“Monster, indeed!”

So, in a twist of film history both inevitable and deeply demented, the Frankenstein monster gets drafted into the Japanese kaiju genre and pitted against a man in a lizard costume, under the directorial aegis of GODZILLA helmer Ishiro Honda…

I hope you understand that I’m watching FRANKENSTEIN VS BARAGON, aka FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, purely because the late Denis Gifford saw fit to include a b&w illo from it in his Pictorial History of Horror Movies. So in my mad quest to see all the films depicted therein, a quest I have abstrusely entitled See Reptilicus and Die, I totally had to watch this movie. I mean, it’s not as if I go out of my way to see this kind of thing normally.

“Do I LOOK like I’m kidding?”

We begin in Germany, where a swivel-eyed mustache guy is working on the  still-beating heart of the Frankenstein monster in a mad scientist’s layer in a castle somewhere unwisely close to the front lines. ThenNazi stormtroopers arrive with a compulsory purchase order and confiscate the creepy ticker, shipping it to Hiroshima by sub, where the leader of the Seven Samurai proceeds to examine this strangely immortal pump, with a view to mass-producing bullet-proof Japanese soldiers. This perfectly reasonable subplot is brought to an abrupt end by the detonation of an atom bomb.

Fastforward to the poptastic sixties, and a “degenerate waif” is terrorizing the city, rather a lot like Denis Lavant in Leos Carax’s episode of TOKYO! “There were a lot of these boys after the war,” says a concerned supporting player, perhaps visualizing GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES. Apprehended by the authorities (including a gratuitous roundeye scientist, Nick Adams — ot’s gaijin vs. kaijin), the monster waif starts growing to, well, monstrous size, no doubt due to all that radiation he soaked up — for you see, this large deformed boy is no less than the Frankenstein monster’s heart, which has regenerated an entire new body around itself (I would love to have seen the halfway stage of that) a bit like Oddbod Jnr. in CARRY ON SCREAMING — who germinated from a single discarded finger — whom he closely resembles (he also looks a bit like Richard Kiel disguised as a hillbilly).

Dangerous curves.

Meanwhile, the late Baragon has emerged from the bowels of the earth and is ravaging the countryside. While Frank, escaped from his tiny cell, roams the hinterland searching for a spot with a climate akin to that of Frankfurt, but with a sufficient supply of life-giving protein. His dinners are being swiped by Baragon — cue shots of the lizard thing stomping a puppet horse… a battle seems inevitable: underground monster vs. 100 ft waif.

Baragon, although known as The Underground Monster, is clearly recognizable to westerners as Edward Lear’s The Dong with the Luminous Nose.

Slowly it wanders,–pauses,–creeeps,–
Anon it sparkles,–flashes and leaps;
And ever as onward it gleaming goes
A light on the Bong-tree stems it throws.
And those who watch at that midnight hour
From Hall or Terrace, or lofty Tower,
Cry, as the wild light passes along,–
‘The Dong!–the Dong!
‘The wandering Dong through the forest goes!
‘The Dong! the Dong!
‘The Dong with a luminous Nose!’

“Ha ha, you missed me, you need glasses!”

Battle Royale, or Batoru Rowaiaru, commences — by this time, alas, we were no longer taking the film as seriously as it deserves, even though Honda was a friend of Akira Kurosawa and even directed bits of DREAMS and merits the greatest of respect. Once the monsters started fighting it was impossible not to make up dialogue for them, so they trash-talk each other while slamming one another with papier-maché boulders. Finally Frank, without doubt the spazziest of all Japanese monsters, murders Baragon by tearing his head apart, but is then immediately set upon by an Act III giant octopus, which appears out of nowhere in an eleventh-hour “development” unprepared for in any way.

“Watch it, mate, I’m gonna audition for the lead in OLD BOY right now, using you as main course!”

“Oh yeah? Well here we are in Japan, and I’ve got eight tentacles… ever see that Hokusai print of the pearl diver?”

The movie, having never quite come up with a practical solution for what to do with the monster, now cuts the Gordian knot by having him fall into a lake with a big octopus. Everybody immediately goes home: “Nothing to see here.” He’s barely been submerged five seconds!

“He’ll be back,” speculates a sequel-grubbing scientist. “Somewhere, sometime.”

“Perhaps the best thing would be for him to die,” says another, who isn’t going to be invited back for FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTERS: SANDAH VS GAILAH. “After all, he’s only a monster.”

Only?

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25 Responses to ““Monster, indeed!””

  1. Honda served as Kurosawa’s first a.d. on Ran. It was a position of great honor.

  2. Indeed. And he got to actually shoot bits of Dreams, including the post-atomic bit that seems absolutely like something out of a Godzilla movie.

  3. I recall reading an article about this film in Famous Monsters when I was very small. FRANKENSTEIN’S HEART! I think even the knowledge that somewhere, somebody was making films like this and The Manster was enough to warp my future development for good and all. I wonder how familiar Kurosawa was with the Godzilla series? That question will be filed in my mind alongside “What possessed Andrei Tarkovsky to go and see Cannibal Holocaust? Surely he didn’t think he was going to enjoy it?” (he didn’t).

  4. Tarkovsky saw Cannibal Holocaust???? I wonder if this was before or after he saw Zombie (II)?

  5. I’m sure Harryhausen or O’Brien planned to do a Frankenstein vs. King Kong with either an enlarged Frank or a diminished Kong (or both). What makes different filmmakers feel that the Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein of lends itselff to this augmentation?

    Re:Tarkovsky. He mentions watching “The Exterminator” too somewhere, apparently Russia was starved of pulp cinema . It’s strange-Tarkovsky’s so ‘different’ a filmmaker-like Dreyer and Bresson it’s difficult to imagine him enjoying trash, whereas there’s no trouble with Fritz Lang watching Deep Throat or Scream & Scream Again
    If only T had enjoyed CH -it would change one’s whole perspective on the man and his work…

  6. Wasn’t this a screen adaptation of a Carson McCullers fragment — “The Heart is A Lonely Kaiju”?

  7. Yes, and everyone said that was unfilmable.

  8. Heh!

    I remember seeing Bresson saying he enjoyed Goldfinger.

    Tarkovsky at The Exterminator — did he consider casting Robert Ginty in The Sacrifice?

    Shrinking King Kong would be really pointless, surely? So Harryhausen must have been thinking of embiggening Frank. Until he saw this one.

    I read a horror comic as a kid that I’ve never been able to trace since. The evil Pretorius-type mad scientist was carrying Dr F’s head around in a hat box, and the head was still alive. “I suspect you’ve somehow given yourself some of your creation’s immortality,” he says. I remember thinking, “Hang on, you SUSPECT???” You’re not FAIRLY SURE?

    Anybody seen this comic?

  9. Randy Cook Says:

    It was O’Brien, not Harryhausen—one of his many unrealized notions.

    His proposal was for King Kong vs. Frankenstein. A producer (named John Beck, according to Wikipedia) told him he could get a studio interested, then took the project to Toho w/o O’Brien’s knowledge… it became KK v Godzilla. Toho seems to have gotten some mileage out of this concept w/ the film cited above… not to mention their other monster grudge matches (admittedly a Universal films innovation, what with their creature stock company shambling around the backlot and squaring off against each other, in different combinations, in film after film).

    Not sure of the accuracy of the Wikipedia article, of course. Ray H told me the same essential story, though, so I assume it to be true—Steven Archer’s book on O’Brien has features some of Obie’s concept sketches, in fact.

  10. Christopher Says:

    as if kid-Frankenstein wasn’t enough…”UH OH!..Baragon!….This was a huge hit with kids in the 60s..Weren’t the Gargantuas supposed to be something of a movieland offspring to this guy..

  11. The sequel might go into more detail about Frank’s relations to the Gargantuas. I’d happily watch that.

    A great shame about Obie being cheated out of the project, as silly as the idea is, I’d love to see a Frankenstein monster animated by him. The jerky movement would make sense in a reanimated corpse and you could do great things with the body parts being out of proportion to one another.

    Just back from enjoying Where the Wild Things Are, which has a nice use of CGI-enhanced body suits. It solves the occasional problem of CGI creatures looking rather weightless: these guys have real heft. And it was nice to see monsters that weren’t trying to look 100% real.

  12. Ah, I wasn’t aware of the CGi in WTWTR. And that Hellzapppin quote cheered me a lot.

  13. kevin mummery Says:

    I remember seeing this when I was a kid in 1966, at the movies (of all places!); it was a second feature after Godzilla vs. The Thing, which I thought and still think was an infinitely better movie. Still plenty entertaining, especially seeing rodent-featured Nick Adams again after having just seen him in Die Monster Die…I think he actually Did die shortly after this film was made.

  14. Ah, poor Nick. He has a certain Ray Dennis Steckler allure, wouldn’t you say? The talent of Steckler, the charisma of Cash Flagg!

    Saw a bunch of kaiju double-features as a kid but don’t recall if I ever encountered Godzilla vs the Thing.

    Glad you liked the Hellzapoppin line, Simon (For the perplexed: “You missed me, you need glasses.”)

  15. Y’know, I just can’t help but think that this Japanese Frankenstein looks a lot like this guy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POSEyei1tJE

  16. Actually, the link is correct, but for the record, we’re talkin’ Clint Howard.

  17. Jordan Benedict Says:

    Regarding Jennifer Jones’ refusal to be interviewed, at the age of 90-93 it’s very possible she no longer remembered David Selznick or Norton Simon, for that matter. Old people slip in and out of dimentia, then often plunge into Alzheimers where the architecture of the brain changes dramatically. The ability to reason and remember eventually disappears altogether. For loved ones and offspring, watching the disintegration of someone with either of these diseases is a horrifying experience. The lingering thought of those left behind takes the form of a question: Is this what will happen to me at the end of my life?

    Shame on the journalist who felt he was snubbed! Respect the lives of the subjects you would like to interview or skewer for fun and profit.

  18. I think you posted this on the wrong post, but I agree with every word. Unfortunately I don’t think there’s an easy way for me to shunt it along, but if you copy the text into a fresh comment it’ll work.

  19. michael aguilar Says:

    King Kong vs Frankenstein fasinated me for years. When I first saw drawings of it in famouse monsters of filmland and classic movie monsters a book written by Don Glut. I make stop motion films, very low budget stop motion films. In 2003 I decided to make King Kong vs Frankenstein, it took two years to complete. I finished it in 2005. It got a premier at G-Fest 2005 and at Monster Bash the following year. It is now on my nephews youtube website. There is a link below. This is the first part. Enjoy.

  20. This is lovely! Some of the angle changes seem a little random, but I love the sense of scale and the mad scientist’s movements are both smooth and expressive. Were you exposing one frame at a time?

  21. michael aguilar Says:

    Yes I do use one frame for all my films. In fact since this website talks about Frankenstein Concours the World and has my favorite monster Baragon which is in my new film Giant Monster Rumble which will be shown at G-Fest this next week. Wish me luck.

  22. michael aguilar Says:

    Here is a little film since everyone on this website is talking about Frankenstein Concurs the World since Baragon is one of my favorite monsters. This movie premiered at the G-Fest film contest but sadly was not one of the top three. Here is part three of giant monster rumble featuring Baragon.

  23. michael aguilar Says:

    I am gonna see if I can upload some pictures of Baragon from my new film and see if anyone is interested in seeing it. Since I do not have a different Frankenstein monster I used diffident Frankenstein.

  24. Sure, I’ll email you and you can send them to me. I’ll do a whole post on the film if you’d like.

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