Friday, June 8, 2012

Frankenstein Conquers the World

Kaiju (怪獣 ) is a Japanese word that means "strange beast," but often translated in English as "monster".

In many giant monster movies, we don’t have a good idea of what’s going on in the monster’s head outside of, ‘Breathe atomic fire,’ ‘I really want to stomp on this annoying kid,’ or ‘Oh great, those weird maser tanks are back.’ Sure, Godzilla wants to beat-up King Ghidorah, but why? It’s those few more human kaiju that can express slightly more complex emotions, hopelessness and rage like Glen Manning from, The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) or bewilderment and desire like, King Kong (1933). It is even rarer that these particular humanoid monsters are portrayed as heroic.

Frankenstein Conquers the World begins in Bavaria during World War II, as a scientist surrenders a case containing a beating heart which is then transferred to a Japanese sub and taken to Hiroshima just in time for the atomic bomb to drop. Twenty years later, scientists studying the effects of radiation on patients discover a feral boy with a strange flat head and black eyes who seems to keep growing and growing in size. A quick trip to Bavaria reveals that the heart was in fact that of Frankenstein’s monster and it is not only indestructible, but with a sufficient amount of ‘nutrients,’ it can regenerate. The monster escapes into the woods only to run into something else just as big.

Frankenstein Conquers the World comes across as a mash-up of several other kaiju movies. It has a taste of the atomic horror of Godzilla  (1954), along with the misunderstood monster angle of King Kong and the tragedy of The Amazing Colossal Man. It keeps things moving along at decent pace, throwing in a little light romantic subplot with Toho regulars, Nick Adams, Kumi Mizuno and Tadao Takashima. I feel it even easily slides into the Universal Frankenstein series without too much damage done, especially in comparison to some of the later entries of that cycle. Everything is played with utmost seriousness, and there is a surprising amount of gore (i.e. any at all.)

The inclusion of second monster in the third act shouldn’t work at all. Baragon comes out of nowhere, stomps on some villages, eats a bunch of chickens, and instantly becomes likeable. Having one of the actors not encumbered with a rubber suit means the fights are much more dynamic and fun to watch. Frankenstein Conquers the World almost seems to specialize in late act monster surprises as a third monster comes out of the woodwork if happen to be watching the Japanese cut of the film.

Media Blasters has put out a wonderful looking version that contains both the Japanese and US theatrical cuts. The colors are that particular rich brilliance that Toho was putting out in the 1960’s, the music is filled with Akira Ifukube’s orchestrations as well some funky guitar. It’s a shame this film doesn’t get talked about as much as it should, it’s quite fun and contains a bit more depth of character than most kaiju films. Highly recommended, give it a watch if you get the chance and then check out its more famous sequel, War of the Gargantuas.

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