Frankenstein VS Baragon / Frankenstein Conquers The World (1965) [REVIEW] | Atom Heart Monster

Strange as it may sound, you really can’t talk about King Kong and Godzilla beating each other up without talking about the Frankenstein’s monster, but we already talked about the backstory of the original “Monkey VS Nuclear Dinosaur” kaiju flick in its review, so let’s just say that this movie is actually Toho bringing back the partially scrapped idea of having Kong fight a monster created by Frankenstein for King Kong VS Godzilla, which would itself spawn a follow up a year later, with War Of The Gargantuas. And of course, tasking yet again Ishiro Honda to direct it.

Also, this one introduces a monster that would eventually cross into the Godzilla franchise, Baragon, not be confused with another, completely different but – for pure coincidence – very similar looking (at a glance) monster from the Gamera franchise, Barugon, with a “u”. A minor monster, brought back just for the giant monster brawls installments of the Godzilla series (where pretty much every frigging Toho kaiju was invited for a quick cameo), but here the main antagonist to the “Frankenstein” monster, as the original japanese title makes it abudantly clear.

The plot involves the Nazis tasking the Imperial Japanese Army to deliver the heart of Frankenstein’s monster from Germany to Japan, specifically Hiroshima, where they wanted to further experiment on it. But then a plane called Enola Gay dropped “Little Boy” on the city, so the whole nuclear bombardment and atomic fire thing… happened and the plan didn’t/couldn’t progress.

15 years later, they found a feral young boy running around Hiroshima, devouring small animals and scaring people. A team of japanese and american scientists finds the boy (supposedly grown out of Frankenstein monster’s heart) and discovers he built an insane resistance to radiations, then starts growing in size due to an intake of protein, untile he becomes a giant, escapes, and eventually faces the giant reptilian monster Baragon (with an “a”), a subterranean creature that has been destroying villages, for which the “Frankenstein” monster has been incorrectly blamed.

On the whole idea of setting the movie in Hiroshima, it must be said that the movie originally screened in japanese theather just 2 days after the 20th anniversay of the bombing, so….. but it avoids using stock footage of the bombing. While it has a sour look on the events given the japanese perspective, by this point in time the atomic element was just a staple of monster movie everywhere (even the second Godzilla movie already did move past the tone of the original), so it’s no wonder the plot doesn’t really linger on the bomb or any specific anti-war message, it would have been depressing, seen as preachy, and people didn’t want that when going to see a kaiju flick.

Even without that, it would be already quite odd, you know, with nazis, the Frankenstein’s monster mythos thrown in and repurposed to fit the usual diktats of japanese monster movies, and that odd opening scene in Nazi Germany taking place in a laboratory that feels like a cross between a Universal and a Hammer mad doctor lab, but still with a different feeling to it, almost goofy due to the variously colored pots of steaming “science ooze”… all maximized by the non-japanese cast not speaking at all during the “heart-in-briefcase delivery scene”, Dr. Reisendorf throwing a hammy fit in the lab, and the gothic-esque music accompaning the prologue.

So, despite how “forced” having Frankenstein (and its nameless creation) may feel… if anything provides some variety to the usual kaiju plot, once again with scientists that have conflicting opinions on the monster and how to deal with it, even if they mostly want to save him, as he’s a humanoid creature that evokes and feels empathy, making it easier to root for him when he finally confronts Baragon. And admittely, he also has some funny scenes, like when he starts throwing trees to catch a bird, or when he makes a trap in order to catch a boar, but it ends up working on a toy tank.

Yeah, talking a bit about the effects, this movie isn’t exactly the best from Eiji Tsuburaya and his production team, as in some composite shot look really bad, one especially when you can see the toy soldier inside the toy tank… quite clearly, and the animals that “Frankenstein” sees are clearly toy animals of a boar and a horse, it’s a bit too obvious, and in a couple of scenes there’s almost a see-through effect on Baragon and the Frankenstein monster. It’s still good work, but it’s stuff you often see more in cheaper kaiju movie productions, like the Showa Era Gamera films, i’m not really disappointed, but you simply expect better from Tsuburaya on this regard.

The monster effects on the contrary are on the level you expected for the era and from Toho, pretty good miniatures, etc. the Frankestein monster’s make up is minimal, it’s both kinda silly and charming how they kept the square head design, but also gave him buckteeth to keep the grotesque look. Baragon (played by legendary monster suit actor Haruo Nakajima) has a decent design, not the best, but he makes up for it with it fast burrowing, the ability to shoot an explosive beam and do some surprisingly spry jumps. As you would expect, “Frankenstein” doesn’t have atomic breath or atomic ability (despite the fact in this context it would have made some sense), so he use caveman tactics, which also involve some wrestling and a lot of rock chucking.

It all makes for a good, fun japanese monster fight, which ends…. in a way or another, depending on what version you’re seeing. Originally the film should have ended with Frankenstein win and then the earth cracking open, with both monster falling into it and theorically die, and this is what you can see in the english dubbed releases of the movie (the one using the english title of Frankenstein Conquers The World, but it may not be the case with newer DVD releases).

The american producer Henry G. Saperstein requested an alternate ending where, after killing Baragon, Frankenstein’s monster then fights a giant octopus – that never appeared before in the movie – and he’s dragged into the depths of the lake by this new foe when they both fall into it, but still, the main characters are sure that “Frankenstein” will never die, and sometime, somewhere, he will return again. Which of course, did happen with War Of The Gargantuas, but still, this alternate ending was cut for the american release and was broadcasted on japanese TV accidentally.

Ironic, how Saperstein requested this ending specifically because he liked the giant octopus fight seen in King Kong VS Godzilla (hi again)…. and then said no once it was made. It can be found in some of the later Blu-Ray releases, and this version also goes under the alternative title of Frankenstein VS The Giant Hellfish… for reasons. Do a little digging before buying, sadly there’s no good european version (that includes english) as far as i know, there is an italian edition on DVD, but i haven’t got that yet, so for the collectors it’s import time again.

On the subject of collaboration, this being co-produced with America wasn’t new, so it’s no big surprise to see former Hollywood star Nick Adams here as the main american scientist, at the beginning of his short lived “kaiju eiga period”. He does a decent job, as does most of the cast, shame the characters aren’t that interesting or developed, they’re just alright, motivations are ok, there’s no forced conflict but more could have been done in this regard as well.

Overall, it’s a decent japanese monster flick, not the best work by Ishiro Honda and Tsuburaya, but even if didn’t actually involve Frankenstein’s creature conquering the world (he’s not Raoul Julia, after all),Baragon is not exactly a classic kaiju by Toho, and the horror spice seems odd in this context, the weird plot and the stuff about the giant Frankenstein monster helps to make things more interesting in the end, you get the classic rubber suit fights you expect from movies like these, and it has its weird place in the “big book of giant monster”, even if it’s not a big one.

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