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.
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).
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!’
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.”