Pros: Wonderful extras! Great print!
Cons: The script needed about 30 pages trimmed from it.
Did you know that King Kong was originally going to fight a gigantic Frankenstein Monster? It was about - if memory serves - about 1961 when Willis OBrien (the creator behind the original 1933 King Kong) started shopping around a script of King Kong versus Frankenstein before landing a deal with producer John Beck. Beck promptly dropped OBrien, sold the project to Toho Studios and reworked the film into King Kong versus Godzilla.
But someone at Toho must have thought the original idea had merit, so in 1965 Toho entered into a partnership with producer Henry G. Saperstein, who put up half the budget and a recognizable American actor, and handle all the distribution state side. The first of these ventures was Frankenstein versus Baragon, or known in the states as Frankenstein Conquers the World.
We open in the closing days of World War II, as Germany reels under the allied assault. The Nazis quickly ship out a secret weapon via submarine to their Japanese comrades - and you would think that the Allies would be on the lookout for that sort of thing. So what is this secret weapon? Is it a Nazi V2 Rocket with an atomic warhead? Is it blueprints for an advanced high altitude bomber? No - it's the still beating heart of FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER!
And no, there is no distinction between Frankenstein the mad scientist and his creation. Whenever they say Frankenstein, it's always in direct reference to the monster. Suck on it, you purists.
The heart is shipped to a high security military hospital for study, in the hopes of using the heart's properties of regeneration to bolster their ranks and create super-solders. And the plan very well may have worked . . . if the base was not in the heart of downtown Hiroshima, on August 6th, 1945.
Fifteen years later in the rebuilt Hiroshima, American scientist James Bowen (Played by Toho regular and dashing leading man Nick Adams), with the assistance of doctor Seuko Togami (the beautiful Kumi Mizuno) and doctor Kenichiro Kawaji (Tadeo Takashima) are researching the effects of radiation and fallout on the human body. While their research progresses, reports start coming in about a strange looking child who has been killing and eating animals.
The good doctor and his team befriend the feral boy and take him to their hospital where he promptly begins growing at an alarming rate - although why it took 15 years for Frank to start growing isnt ever expounded on. Being that the name of the movie is Frankenstein Conquers the World, it's not long before Frank is busting loose from his chains at the hospital and fleeing into the mountains of Japan.
The Japan Self Defense Force quickly mobilizes and pursues Frankenstein around Hiroshima and the surrounding countryside, trying to capture him at first, but switching to an exterminate on sight policy as the collateral damage begins mounting. It doesn't help matters that Frank also ends up taking the heat for Baragon, the lizard/dog thing monster. And of course being a Kaiju Eiga, it's not long before these two titanic monsters find each other and begin tussling in a spectacular Eiji Tsuburaya-directed special effects extravaganza.
Helmed by Toho directing god Ishiro Honda with special effects by master of the miniature Eiji Tsuburaya, Frankenstein versus Baragon has a lot going for it from the get go, even if the actual plot is mostly incomprehensible. Working with a slightly larger scale (due to Frank's overall smaller scale) Tsuburaya delivers some really quality work - some of the best effects work of his career. Mind you the Baragon suit looks like crap with a cuddly, friendly face and big fat cheeks that undermine any menace the monster may have. Oh, and the miniature boar looks like it wandered off a toy shelf and was accidentally filmed - but these bits aside, the effects work (especially the fire scenes) is really good stuff.
Honda reinforces his "horrors of nuclear weapons" agenda again, with a really effective sequence involving the bombing of Hiroshima, with only the plane and undead heart of Frankenstein still beating until the explosion. When it hits, the immense firestorm unleashes devastation on a grand scale - it's a very powerful scene.
The movie does drag a bit during the Humans Talking scenes, with scenes of generic research as the scientists try and unlock Frank's regenerating powers and wrestle with the moral consequence of killing him. While it does set up the relationship between the giant and lovely Kumi Mizuno, the Human Talking bits have nothing more to do than pad out the running time.
As far as those humans that do all this talking go, we get a star studded Toho-fest. Nick Adams, of course, was already known from Rebel without a Cause, Hell is for Heroes and two seasons as Johnny Yuma on ABC's The Rebel - and of course genre favorites like Godzilla vs. Monster Zero and Die, Monster Die under the AIP banner. So he at least knows his way around a script and carries himself well. Kumi Mizuno is devastatingly gorgeous as the main love interest and plays her roll here well. Yoshio Tsuchiya plays a much less flamboyant role than his usual parts in The Mysterians or Battle in Outer Space, and Toho regulars Jun Tazaki and Kenji Sahara also turn up in small roles.
But as I've said before, we're not here for the humans. We're here to see men in rubber suits smash the hell out of each other. The fights tend to move faster than normal, seeing as Frank is just a guy with a flat head prosthetic and neck bolts instead of a large clumsy rubber suit. While novel, Frankenstein doesn't do much for me as a monster (well, as a hundred foot tall city-smashing monster, that is) and Baragon even less so. The plot could have had half an hour of fat trimmed away - but at least it looks good.
THE DVD -
We get a two disc extravaganza, featuring the original Japanese version, the international print prepared by Toho, and the American version localized by American International Pictures (retiled Frankenstein Conquers the World and released as a double bill with Tarzan and the City of Gold) and all three versions look amazing, with nice scarp and clear subtitles on the Japanese print and the ORIGINAL soundtrack (featuring Nick Adams own voice) on the American version. Color me stunned.
THE EXTRAS -
Like I said above, we get the international version - which includes a couple of extras scenes not in the Japanese or American versions, where Frankenstein fights a giant octopus. We also get a commentary from photographer Sadamasa Arikawa who is reasonably full of knowledge and on his game. There's a couple of photo galleries, some posters and lobby cards and the Japanese trailer (not subtitled, sadly). There's also a handful of trailers for other Media Blaster releases - Atragon, The Mysterians, Dagora the Space Monster, Matango (otherwise known as Attack of the Mushroom People) and Varan the Unbelievable.
THE BOTTOM LINE -
After all the years of crappy bootlegs and cropped television showings, it's good to finally get this flick in a quality presentation. It may not be the best monster flick that Toho produced, but it's still pretty good. Given the quality of this release, I only hope that Media Blasters quickly follows up with the sequel War of the Gargantuas.