Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, now up in the current edition of the HORROR WRITER’S ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER, on the goofy Godzilla flick TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975).
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
I don’t know which is more ridiculous: that I actually watched TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975), or that there’s actually a Godzilla movie from the 1970s called TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA.
The last thing the Toho super lizard from the 1960s and 1970s instills is terror. He’s about as frightening as Barney the Dinosaur.
The plot of TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA is Toho silliness at its best. Aliens have taken over the Earth— of course they have— and they’ve rebuilt Mechagodzilla, the 400 foot robotic replica of Godzilla destroyed in the previous movie in the series, GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1974), to help them do it. Not only that, but they’ve also employed the services of a scientist who wants vengeance against humankind because of the poor way they treated him— poor baby! Welcome to the real world, doc!
Anyway, this scientist happens to control a powerful dinosaur, Titanosaurus (And the number one reason you can tell your neighbor is a mad scientist: he owns a dinosaur as a pet.), and he lends out Titanosaurus to the aliens, so now they have two weapons to use on humankind.
As you would expect, the military and its weapons are powerless to stop the aliens, Mechagodzilla, and Titanosaurus. What are the people of Earth to do? Why, turn to Godzilla of course!
And right on cue, Godzilla shows up to save the world. After a dramatic entrance worthy of Hamlet, Godzilla dukes it out against Mechagodzilla and Titanosaurus. No need to tell you who wins. Did I mention yet that this movie is silly?
TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA is so silly— how silly is it? It’s so silly that the aliens look like they graduated from the PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959) academy for space aliens. It’s so silly that when Titanosaurus roars, he sounds like a cross between a car low on transmission fluid and Mickey Mouse on helium.
But for Godzilla purists, there are some things to really like about this one. For one thing, the monster battle scenes, which after all, are the main reason we watch Godzilla movies, are excellent. And there are a lot of them. Sure, things begin slowly in this department, and Godzilla doesn’t make his grand entrance until the second act of the film, but once he does, and the bouts between the mammoth beasts begins, the film kicks it up a notch.
TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA is also significant because it’s the last of the “old” style Godzilla movies. The next film in the series is GODZILLA 1985 (1985) the failed attempt to reboot the series. That wouldn’t happen until the next film in the series, GODZILLA VS. BIOLLANTE (1989) which is a better movie than 1985. Of course, the best Godzilla movies in terms of seriousness and production values— other than the original film, GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! (1956)— were to come later in the 1990s and continue all the way up into the 2000s.
I often forget that TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA is the last of the old style Godzilla movies because GODZILLA VS. MEGALLON (1973), a dreadful film and my personal pick for the worst movie in the Godzilla franchise, wasn’t released in the U.S. until 1977, two years after TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA. I remember this because it received a heavy ad campaign that year, complete with movie posters showing Godzilla and Megallon battling atop the World Trade Center towers, obviously created to tie in with the 1976 KING KONG remake. It was a ridiculous ad, since the film takes place in Japan and the titled monsters don’t appear anywhere near New York.
I once read that TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA was one of the darker films of the original series. Really? Seriously? Dark? About the only thing dark in TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA is the space between the aliens’ ears.
That’s not to say TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA isn’t an enjoyable film. It is. Highly so. Why? Well, that’s the million dollar question.
For starters, as nutty as this may sound, Godzilla is a mighty compelling character. For instance, in TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA, when Godzilla makes his dramatic first appearance, set to save the human race from the aliens, Mechagodzilla, and Titanosaurus, and the memorable rousing Godzilla theme music begins to play, a tune familiar to anyone who’s ever watched a Godzilla movie, suddenly, you just can’t help being drawn into the action. Go, Godzilla, go! Knock those creatures on their butts!
Sorry about that. I got carried away. But that’s the beauty and magic of the Godzilla movies. You know they’re silly, you know they’re ridiculous, yet on some level, they work, they draw you into their world, and suddenly you find yourself rooting for this giant fire breathing lizard, clearly a man in a rubber suit, to save the earth, to defeat the evil giant monsters, also clearly men in rubber suits.
Why? What makes Godzilla so compelling? The answer is longer than I can go into here, but for the purposes of this column, it suffices to say that Godzilla is fun to watch because he appeals to the youth inside all of us who likes to watch giant monsters battle it out, and like most little kids, we like to hang out with and be under the protection of the biggest baddest dude in the neighborhood, and in the monster movie world, there isn’t anyone bigger or badder than Godzilla.