After the success of GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE in 1965, Daiei Films took advantage of the Japanese monster craze of the 1960s, and launched their own series of films featuring the giant turtle in an effort to give Toho's Godzilla a run for his box office money. The first result was WAR OF THE MONSTERS (1966), a direct sequel to GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE. This time Gamera would return in living color.
The first film ended with Gamera alive and well and on his way to Mars in a "Z Plan" rocket. The second film opens with a brief recap (in black and white) of the previous film and then begins with a stray meteorite crashing into the rocket thus liberating Gamera from his prison. Gamera's first action upon his return to Earth is to attack Koroba Dam in northern Japan. After this spectacular opening, the film shifts into its main plot about a group of men planning to steal an opal from a cave on a primitive island in New Guinea. It turns out that this opal is not an opal at all, but a small egg that contains the monster, Barugon (no relation to Toho's Baragon from FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD). When the egg is accidentally subjected to the rays from an infra-red ray machine, it grows to gigantic proportions and proceeds to lay waste Osaka (Tokyo was still recovering from Gamera's attack in the previous film).
Eventually, Barugon and Gamera meet (as the title suggests) and the first battle is not good for our friendly turtle. Barugon has the ability to freeze objects on contact with its lashing tongue and Gamera is turned into a giant ice cube. Eventually, the monster thaws and in his second and final battle with Barugon, Gamera gets the upper hand and drags Barugon into Lake Biwa where it drowns.
The production values and special effects photography of this second film are much better than the first suggesting the producers had a much larger budget with which to work. The Japanese version runs 101-minutes and that makes this the longest running Gamera film of that period. WAR OF THE MONSTERS also marks the series debut of actor Kojiro Hongo. He would also appear (playing different characters) in RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS (1967) and again in DESTROY ALL PLANETS (1968). Actor Koji Fujiyama is suitably evil and does a good job as the greedy Onodera who brings the egg back to Japan thus causing the disaster that soon follows. Fujiyama also appeared in several other Gamera films including GAMMERA THE IN VINCIBLE (1965), DESTROY ALL PLANETS (1968) and GAMERA VS. ZIGRA (1971).
On the American end, WAR OF THE MONSTERS marks the first time American International Television (AlP-TV) released a Gamera film in the United States. These are the versions people of this reviewer's age group fondly remember as getting them hooked on Japanese monster movies. Other Gamera films AlP-TV released in the United States include RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS (1967), DESTROY ALL PLANETS (1968--which is also going to be released on DVD from Alpha Video in July 2003), ATTACK OF THE MONSTERS (1969), and GAMERA VS. MONSTER X (1970). In the 1980s, Sandy Frank Film Syndication re-released many of these films in horribly re-dubbed versions, but I am happy to report that Alpha's DVD of WAR OF THE MONSTERS is the AlP-TV version we all know and love.
Alpha's DVD is taken from a 16mm print. The colors are a bit faded and the picture slightly blurry, but this is most likely the result of blowing up the original scope film to full screen. These things aside however, this reviewer was pleasantly surprised to see just how decent the print actually is. Some of Alpha's other titles were taken from some VERY beaten up old 16mm prints, but WAR OF THE MONSTERS fares very well when you also take into consideration that it retails for only $7.95 or less. In addition, the film is a complete 88-minute American version (for example, Alpha Video's ATOM AGE VAMPIRE was not only taken from a terrible 16mm print, it was also cut by about 12-minutes). The mono audio is very clear and the disc features such extras as a gallery of photos (mostly from European and Japanese promos of the film) and a catalog of other ALPHA VIDEO titles.
All in all, this DVD is quite good for its low price and any serious Gamera fan will want to have it in his/her DVD collection. (Joe Cascio)
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