Thursday, April 10, 2014

Monster Island Musings from The Oak Drive-In: Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965) review

       It seems only fitting that one of the crazier & demented Japanese Monster movies ever would have one of the more likewise developmental histories attached to it. Original KING KONG creator Willis O’Brien in the early 1960’s had attempted to revive his creature in a third Kong movie entitled KING KONG VS. PROMETHUS in which a huge patchwork creature made from animal parts battled the giant ape. O’Brien however was unable to secure any backing for the project and sold the story to independent producer John Beck who then sold it to Toho where it mutated into 1962’s KING KONG VS. GODZILLA. Toho however was interested in the idea of a giant Frankenstein like monster as they were looking at expanding their various monsters world (as in the Kong feature) and attempted several story concepts featuring the classic (albeit giant) monster, the first of which was a sequel to 1960’s THE HUMAN VAPOR and later attempted team-ups with Mothra and even a Godzilla vs. Frankenstein. The Godzilla concept was considered too outlandish and the project was shelved (which makes you wonder just what it was as the FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD concept was obviously considered not too outlandish).

      In 1965 American producer Harry Saperstein approached Toho studies with the idea of a joint production to co-star an established American actor in order to make the marketing of the movie in the United States easier. A Frankenstein script had finally been approved by the Toho executives and this was the project selected by Toho and Saperstein upon which to proceed, with Ishiro Honda directing. Alternately titled FRANKENSTEIN VS. THE GIANT DEVIL FISH (in reference to a giant octopus that in itself would have a complicated production history within the movie) and FRANKENSTEIN VS. THE SUBTERRANEAN MONSTER BARAGON. BARAGON was eventually settled on for the Japanese release while in the U.S. It was titled FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD where it was ultimately distributed by A.I.P.

    Saperstein hired actor Nick Adams represent the American half of the project. Famous for appearing in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and the T.V. series THE REBEL, Adams never quite broke into major star status. A tireless self-promoter he used his friendships with James Dean and Elvis Presley to try and further his career and in 1963 he had been nominated for an Academy Award for his role in TWILIGHT OF HONOR. Shamelessly hyping himself for the award Adams lost and by 1965 his career was on the down slide. FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD would be the first of three movies Adams would make in Japan followed by INVASION OF THE ASTRO-MONSTER (MONSTER ZERO) and the largely unseen outside of Japan THE KILLING BOTTLE. He would also appear in DIE MONSTER DIE for A.I.P. in 1965.

     Co- starring with Adams in FRANKENSTEIN as his fellow scientists is Tado Takasfima (KING KONG VS. GODZILLA and ATRAGON) and the very pretty Kumi Mizuno (MANTANGO and THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS). One of the most beautiful women to appear in Japanese fantastic cinema Mizuno would also co-star with Adams in 1966’s INVASION OF THE ASTRO-MONSTER and the two of them would have a brief affair which would lead to Adams separation from his wife. Adams would die from a prescription overdose in 1968. By all accounts he was well liked by his Japanese co-stars and crew as he acted professionally taking his role seriously and later would speak highly of his time in Japan.
    Opening with a prologue during the final days of WWII Nazi Germany in which a German Naval Officer shows up at the laboratory of  a Nazi scientist and with a battle raging outside confiscates a large trunk filled with mad scientist looking apparatus which contains the still beating heart of the Frankenstein monster. Transferring the trunk to a submarine, it’s then sent for safe keeping to Japan where unfortunately it ends up at a military hospital in the city of Hiroshima – and where it’s caught in the subsequent atomic bomb explosion.
    Flash forward 15 years where American Dr. James Bowen (Adams), along with his Japanese colleagues Dr.’s Kawaji (Takastima) and Togami (Mizuno) are studying the effects and hopeful cure of radiation poisoning among the victims of the bombing when reports of a feral boy killing small animals to eat begin to appear. After capturing him the doctors realize he’s ingested a large dose of radiation (and lived) and is growing at a tremendous rate. In addition he begins to take on facial characteristics of a well known monster and obviously doesn’t like rock & roll as he goes all Keith Moon on a television set blasting out a Japanese version of American Bandstand by flinging it out a window.

    With only the pretty Dr. Togami (naturally) able to control the wild (and rapidly growing) little Frankenstein , its discovered that he’s tied together with reports of a small boy who was seen playing among the ruins of the hospital in the days following the bomb blast. Although it’s hinted at that perhaps a boy ate the heart, it’s never really made clear weather this was the case or the heart mutated and grew into the boy/ monster. The ever growing Frankenstein kid is soon confined to a large cage and thanks to some pesky reporters and their bright lights he becomes enraged and breaks free – but not before leaving his severed hand behind which continues to grow and in addition he grows a new appendage in its place (rather rapidly it would seem).
    After a heartfelt stop at Dr. Togami’s apt. to gaze in at her thru the window the by now gigantic mutated Frankenstein monster begins rampaging thru the countryside while at the same time an underground burrowing lizard monster referred to as Baragon begins tearing up the local farms (and dance parties – seems he doesn’t care much for Rock n’ Roll too). This destruction is initially blamed on “Frankenstein” which leads to the final spectacular mega stompfest (complete with forest fire & earthquake) between the two creatures.

    The special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya are excellent with the somewhat unusual wooded setting having some beautifully constructed scale trees and forests, along with a magnificent 12’ scale model of a ferry (which is only used in one shot). The only real letdown is Baragon who with his large rolling eyes and giant flapping wing-like ears looks like a reject from ULTRAMAN and as he is a four legged beast he unfortunately sharers the same fate as Toho’s other four legged critters, it looks like exactly what it is – a man crawling around on his hands and knees.
    Producer Harry Saperstein had asked to Toho to include a finale consisting of Frankenstein fighting a “WTF did this come from (!?)” giant octopus as he was impressed by the octopus scene in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA. Toho duly filmed the sequence but it was cut by the distributor A.I.P, who preferred the original ending and the octopus did make an appearance in 1966’s pseudo sequel THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. This must have caused great confusion to Famous Monsters readers (myself included) as a still from the octopus sequence was featured prominently in the magazine, but was nowhere to be seen in the movie. GARGANTUAS featured two larger "more monster-like" (and hairy) beasts, along with a returning Kumi Miznuo and a surly and disinterested Russ Tamblyn as the token American scientist.


 Alvin Brickrock (alias Dick Vincent) is the author of The Oak Drive-In, a blog with an emphasis on 'Horror, Grindhouse, cult & film noir with sidetracks into print and music'. Head on over to the Drive-In  HERE.
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