Today’s selection: Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965, dir. Ishiro Honda)
Available from: Media Blasters
Contrary to popular belief, Toho’s SF legacy started not with Godzilla, but with Invisible Man, so it makes sense that, post-King Kong vs. Godzilla, they would want to adapt more western movie monsters for Japanese audiences. Frankenstein was proposed for a vs. movie battling Toho’s own Human Vapor, and then fighting Godzilla (the idea of a giant Frankenstein dates back to Willis O’Brien’s King Kong vs. Frankenstein pitch, which eventually mutated into King Kong vs. Godzilla). What we eventually got was Frankenstein Conquers the World (AKA Frankenstein vs. Baragon), a Godzilla-less feature, though Baragon went on to play in Destroy All Monsters, and more notably Giant Monsters All Out Attack.
In the movie, Frankenstein’s monster’s heart is transported to Hiroshima during WW2, getting nuked. Then, in 1960 (the rare Toho feature set in a fictitious recent past rather than future), the heart has grown into a feral boy, who benevolent scientists (Nick Adams and Kumi Mizuno) bring in for study. When they feed him well, he grows prodigiously, escapes, and is soon blamed for cattle disappearances and other destruction… in error, since all that was caused by another creature called Baragon. Frankenstein and Baragon duke it out, then Frankenstein fights a giant octopus for no reason (depending on the cut you’re watching; it was shot for the US cut, but never used in it).
The movie is really good. I appreciate the slightly smaller scale of the kaiju (20 meters as opposed to 50), allowing for more detailed miniatures, and the wrestling match between humanoid Frankenstein and monsterous Baragon may have influenced the battles in Ultraman and its imitators (the Baragon suit was recycled for Ultraman, twice). Performances are also entertaining, and it’s all-around on par with the era’s Godzilla features, if not better. It winds up on “worst movie” lists a lot for the simple reason that a giant Frankenstein monster sets people off, but once you can look past that, there’s quality to be had. Its nominal sequel, War of the Gargantuas, seems universally beloved, but I’ve always liked Frankenstein Conquers the World a little more… maybe it’s Baragon.