzilla and Rodan rolled into one. The baby Gappa is pretty derpy-looking, probably in a failed attempt at cuteness. The scene in which the monsters are reunited with their baby is pretty ham-fisted, with the kaiju going so far as to shed tears of happiness. Who knew kaiju could be such softies?
I love how, in the movie, the evil magazine executive still expects the baby Gappa to be a big marketing hit when its pissed-off parents are stomping around Japan ripping everything apart in search of it.
And then there was Reptilicus. This majestic beast, who first appeared in a 1961 Danish production, is a dark metaphor for what happens when you leave a can of Spam open and uncovered for too long. After a piece of rotten mystery-meat is dug out of the ground, it begins to grow until eventually returning to life in its horrifying true form: a goofy snake-thing that flops about Copenhagen spitting Nickelodeon slime and flying around on some very, very silly wings.
See how tough-looking Reptilicus is in the movie poster? A bit like a Chinese dragon, perhaps? Yeah, well, here’s what he actually looks like in the movie. The poster always lies.