Okay, kaiju fans, there’s another real treat that recently hit DVD. While Classic Media has been releasing one definitive edition after another of the initial Godzilla movies, Tokyo Shock has stepped up with a non-Godzilla Toho effort: 1965’s Frankenstein Conquers the World. Present in the 2-disc set are the US release (so if you want to hear Nick Adams speak English, that’s the one to watch), the Japanese version, and the international release. These versions feature a rather different, and utterly bizarre, e…ding, and I’ll be talking about it, so be warned that there are spoilers ahead.
Godzilla’s daddy Ishiro Honda is at the directorial helm again, and it is interesting that, just as the Godzilla films were becoming more and more comical, this effort is, relatively speaking, quite dark. Its opening doesn’t look like a Toho effort at all: as beakers bubble in a gothic lab, we might as well be watching a product of Hammer Studios. The year is 1945. German soldiers burst in on a scientist, grab a box and ship it by sub to Japan. The box contains the beating heart of Frankenstein’s monster (and yes, the name “Frankenstein” is used indiscriminately to refer to both monster and scientist here, *sigh*). The Japanese plan to use the heart to design unkillable soldiers is rudely interrupted, however, as the lab is located in Hiroshima. Wrong place, wrong time. Years later, in a rebuilt Hiroshima, scientist Nick Adams and his team run into a feral child, who turns out to be the regenerating monster. Being radioactive, he also gets really big and escapes. Meanwhile, the monster Baragon (a dinosaur with big, floppy, puppy dog ears) is rampaging about, and Frankenstein (I’ll give in and call him that, since the movie does) initially gets the blame. He eventually confronts Baragon in a dramatic mountaintop finale backdropped by a raging forest fire.
There is plenty of moody, dark cinematography here, and off the cuff, I think there are more references to the Bomb here than in any kaiju film since Godzilla’s first outing. I won’t go as far as saying this flick is up there with that classic. It isn’t, and there’s plenty of unintentional humour, such as when Adams and a co-hort seriously consider hacking off one of the boy’s hands to see if he regenerates. Yay, ethics! The battle, too, economically takes place outside of expensive model cities, but the forest fire creates a nicely apocalyptic feel. So all of this is great, not to mention the widescreen presentation and the subtitles. But the real gem, the joy, the cult freak orgasm that the film offers is the unseen-in-North-America ending, where, after defeating Baragon, Frankenstein is suddenly attacked by a giant octopus. In the mountains. Oh, right, one of those mountain octopi, I’ve heard of those. Now, in fairness, the octopus drags our hero down to temporary doom in water, but said water was nowhere in sight when the octopus appeared. And why is he here? Apparently to end the movie. Think of him as the tentacled equivalent of the hook hauling the Vaudeville performer off the stage. Utterly surreal. Utterly priceless. One of the most bizarre sights I’ve seen in a long time.
The extras are a pretty solid bunch too, including an interview/commentary with cameraman and FX designer Sadamasa Arikawa, but even if there wasn’t a single bonus feature, just seeing the octopus (until now just a tantalizing still in many a horror movie text) more than makes this disc a compulsory purchase. That everything else is of top notch quality is just icing on the cake. Sound the trumpets! The march of klassik kaiju continues!