31 Days of Horror Cinema

Gamera, the Giant Monster (1965): 31 Days of Horror 2021

Nature of Shame:
Massive Amazing Stupendous Unwatched Gamera Arrow Box Set

Hooptober ’21 Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1960’s



[ahem]…it’s GODZILLA, except… wait for it… HE’S A TURTLE…

And he flies and spins and fire comes out of his mouth. Plus some other weird places on his body because nuclear bombs and planes and war are bad! REAL BAD.


My first viewing of an un-MST3K’d Gamera movie. Even during the riffs, Joel and the bots didn’t set out to undercut the movie’s relative quality. In my opinion, they’re not among the best Mystery Science Theater riffs because they’re more hangout-inspired rather than a celebration of the joys of bad cinema. The same observations could be made about any non-Godzilla (1954) kaiju film that strains its budget to an obvious breaking point. More on this later.

Gamera, rising from the Arctic

While watching these low-budget kaiju offerings, it’s easy to slip into a childlike frame-of-mind. The obvious model-work (and destruction) and person-in-a-rubber-suit costume party doesn’t lend itself to mockery so much as isn’t it cool they made a movie like this? You can see clearly how the film comes together absent the moviemaking magic allowed by money to make those models and costumes less obvious.

It probably benefitted the MST3K riff that the version used was the 1985 Sandy Frank-commissioned release featuring an atrocious English dub and new soundtrack.

I love watching these movies with my youngest daughter (now 9yo), who thinks all of the kaiju are just adorable and has started to identify some of the filmmaking and special effects techniques. Enjoying low-budget monster knockoffs like Gamera isn’t about ignoring the shortcomings; it’s more about embracing the artifice as its presented. We watched through a handful of offerings on the Criterion Godzilla set last year, so she’s primed for everything Gamera has to offer.


In 1964 Dalei Film studio head Masaichi Nagata wanted to piggyback the success of both Toho’s Godzilla (obviously) and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (not as obvious?) by creating a “Nezura the Giant Horde Beast” franchise and replace birds with mammoth-sized man-eating rats created by a revolutionary high-calorie food source that causes mutations. The real Japanese health department shut down production because the flea-infested wild brown rats used for the film escaped the set and had the potential to spread disease. The climax? Neutralization through rat cannibalism.

Nagata conceived Gamera as his Nezura replacement. Due to an extra-tight budget and schedule, the production used outdated equipment and faulty props and faced the wrath of other Japanese film producers for its unrepentant clone of Godzilla right down to its nuclear anxieties. This time, however, an American jet shoots down an unknown, unidentified aircraft in Arctic waters. The blast awakens a dormant prehistoric tusked turtle that an Eskimo chief identifies as Gamera. “Action” shifts back to Japan where the story localizes on a kid whose turtle obsession is threatening to derail his studies.

Anytime a monster film focuses on the kid, I have concerns. Toshio (played by Yoshiro Uchida). Perhaps because he’s mugging in Japanese I’m less bothered by this tendency to put himself in irresponsible situations. Goshdarnit he’s gonna stand between that turtle and the collective forces of the U.S. and Japanese military to ensure its safety. A few moments of sisterly hand-wringing aside, everyone seems okay with this crusade even as little Toshio stows away to the frontlines of Gamera battle.


Gamera lands on that elusive intersection of corny and cool. Outdated effects, hokey dialogue, and blatant Godzilla lifts don’t betray the film’s independent spirit. A fire-spitting turtle that hurtles through space and destroys Japan? What’s not to enjoy about that? It’s not great or original or Godzilla — it’s just Gamera.

Gamera, the Giant Monster is available on a now OOP Arrow Films Blu-ray box-set featuring 12 Gamera films. Arrow subsequently broke up the massive box into two smaller sets: Gamera: The Showa Era Collection and Gamera: The Heisei Era Collection. 

2021 @CinemaShame / #Hooptober Progress

#1. Gamera, the Giant Monster

James David Patrick currently writes for DVD Netflix. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add whatever this is to that list. Follow his blog at and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.


April Shame: So Godzilla (1954) isn’t really a monster movie


April Shame: So Godzilla (1954) isn’t really a monster movie

by James David Patrick (originally posted at


The confluence of me and Godzilla is an odd twisty tale of no matter. That said, let’s dive in and read about all of that inconsequence.

It all began back in the late 1980’s with a little arcade game called Rampage where you controlled one of three monsters as they razed buildings, ate people and destroyed all military vehicles that attempted to stop them from razing buildings or eating people. Ported over to the Nintendo Entertainment System (and pretty much every available video game system of the next decade), the monster masher became a staple in my gaming rotation. And you’re probably thinking, “But hey the lizard monster in Rampage isn’t even Godzilla – its name was Lizzie!” Or not. But either way you’d be on point. On point because you were right about the name or on point because you didn’t care either way.


Rampage - Arcade
Rampage – Arcade

Shortly after Rampage came an actual, legit Godzilla licensed NES game called Godzilla: Monster of Monsters, a side-scrolling action game featuring both Godzilla and Mothra as playable characters against the legions of classic Toho and Godzilla monsters like Gigan, Mechagodzilla, Ghidorah, etc. And it was actually pretty excellent and by excellent I mean don’t challenge my nostalgia, bro. By this point in adolescence, I was aware of the Godzilla movie franchise and knew that these were characters from the old Japanese films. When I decided it was time to watch some of these movies, I couldn’t settle merely one monster. Why would I want to watch a movie about just Godzilla when I could have Godzilla and Hedorah, the smog monster? Or Godzilla and Gezora, a massive cuttlefish?!? Clearly two monsters was better than one! Obviously! Without a doubt! And thus I watched whatever Godzilla vs. movies I could find.

Godzilla: Monsters of Monsters

I had just never watched the original Godzilla… until now…

As I started to say in the title of this ramble before the actual words got in the way, Godzilla isn’t really a monster movie at all. Okay, sure, there’s a giant rampaging radioactive lizard, but if you want a monster movie by today’s standards you’re best queuing up Alien or Q: The Winged Serpent. People are terrorized, directly, by a real goddamn monster. Godzilla, like Stay Puft, is just a sailor, in town for the weekend and all he needs is to get laid. But that’s an alternate theory to be tackled in a longer-format essay.

While watching Godzilla the specter of World War II is inescapable. Godzilla is a war film, only not as we’ve seen before – a movie about the nuclear fallout. The ever-present fear that war can no longer be confined between a first volley and a few signatures on a peace treaty. What the United States had unleashed on Japan on August 6th, 1945 wasn’t a confined act of war, but an uncontrollable monster. (Another related theory: bombs = dragon sperm, Japan = the fertile womb. I’m still working it out.) Curiously enough, I sensed no acute blame on the United States (despite the film being re-edited with Raymond Burr for stateside consumption). The atomic age, the film seems to suggest, wasn’t the fault of one man or one nation, but a sin committed by all humankind.


To punctuate the fear and persistent paranoia, director Ishiro Honda and DP Masao Tamai create a noir-like cinematic playground. Black & white stock. Contrast jacked off the charts, the blacks several shades darker than a standard contemporary palettes. This, of course, serves aesthetic and the emotional response to pending attacks, but it also allows the film’s model work and monster effects to remain in shadow as most of Godzilla’s attacks take place at night.

The result of all this is a film about a national existential and personal crisis. It’s man vs. nature, man vs. man, and man vs. the gods. It makes perfect sense, therefore, that no single individual becomes a focus of the film. The collective remains the focus, Godzilla the lead actor with a few humans standing out as representatives of science, love, religion and war. Scientists want to save or preserve the creature to study the effects of the radiation. Religious groups worship Godzilla as a deity sent to destroy man for those aforementioned sins. The government wants the creature destroyed at any cost.

All of these conflicts bubble just above the surface of the film with skilled subtlety, but that nuance doesn’t matter one bit when the viewer first catches sight of that now legendary monster. While the latter Toho Godzilla movies emphasize spectacle and superficial entertainment, the original 1954 Godzilla, despite being about a 50-meter tall lizard, emphasizes humanity through the interplay of fear, faith and foolish bravado.

In my opinion, the religious zealots got something right. Godzilla is definitely worthy of your worship.