Retro Review: ‘Gammera the Invincible’
When we think of the Japanese genre of kaiju we no doubt conjure up images of the usual legends from the Toho films; Mothra, Rhodan, and of course Godzilla. But in the 1960’s rival studio Daiei Film Co. decided to create their own monster to go on a rampage through the nation of Japan and the end result was Gamera. A giant turtle brought to us by radiation (radiation and Cold War science fiction films always leads to giant monsters) who could fly and breathe fire Gamera never reached the heights of Godzilla’s popularity but still built a cult following which continues to this day. In 1966 the film was imported to American cinemas where filmmakers put jarring ham-fisted scenes of American actors into the film in order to appeal to this new audience. The American cut of the film also added an extra M to Gamera’s name to create the new title, Gammera the Invincible. And so you readers are aware, this review does contain spoilers for a fifty year old public domain B-movie.
In this film; a group of Japanese scientists in the arctic witness American fighter planes shoot down a Soviet jet, causing the nuclear weapon in its arsenal to detonate. The radiation causes the legendary monster revered by the local Inuit tribe, to burst free from the ice and begin a path of destruction. As often happens in these circumstances, Gammera makes his way to Japan where he saves the life of a little boy but promptly destroys everything else in his way. This creates a monster, as audiences are now forced to watch this horrible child actor for the rest of the film, trying to save the turtle monster from the attempts to stop him. The military tries everything from traditional weapons to ice bombs to defeat the creature and these scenes are interspersed with random scenes of people arguing at the UN or Pentagon courtesy of the American edit of the film. Gammera’s reign of terror ends when he is tricked into a trap spaceship which launches the giant fire-breathing turtle away from our planet.
Many have compared Gammera to the more well-known Godzilla by saying he is the RC to Godzilla’s Coca-Cola. But I have always felt that is a bit unfair, though Godzilla: King of Monsters was a better made movie, Gammera the Invincible proves to be an incredibly entertaining picture. True it has plot holes you can drive a monster truck through and the acting is abysmal, but it was made in a way that the audiences can enjoy every second of it with a bag of popcorn and a good laugh. Perhaps the biggest flaw it has in comparison to its more popular competition is in their respective American cuts; in Godzilla filmmakers took great care to ensure the scenes with Raymond Burr fit in with the overall film in an attempt to make it as seamless as possible. In Gammera the Invincible fans are treated to jarring scenes out of nowhere featuring American actors (and an insultingly offensive Asian actor) who lend nothing to the overall movie.
This film spawned a series of sequels as to be expected, but none of them captured what made the original flick such a fun cult classic. Gammera the Invincible is by no means a perfect film, but it is well worth a watch especially for fans of the kaiju genre or Asian cinema in general.