By 1967, Daiei Pictures scored two consecutive box office successes with the release of GAMERA, THE GIANT MONSTER in 1965 and GAMERA VS. BARUGON in 1966. By the time they released the third Gamera epic (GAMERA VS. GYAOS), it was decided that the titanic terrapin would undergo a major transition from villain to protector of children in an effort to compete with the almost complete humanization of Godzilla over at the rival Toho Company Ltd. in recent films like GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966) and SON OF GODZILLA (1967). To that end, the emphasis would be firmly placed on children at the center of the stories as Gamera’s opponents became more and more outlandish for the remainder of the series. Now as part of their series of Gamera DVDs, the good people at Shout! Factory have released two Gamera double bills featuring four of the monster’s best known adventures.
In GAMERA VS. GYAOS (1967), mysterious volcanic eruptions unleash a huge vampire-like bat monster with a taste for human blood. This particularly vicious creature terrorizes the hapless citizens of Nagoya and Fuji during its nocturnal raids with the help of some really good special effects photography by Kazufumi Fujii and Yuzo Kaneko. In particular, the scene of Gyaos’ raid on Nagoya stands out with some very convincing process work which incorporates the humans and the monster in the same shots 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.
Perhaps owing to its frequent broadcasts on American television during the late 1960s and early to mid 1970s under its AIP-TV (American International Television) title of RETURN OF THE GIANT MONSTERS, GAMERA VS. GYAOS is arguably one of the most popular of Gamera films. There are some very eerily photographed scenes such as the discovery of Gyaos’ lair with its pulsating green light as well as scenes of Gyaos munching on a variety of unfortunate Japanese citizens. In addition, Gyaos proves to be a formidable foe with such weapons as laser beam breath which slices everything it touches (including poor Gamera’s wrist) as well as a strange yellow mist from its chest which extinguishes fire.The human cast of GAMERA VS. GYAOS is headlined once again by actor Kojiro Hongo (as road construction worker “Mr. Tsuchumi”) who also appeared in GAMERA VS. BARUGON. Mr. Hongo has often said that he tried every which way to get out of being in GAMERA VS. BARUGON even to the point of claiming he was too ill. However, making peace with the monster genre, Mr. Hongo went on to appear not only in GAMERA VS. GYAOS, but also in GAMERA VS. VIRAS in 1968 as well as in 1966’s DAIMAJIN IKIRU (U.S. title: THE RETURN OF GIANT MAJIN released by AIP-TV in 1970).
In addition to AIP-TV’s dubbed version, there was also an international dubbed version of GAMERA VS. GYAOS prepared by Daiei for export to English speaking countries. This version features vocal performers whose voices were heard in such films as Toho’s ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE and DAGORA, THE SPACE MONSTER (both released directly to American television by AIP-TV in 1965) as well as Toho’s international version of ATRAGON and also several “chop-socky” Hong Kong films of the 1970s. This is the dubbed version Sandy Frank Film Syndication used in the 1980s on television and VHS.
Shout! Factory’s presentation of GAMERA VS. GYAOS is a gorgeous High Definition video transfer in every way. Colors are rich and detailed and the 2.35:1 aspect ratio (with anamorphic enhancement) reveals so much more detail which was lost in those horrible pan and scan transfers. As far as the audio presentation is concerned, the Japanese language track fares best as it is very well done with a rich and full sound. The subtitles are also well translated and easy to read, although there was some skimping on the opening and closing film credits. In the previous entries, each and every name and credit was translated. On this film, only a few of the main players are indentified in an English translation. What will delight genre fans who may have passed on Shout’s releases of GAMERA, THE GIANT MONSTER and GAMERA VS. BARUGON (because neither one featured an English-language audio track) is the welcome addition of not just one, but TWO English dubbed versions. The fondly remembered AIP-TV English track as well as the Daiei commissioned dubbed version are both featured as audio choices. The AIP-TV audio fares the better of the two (thankfully) as it has a better quality of sound (although a bit tinny when compared to the superior Japanese language track) and is much more in synch. The international dub sometimes slips out of synch and although it's not that bad (it only happens in a couple of scenes and these are brief), some of the harder-to-please perfectionists may find it distracting. The special features selection is also less as compared to the previous entries as only a publicity gallery is included.
As a co-feature on this DVD is Gamera’s next adventure…1968’s GAMERA VS. VIRAS. Here, the threat comes from beyond the stars as a huge spaceship (which looks like white ping-pong balls painted with black stripes) enters into Earth’s atmosphere with the intent of taking over the planet. However before the Virians can launch their attack, Gamera races to the rescue and destroys the spaceship.
Before long, a second spacecraft arrives and the aliens hypnotize Gamera into doing their bidding. The aliens order the giant turtle to attack Tokyo (courtesy of black and white stock footage from GAMERA, THE GIANT MONSTER) as well as the Kurobe Dam (courtesy of stock footage from the opening few minutes of GAMERA VS. BARUGON). In a further effort to keep Gamera under their control, the aliens also hold two young boys, Masao (Toru Takasuka) and Jim Morgan (Carl Craig, Jr.), hostage on their spacecraft. Eventually, the boys escape and release Gamera from the aliens’ control. This all leads to a battle to the death between Gamera and Viras, a huge squid-like monster.
As was happening at Toho Company Ltd. in their Godzilla series, cost-cutting was the order of the day in Daiei’s GAMERA VS. VIRAS as stock footage from the previous three films was used extensively. In addition to the aforementioned use of stock footage for Gamera’s attack, heavy use of stock footage was also used in recapping Gamera’s battles with Barugon and Gyaos. Unfortunately, this lends the film a much cheaper and rushed look than the much more polished looking GAMERA VS. BARUGON and GAMERA VS. GYAOS.
GAMERA VS. VIRAS enjoyed a very popular run on American television throughout the 1970s and early 1980s under AIP-TV’s title, DESTROY ALL PLANETS. Obviously, AIP used this title as a reminder of their successful theatrical release of Toho’s DESTROY ALL MONSTERS in 1969. The American version was dubbed at New York’s Titan Productions (formerly Titra Sound Studios) and featured many familiar voices such as Corrine Orr (the voice of “Trixie” in SPEED RACER), Bret Morrison (who also directed this English version), and Larry Robinson (who also voiced the egg-loving reporter played by Yu Fujiki in 1964’s GODZILLA VS. THE THING). DESTROY ALL MONSTERS was also dubbed at Titan Productions at the same time the Gamera films were being dubbed.
An interesting side note with regard to the Japanese language credits concerns Toru Takasuka and Carl Craig, Jr. who play the young heroes, Masao and Jim. Although they appear in almost every scene and pretty much carry the film’s human drama, they are ninth and tenth billed respectively in the opening credits. Top-billed Kojiro Hongo (making his third appearance in a Gamera film) plays “Mr. Shimoda” and has almost nothing to do (especially when compared to his excellent role as “Keisuke Hirata” in the more serious-in-tone GAMERA VS. BARUGON). In addition, Koji Fujiyama who did such a magnificent acting job as the villainous “Onodera” in GAMERA VS. BARUGON appears in GAMERA VS. VIRAS in a thankless and all-too-brief role as a general.
Shout! Factory’s DVD of GAMERA VS. VIRAS is on par with the previous three films as far as video presentation is concerned. The 2.35:1 aspect ratio (with anamorphic enhancement) blows all other PD releases of this film from other companies right out of the water. Colors are vibrant and the picture detail is sharp. Like so many 2.35:1 films which are released to television in pan and scan 1.33:1, so much picture information is lost or compromised that seeing them in a DVD like this is a revelation and almost like seeing these films for the very first time. As far as the audio is concerned, the Japanese language track is uniformly excellent with a rich and deep sound. The AIP-TV English language audio track is a bit distorted at times as some of the dialogue drops out a bit (only for a few seconds, but it is noticeable). Also, there is a bit of a hissing sound in the background on the English track. However, it does not seriously distract from the overall presentation. These are actually small potatoes about which to complain since this is probably the only time genre fans will have the classic AIP-TV audios synched up to the gorgeous widescreen videos of the Gamera films. As with GAMERA VS. GYAOS, the only special feature is in the form of a publicity gallery.
All in all, genre fans should be extremely happy with Shout! Factory’s latest releases. With very slim pickings coming in the last two years from MGM and their seemingly extinct Midnite Movies line, it is nice to see other companies releasing products from the golden-age of AIP and AIP-TV. (Joe Cascio)
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