Gamera is a giant, fire-spewing turtle monster -- and that never goes out of style

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Hero Complex contributor Susan King is big in Japan, and so is Gamera.

Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s, um ... a giant turtle that spins and spews fire as it flies through the air? That’s right, it’s “Gamera: The Giant Monster,” which destroys everything that stands in its path -- save for little children. Aww, hard shell -- soft heart!

On Tuesday, Shout! Factory releases a DVD of the original 1965 Japanese horror film produced by the Daiei Motion Picture Co. as a direct competitor to Toho Studio’s established monster, the mighty Godzilla.

The competition didn’t really go so well for the massive sabre-toothed, turtleshell terror.


While the Japanese version of “Godzilla” is actually a well-made, effective thriller, “Gamera” is pretty cheesy with all the seams showing -- including visible wires and rinky-dink miniatures. And poor Gamera -- the team that designed and created him must have learned their craft from a school that advertised on matchbooks.

“Gamera” was made at the height of the Cold War and just a year after such nuclear war flicks as “Dr. Strangelove” and “Fail Safe.” And in this film, Gamera is a prehistoric species awakened from his Arctic slumber during an atomic blast in the region during a dogfight between U.S. fighters and Soviet bombers that have flown into U.S. airspace.

Six sequels were made through 1971. In 1972, Daiei went into bankruptcy and the series ended.

Two years later, Tokuma Shoten bought the studio and re-introduced the monster in 1980’s “Gamera: Super Monsters.” The tortoise was killed off at the end. After a 15-year hibernation, “Gamera” was resurrected in a new series with “Gamera: Guardian of the Universe” in 1995. Then yet another installment, “Gamera The Brave,” was released four years ago.

Extras on the new DVD include a retrospective on Gamera, a publicity gallery and audio commentary.

Remember that this Shout! Factory version presents the original movie so it might not match up to your late-night TV memories; just as scenes starring Raymond Burr were added to the dubbed “Godzilla” when it arrived on our shores in 1956, the importers of “Gamera” added sequences with Albert Dekker and Brian Donlevy to the renamed “Gammera The Invincible” for U.S.moviegoers. Those scenes won’t be seen in this purer original.

-- Susan King


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