After a long and unplanned hiatus, I’m back! And yes, I’m back specifically to finish my long-delayed review of Gamera: Super Monster.
Yes, that Super Monster. Yes, I’m serious. Its purported badness draws me in like a Moth
ra to a flame, but I also really like how fucking weird and doofy (but still sweet!) this flick is. There’s enough unique, charming strangeness here to merit a deep dive.
If you haven’t already, be sure to give part 1 a read here. Or don’t? That might be an intriguing/hilarious social experiment! If you haven’t seen this movie and haven’t read part 1 of my review, go ahead and read this and see if anything that follows makes any fucking sense at all. If it does, congratulations, you’re either having a nervous breakdown or you’ve achieved total consciousness.
Even if you have seen the movie and/or read the first part of my review, it can still seem like a delightful fever dream: size-shifting Space Women sleep in an invulnerable lunchbox, they operate flying vans and dimensional portals with Casios and look upon Gamera as he relives his greatest Showa-era battles… who in turn sometimes looks upon random clips of anime… all while a Star Destroyer bombards them with threats and orbital laser strikes! Ready for more?! TOO BAD!
When we last left our chelonian champion, he defeated (or re-defeated?) Viras and looked at an anime spaceboat. Meanwhile the Space Women (super-powered ladies from another planet living on Earth in secret) had their hidden base/hippie van blow’d up.
Thankfully the weird see-through cooler they sleep in survived the blast, and helpful, lovable nerd Keiichi was there to scoop up their
Pokeball super-powered space chamber the next day. Giruge “confirms” with Zanon that she’s killed the Space Woman (singular? does she only know about Kilara, or is this more dub wackiness?) and gets ready for Jiger to come out swinging.
Jiger does all her freak-nasty Jiger shit like booger-lancing jets:
And skeletonizing fools:
Jiger’s rampage, like 98% of the monster action in this film, is stock footage pulled from a previous Gamera flick. With that in mind, I guess these weird little animated snot-spears are part of that 2% of new stuff:
It’s an odd, pointless addition, especially considering they were squeezing and stretching every last yen as far as humanly possible to make the movie. Even if the effect was dirt cheap, why not put that little bit of cash elsewhere? Oh well! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Unnecessary animated nostril-napalm or not, Jiger is absolutely amongst the very baddest of bitches.
Good thing ol’ Gammer-jammer’s on the scene!
Like we talked about in the first part of this review, I’m not going to go through Jiger and Gamera’s fight in my normal extreme detail because… well, I’ve already done that! I will contend that this is one of the Gamster’s all-time best bouts though. Director Noriaki Yuasa has plenty of juicy gags to choose from, and seeing them re-scored with this movie’s wacky “wikkita-wikkita-wikkita” guitar is a ton of fun.
Of course, Gamera’s “treat every fight like a TLC match” strategy can backfire, especially against a feisty babe like Jiger:
Interestingly, Super Monster’s version of the Jiger fight ends with my second favorite gag from the original movie:
God DAMN it is so good. It’s funny, it’s bad-ass, it looks great, and for some reason it reminds me of the sleeping bag kill from Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, or the even more amped up and ridiculous one(s) from Jason X:
Sadly, like the Part VII version of Jason’s sleeping bag kill, Gamera body-slamming Jiger is limited to one impact. Still, it’s a hilarious high note to end the fight on, and it’s not as jarringly horrific as my number one favorite gag from Jiger:
It’s an incredible bit, but it is SUPER dark. Ultimately I think it’s a wise choice not to include it in the middle of a feel-good romp like Super Monster. Plus it would have been hard to explain the jump from a night-time city fight to a day-light aerial battle.
With Jiger dead, Zanon tells her that he/they/it is going to have to take away Giruge’s Christmas bonus this year. Just kidding, he/they/it wants to murder her ass off.
Giruge basically goes “Wait wait wait boss, I got one last great idea, you’re gonna love this!” and says if Zanon spares her, she’ll stick a mind-control device on Gamera and use him to go apeshit on the forces of Earth! Zanon okays this–it’s legitimately a great idea! Giruge should have tried this first, but whatever I guess!
Giving Gamera a quick heel turn is also a great idea because it allows Daiei to use as much old Gamera footage as humanly possible–even the stuff where he’s villainously/anti-heroically rampaging through civilization:
Mind controlled Gamera keeps on truckin’ after fully dismantling the dam, leading to another infamously cornball micro-scene. The sliver of new monster footage in Super Monster includes goofy, gentle shade-throwing. Gamera’s big ol’ feet stomp past some kind of stand-up display…
I’ve compared plenty of cheeky in-movie snubs and dunks to the famously stupid Star Wars slam in Laserblast, but this might be its closest (albeit less violent and more playful) counterpart. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, there’s a late 70s sci-fi exploitation garbage cheapie called Laserblast that, apropos of nothing, takes a swipe at Star Wars via a hilariously small, obviously homemade wooden sign:
Keiichi and the Space Women (the “good name for a band” joke is as crusty and over-done as “that’s what she said,” but that is a kick-ass band name!) watch in horror (on a regular ass TV, not their radical space wall) as Gamera goes buck-nutty on humanity. The switch from cool space wall to janky old boob tube has a penny-pinching ulterior motive: it allows the filmmakers to sneak in black and white Gamera footage without it looking too out of place!
Gamera running roughshod over humanity is HORSESHIT and Keiichi and the Space Women (opening for Valient Thorr this Friday at the Blind Pig, be there!) know something’s up! Kilara boots up the space wall and scans our boy Gammy for the inside scoop:
The only way to knock that thing loose is to go full Space Woman, which of course will draw a hail of lethal laser strikes from Zanon’s ship:
Kilara’s almost as big of a Gamera super fan as Keiichi, so she instantly volunteers herself for this suicide mission and waves off Marsha and Mitan who vow to come with.
Kilara gets back safely and the whole gang cheers Gamera on as he slowly drifts off to battle the remaining monsters. We get a LOT of wonderfully strange dialogue in rapid succession here, like how Kilara just off-handedly and correctly guesses that Gamera’s going to fight on other planets (well just one other planet, but still, insanely good and close guess considering there were NO context clues hinting at that!) or when Keiichi abruptly states “I’m happy,” and after cheering on Gamera: “I hope he brings victory.” None of it’s as strange and hilarious as the earlier hamburgerlunch
But it’s in that same realm of communicating a perfectly reasonable and mundane idea in a way that’s just off enough to become noticeable and comical. It’s an extra layer of fun quirkiness that you don’t get with subtitles. But while the Space Women and Keiichi are all psyched up about Gamera going out to kick some space ass (spass), Giruge’s CREEPIN’!
They fight, Giruge even manages to laser herself in the leg by accident during the ruckus, and then finally she submits. Kilara gets a hold of the blaster and points it at Giruge for a moment, but ultimately tosses it away, rejoining her friends. The defeated Giruge watches helplessly as they walk off, hating them for their warmth and kinship (also Keiichi spends a SUSPICIOUS amount of time brushing the dust off Kilara’s butt with a SUSPICIOUS amount of enthusiasm…). Then Giruge does something I SUPER didn’t expect:
Keiichi and co. do the right thing and stop her.
Keiichi even tells Giruge to not give up, which is pretty buckwild considering that murdering them and taking over the Earth are among the things she’s giving up, but the movie doesn’t care about that right now! What it does care about right now is Gamera fighting Guiron a billion light years away!
GUIRON IS HERE-ON! I haven’t reviewed Gamera vs. Guiron yet, but it is quite possibly my most favorite Gamera flick. Its crazy plot, strange monster designs and wicked-ass gore left a big impression on me when I caught bits and pieces (heh, fitting) of it on cable back in like fifth or sixth grade.
I guess it’s right in line with leaving Jiger’s headstab out: Super Monster is more of a celebratory romp than a hilariously grisly kill-fest. And when I eventually review Gamera vs. Guiron I’ll give poor ol’ Space Gyaos his due:
Space Monster keeps things focused on Gamera and Guiron going mano y mano, and there’s a lot to love. They chase each other through the sky, Gamera blows fire right in Guiron’s face:
Gamera high-altitude teabags Guiron:
Then he goofs around on some conveniently huge uneven bars:
Guiron lights him up with a flurry of shurikens that he shoots out of his temples because holy shit Gamera vs. Guiron rules:
It’s just non-stop mayhem. These dudes run each other through the ringer and it is a delight, especially in this truncated, “greatest hits” format. They take the fight underwater (which feels a little same-y after Gammy’s Zigra fight), before blasting back ashore and ending the fight with a deliciously ludicrous (and pretty gory!) gag. I’ll break this down in detail because a lot happens in just a few moments and it’s pretty fucking amazing. For starters, it begins with a sea-to-ground jet-suplex that leaves Guiron jabbed into the planet’s crust like a pissed-off lawn dart:
Then a rocket is launched! I forget the original context of the rocket in vs. Guiron, and it’s not addressed here at all, so who cares! It launches and is split in half by Guiron’s very sharp face.
This perplexed me for the longest time, but watching this nice, clear transfer of the movie allowed me to finally fully process all the madness here. Thanks Shout Factory! THIS ISN’T THE END OF THE GAG OF COURSE
After this random but extremely entertaining detour to a completely different planet that is not being threatened by space invaders, Gamera blasts back off for Earth.
It’s a lot like Gamera’s earlier encounter with Space Battleship Yamato, with one very important and baffling difference. Gamera’s run-in with SBY was Keiichi’s dream sequence–there is no such convenient explanation for this trans-galactic locomotive (it’s the Galaxy Express 999 from a manga and anime series of the same name). This means that in the world of Gamera: Super Monster, there canonically is a cartoon choo-choo train flying around somewhere in or near our solar system. THAT IS INSANE
We get no time to unpack sharing outer space with Thomas the Dank Engine up there, because here’s something else crazy:
Obviously we’re not meant to think Keiichi and Giruge knocked boots, but waking up in the same bed is movie code for “just doinked” so it’s hard not to have that horrifying thought for a split second. Keiichi being konked out could also imply that the space train was a dream, but frankly we have more pressing matters to unpack. Thankfully Mom comes in before long and explains to Giruge that Keiichi and his friends brought her home. Why she didn’t sleep on the couch or something is way the fuck beyond me–I guess Mom doesn’t know that Giruge’s been creeping around Keiichi’s school, bribing him with hamburgerlunches and occasionally kidnapping him.
Mom says that Giruge the complete stranger is welcome to live with them while she gets “better.” It’s extremely kind but also pretty irresponsible and maybe an eensy bit insane. BUT WHATEVER BARUGON IS HERE!
After years of blurry, sludgy VHS rips, it’s still fun to revisit a decent transfer of the effects scenes from Gamera vs. Barugon. We get a greatest hits reel of Barugon’s rampage and his climactic battle with the Gamster. Barry goes apeshit tongue-punching buildings and (literally) icing tanks and fighter jets:
It’s a banger even before Barry Sanders fires up his radioactive rainbow:
Their fight isn’t quite as impressive as Barugon’s hissy fit, but it has a couple of rad gags.
This being a nighttime scene is both good and bad. The downside is that it’s a little murky and we can’t always make out fine details or actions–that’s also the upside though, because the lack of clarity can hide wires and imperfections in the suits and miniatures. The other main gag is Gamera dragging Barugon into the lake and drowning him.
So with all of Gamera’s old opponents six feet under once more, what the fuck is left for this movie to do? A BUNCH OF HEAVY SHIT ACTUALLY. Zanon calls Giruge and wants to know if she finally offed the Space Women–the ship is going to start directly attacking the Earth. She says they’re not dead, and gives Zanon some coordinates to nuke their glittery buttcheeks off.
Keiichi and the Space Women are by Giruge’s side as she slips from the mortal coil–her dying wish is to be reincarnated as an Earthling.
So Giruge paid for the Space Women’s freedom with her own life, but there’s still, you know, a huge warship bearing down on Earth. I mean Gamera’s still around, maybe he’ll fly up and battle it! That would rule!
It is an Iron Giant scenario. Gamera, like Giruge, sacrifices himself to save humanity.
Gamera dying is sad as balls, especially in a low rent cheapie like Super Monster. That said, a heroic sacrifice is very in line with Gamera’s whole character. Over the course of the films he’s exhibited a sort of grim selflessness: putting it all on the line for humanity, always taking on monsters that are bigger and tougher than him, and shedding plenty of his own blood in the process of saving the day. Iron Giant-ing an evil planet-busting warship makes perfect sense for Gamera’s death… but having it occur practically off-screen in a clip-show movie is not great.
Kilara and the Space Women space out one last time. Kilara tells Keiichi “You’re a space man now, okay?… Now I’ll show you the world,” and they take Keiichi for a magical flight over the nighttime cityscape. It’s a desperate attempt to distract Keiichi from the fact that Gamera, his favorite thing in the whole world, just horribly died in icy vacuum of deep space. For us in the audience, it’s a desperate attempt to squeeze some kind of happy ending into this oddly bleak resolution.
So that’s it, that’s Gamera: Super Monster! It took me a perfectly average/reasonable amount of time to review! 😉 It is by far the weirdest entry in the Gamera series, which is saying a lot because some of his movies are batshit crazy. It has a unique charm to it, I love it as a cultural artifact and as a slice of showbiz history, and of course I was drawn to its notoriety. It’s a cynical cash grab from a studio on life support, but it has at least a smidgeon of heart, Kilara fucking rules (I want to visit the parallel universe where Captain Marvel got made in the early 80s and stars Mach Fumiake), and it’s fun to see SOME sort of Gamera action in the 80s. If you’re a diehard Gam-fan like me it’s worth seeing at least once. If you’re also like me and have funny friends who like charmingly bizarre and/or trashy films, this will probably be a big hit at your next movie night.
This might come as an extreme shock, but Gamera: Super Monster didn’t save Daiei. In fact, Gamera didn’t stomp through theaters for another 15 years afterward (in 1995’s excellent Gamera: Guardian of the Universe). Super Monster is generally unloved by fans, though riffers/horror hosts like Elvira and Cinema Insomnia have gobbled it up–you can even buy DVDs of their joked-up versions. I was surprised to see Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or their off-shoot Rifftrax) never tackled Super Monster… now that MST3k is making new seasons for Netflix maybe they’ll get to it eventually?
Gamera might have died at the end of Super Monster and he might have stayed buried for a decade and a half afterward, but his following four movies prove that you can’t keep a good turtle down (or flipped over on his back?) forever. With Gamera’s current hibernation approaching the 15 year mark, I still have hope that Gamera the Friend To All Children, the Guardian of the Universe, The Brave, and yes, even the Super Monster will storm the silver screen once more. Keep believing with me, fellow Keiichis of the world!