Anyone who is an avid reader of DVD Drive-In may remember a review of Retromedia's double feature of GAMERA VS.MONSTER X. and MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET in which this reviewer hoped that we would soon see a double feature of RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS and WARNING FROM SPACE. Well half of that wish came true as the good people at Retromedia have released an action packed double feature DVD of 1967's RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS paired with a rarely seen Toei Company Ltd. oddity from 1966 called THE MAGIC SERPENT. As usual with Retromedia, this DVD is crammed packed with nearly three hours of Japanese giant monster mayhem with good picture and sound quality for a reasonable price ($14.95).
RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS is the third in Daiei Company's long running series of Gamera films. After batting the horrible Barugon in 1966 (WAR OF THE MONSTERS), our friendly turtle returns to take on an even more fiendish menace Gyaos. This particularly vicious creature is a vampire-like bat/lizard beast which feeds on the blood of the hapless citizens of Nagoya and Fuji during its nocturnal raids with the help of some good special effects photography by Kazufumi Fujii and Yuzo Kaneko. In particular, Gyaos' raid on Nagoya stands out with some very convincing process work which incorporates the humans and the monster in the same scenes very well. Eventually, Gamera (by now chief defender of Japan) puts a stop to the ravenous Gyaos with a little help from a convenient active volcano.
THE MAGIC SERPENT is a strange (and very rarely seen) little fantasy/adventure with some plot elements later seen in STAR WARS (1977). The setting is ancient Japan (also similar to Daiei's MAJIN--MONSTER OF TERROR also released in 1966) and the former student (Ryutaro Otomo) of a kindly old wizard turns to the dark side and returns to take over his peaceful village. At the same time, a young woman (Tomoko Ogawa) is terrorized by this former student who is later revealed to be her father. All this leads to an imaginative and colorful climatic battle between the old wizard's good new student (Hiroki Matsukata) and the evil student in the guises of a giant frog and giant dragon, respectively. In addition, such other creatures like a giant eagle and a giant spider turn up as well. The sound track of the American version uses the familiar roars of Godzilla and Gaira (the Green Gargantua from WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS) for the dragon, the roar of Rodan for the giant frog, and Mothra's gentle chirp for the giant eagle. The costume for the giant dragon looks like a cross between the monster from the Danish/American film, REPTILICUS (1962) and Manda (from Toho's ATRAGON and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS).
Both of these films bypassed an American theatrical release and were instead issued directly to television via American International Television (AIP-TV) in 1968. RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS features the same dubbing performers heard in WAR OF THE MONSTERS, MAJIN-MONSTER OF TERROR, THE X FROM OUTER SPACE, and YONGARY--MONSTER FROM THE DEEP (all released in the United States by AIP-TV) and their performances are generally good. THE MAGIC SERPENT features the familiar voices of TITAN SOUND STUDIOS (formerly TITRA SOUND) which can also be heard in various AIP-TV releases like DESTROY ALL PLANETS, ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS, GAMERA VS.MONSTER X., and RETURN OF THE GIANT MAJIN as well as theatrical releases of such AIP films as the famous Italian "sword and sandal" films and such Japanese monster films as GODZILLA VS.THE THING, ATRAGON, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, and GODZILLA VS.THE SMOG MONSTER.
Retromedia' s DVD of these films is of their usual good quality. Please remember that you will NOT see these films in such condition as companies like MGM, Warner Bros. or Universal have been doing with their recent releases of horror and science fiction films. Retromedia's films are full frame (pan and scan) transfers of older 16mm AIP-TV prints. Having said this, Retromedia also happens to be the BEST of the companies who are doing this kind of transfer. Having seen numerous companies spring up over the last year or so and producing some of the worst looking and sounding DVD transfers ever known, it has always been of this reviewer's opinion that the people at Retromedia always use the best available 16mm prints of these various films and always work to make them look as good as possible. RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS is the better transfer of the two films as the colors are vibrant and the picture/sound (in Dolby Digital) quality very clear and remarkably free of major scratches and cuts. The film comes in at 83 minutes which makes it a complete American version. The Japanese version comes in at 85 minutes because they added a two minute song at the end which AIP-TV cut for its original 1968 television release. The quality of THE MAGIC SERPENT is good, but a little less than the Gamera film. The sound (also in Dolby Digital) is fine, but the 16mm master print from which this was taken has colors which are faded a bit more than the other film. However, this is in no way distracting to viewing enjoyment. This film is also the uncut American print clocking in at around 85 minutes. There is no bonus material however, it is important to alert readers that there is a layer change about twelve minutes into THE MAGIC SERPENT which will result in a split second freezing before going onto the next chapter. This pause is normal during a layer change. It occurs on several Retromedia DVDs including just after the MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET title; during Gamera's attack on the spaceship at the beginning of DESTROY ALL PLANETS; and near the very end of THE GHOST.
in all, Retromedia has done a good job in bringing back the long since vanished
past of AIP-TV with these recent DVD double features. It is the hope of many genre
fans that they continue this trend for the rest of 2004 and well into 2005. And
since this reviewer got half his wish the last time
maybe we can see an upcoming
Retromedia double feature of WARNING FROM SPACE and WAR OF THE MONSTERS taken
from some good quality 16mm prints? (Joe Cascio)
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