(1965) dir. Ishirô Honda
Originally intended to be one of my “with the kids” series, I just ended up watching this one on my own, simply because I felt like watching it. Directed by Ishirô Honda, director of the original Gojira (1954) and several of its other Godzilla sequels, Frankenstein Conquers the World was a personal favorite as a kid, as was its consequent sequel (which doesn’t seem to currently be available on DVD), The War of the Gargantuas (1966). It had been so long that I would have had a hard time specifically saying exactly why this was one of my favorites. It hadn’t been its obscurity. My guess now is that it had something to do with the fact that the “Frankenstein” of this movie is essentially an over-sized kid and a sympathetic character, despite his inability to articulate himself.
From my reading, it seems that this film evolved from some versions of ideas of both King Kong and Frankenstein and eventually wound up with this very odd, East meets West scenario, set amidst the end of WWII. As the Germans are losing the War, the secret out a box containing the beating heart of “Frankenstein” (Frankenstein’s monster), an undying body part, swapping it over with Japan and sending it to Hiroshima. The heart winds up in Hiroshima just in time for the atomic bomb explosion, where it is lost to history.
Jumping 15 years into the future (or so), an orphaned child is seen running about the streets of Hiroshima (one of many left so by the bombing we are told). Doctors who are treating people dying of radiation poisoning wind up discovering the boy, who is called “caucasian” though hard to tell why. He’s less some re-constructed man from body parts and much more a caveperson or something, with a jutting forehead and even more jutting teeth. He grows and grows into a giant and after some harrassment by the media, he escapes into the countryside.
Enter Baragon (a kind of cool-looking monster with a glowing tusk on his nose), another underground dinosaur awakened by radioactivity or something, who starts wreaking havoc on Japan’s countryside. Frankenstein gets blamed for the villainy, though in reality, he’s just a protein-craving teenager who is 40 feet tall and growing, and really, the misunderstood good guy, whose chief proponent is the female doctor with whom he bonded early on. It all turns into a fight scene, set against the outdoors, not an urban locale, which Frankenstein wins eventually.
The truly odd moment comes at the end, when out of nowhere, a giant octopus shows up on land and drags Frankenstein to a mysterious “death” (is he or isn’t he? only a sequel will tell) by drowning in a nearby lake.
Frankly, it’s not the stuff of cinematic legend. But for some reason, and maybe it’s just deeply embedded in me, in my positive feelings about it from childhood or the resonances therein, I still kind of liked it. It’s got lots of more than usually far-out logic and pseduo-science and narrative, but what the heck? I remember sitting in the cinema over the summer days with this film being shown as part of the kid summer series and really being pretty satisfied. I hope I get a chance to see The War of the Gargantuas sometime soon.