“Barugon: The Freezing Monster – This carnivorous reptile, a nightmare cross between a monitor lizard and a chameleon, is found only in New Guinea’s Valley Of The Rainbow. It is born every 1000 years, according to legend, from an egg resembling a large opal. It has a long, darting tongue used as a battering ram, while the tip sprays a freezing mist that immobilizes its prey…”
Ask anyone about Japanese monster movies and Gamera usually won’t be the first name that comes into their minds. Godzilla would likely dominate the conversation, and for most of the last 60 years the folks at Toho have been synonymous with large monsters. But they didn’t exactly hold a monopoly on the big beasts. Kadokawa Pictures had their own little monster franchise going on. From 1965 through the 1970’s the studio would produce 8 Gamera films in all.
Gamera was a giant turtle who was awakened from his millions-of-years slumber when a Soviet nuclear bomber crashes into the Arctic. The ensuing explosion cracked the ancient ice and unleashed Gamera. The turtle was not only huge and could breathe fire, but he could fly, looking like a flying saucer as he spins his way through the sky.
“…Along its spine are seven prism-shaped horns that generate a deadly rainbow of intense heat. Because of the creature’s attraction to the brilliance of precious stones such as diamonds, the legend tells of sinking such gems into a pool to lure it into drowning (water is its only weakness). Barugon mutates into a giant monster from the prolonged exposure to infared rays.”
In the second Gamera film, Barugon is the nemesis. When we last saw Gamera, he was strapped to a rocket and leaving Earth forever. But when you have a hit monster on your hands, forever isn’t what it used to be. Gamera breaks free and returns to Earth to do a little more breaking, namely dams, buildings, and vehicles. But he might be just in time to stop the new threat of Barugon. Unfortunately, turtles don’t like that much cold, and Gamera is locked in a deep freeze. Who will save the planet now? Unfortunately, Barugon is one of the worst-looking monsters in the series. His head looks like a papier-mache piñata, held up by visible strings. But Gamera himself is better designed with more detail, and this time in color.
Gamera meets all of the traditional giant monster movie traditions. You have the somewhat radioactive origins of a sleeping behemoth from prehistoric ages. There’s plenty of scenes of Gamera trouncing buildings and fleeing mobs. You must always have that scene where the monster breaks through some electrical lines. Gamera became a friend, and often guardian, of children. He had a weak spot for youngsters and often fought other creatures to protect them. In Japan the theme caught on, and Gamera became a huge, pardon the pun, hit among school-age children. Even today the giant turtle can be found on everything from bed sheets to lunch boxes. Now is your chance to check out the only real competition Godzilla ever faced.
In the 1990’s a more modern version of Gamera returned to the big screen. Perhaps with Shout Factory’s release of the original films we’ll see a resurgence in the giant turtle phenomenon, and maybe we’ll see Gamera return as a new original movie.
Gamera is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This is still an older low budget film and the choppy edits and dirt specs likely can’t be helped. Colors are faded at times while pretty sharp at others. There is obvious restoration here that makes this about as good as it gets, certainly beating out those old syndicated television prints by leaps and bounds.
Unfortunately, only the original Japanese track is included here. You have to remember that the English version of the movie was changed much like the original Godzilla had been, with the Raymond Burr added scenes for American audiences. That’s not what you’re getting here, and it’s likely there isn’t a dubbed version of this film anywhere. It does contain hiss and some distortion at times. You can hear just fine. Gamera’s roar is intact and as good as I expected it to be, if not a little bit better. There is a fair amount of English, anyway. The scenes of American soldiers are originally filmed in English and are preserved here.
There is a nice booklet that has character profiles, a diagram of Barugon, and a memoir from actor Kojiro Hongo.
Shout continues to bring us the Gamera series with the uncut original Japanese versions of the films. While I’d love to have an English dub as part of the package, that wouldn’t be in keeping with the original concept. The production values were increased as Gamera now found his way to full color and with a bigger budget. Now he was a bankable name. So, if you are looking forward to more Gamera, “You are not alone”.
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