12 Days Of Dino Dicember #10: Legends Of Dinosaurs And Monster Birds/Legends Of The Dinosaurs (1977)

We previously spotlighted the delights of live action tokutatsu monster and superhero anime hybrid with the Dinosaur War Izenborg 4 episodes-to-compilation film “Attack Of The Super Monsters” by Tsuburaya Productions, so let’s talk about an even more obscure kaiju film, this time by Toei, with Legends Of Dinosaurs And Monster Birds, also known as Legend Of The Dinosaurs.

Interestingly, this was a japanese kaiju movie spurred by the international success of Spielberg’s Jaws (release in 1976 in Japan) and a coincidental resurgence of reports of Nessie in Loch Ness, so Toho settled to make it about a geologist who start investing strange reports of fossilized eggs and odd events surrounding the Saiko Lake (one of the Five Fuji Lakes) community, including a headless horse carcass and mysterious disappearances of people in the lake area.

Eventually Takashi puts the clues together and surmises it must be a Plesiosaur doing this, which turns out to be true, as it attacks the lakeside attendants during an event (hi, Jaws parallel), but in japanese monster movie tradition, the creature it’s bound to fight with another monster, a “Rhamphorhynchus” (basically a type of pterosaur like the pteranodon), emerging from a hidden cave in the Aokigahara region (aka the tragically famous “Sea Of Trees”, subject of a very crap Gus Van Sant movie to make things even worse), as accidentally discovered by a young girl.

Look, i feel i’ve gotta say this otherwise dinosaur freaks will 100 % correct me on this, but yes, despite the title, the common conceptions you most likely have, none of the two creatures are actually dinosaurs. Close but no dino-cigar. Simple as that, there aren’t any actual dinosaurs in “Legends Of Dinosaurs And Monster Birds”.

Did audiences at the time cared the taxonomical accuracy of the movie title? Nope.

Do i? Nope as well, because despite being “technically correct” (the best kind of correct), i feel these creatures belong in the “dino area” anyway, given how closely connected they were to the animals actually classifiable as “dinosaurs”. Close enough for me, anyway, and i doubt people went to see movies like this for the scientific accuracy. We never did, never and will, let’s be honest.

Aside from the obvious Jaws inspirations/parallel, the movie it’s not a rip-off, it’s a japanese monster movie through and through, though the inspiration makes it so that they wait more than usual to show the creature, and have an american actor in it talking about Nessie and calling on the major of the riverside city. Since we’re riding on the coat-tails of Jaws we gotta involve the major, even if here the character isn’t the dickish money hungry asshole, as in, he’s barely a character and doesn’t really do much in the movie anyway.

It’s just surface-level parallel to make people notice the Jaws inspiration, like the first attack on the festival being actually a prank by some guys with a fake wooden stand.

Lucky for them it wasn’t the dreaded Bacalhau, just a plesiosaur.

The main character it’s actually an “action geologist”, as in stubborn, suavè and kinda greedy as he wants to make money out of the fossilized egg, but he also wants to honor his father research on dinosaurs by finding the plesiosaur, while also balancing a romance with a scuba diver girl.

To be honest, the story itself t’s nothing special, nor is its execution, with the usual kaiju movie tradition of the local army division trying to find and eventually launching depth charges to make the creature emerge, all for naught. What makes it all stand out are the aforementioned “nods” to Jaws and the music being very, very 70s, you can already tell from the main theme, but it’s definitely a highlight, being often very funky, energetic, sometimes with spy/heist-esque tracks.

This help in giving it a proper “cult movie” feel, alongside the occasional-but-not-rare gore, with the headless horse corpse, people’s body torn apart or half-eaten/torn, the creatures getting bloody eyes, more than usual for japanese monster movies overall.

Though it’s worth noting this is a movie that deliberately plays 70 funky music over the monster attacking people, so it feels very tongue-in-cheek… kinda and kinda not, since the pterosaur attacking and killing people by dropping them from miles above feels like it would need a more sinister music, but the disco goes on regardless, so there is definitely tonal clash between the swanky soundtrack and the action on screen.

Pretty good production values and effects for the monster (as one would expect since this was the last project the legend known as Fuminori Ohashi worked before retiring), gore and, even though it cheapens out at times by doing the old and obvious trick of projecting the monster action on the background with the live action characters in the foreground. It compensates with the monster fight itself being gorier than expected, and you gotta love the classic kaiju eiga ending of both the creatures dying due to a volcano, this time with the extra suspense as the main characters are left hanging for their life on a tree branch as the earthquakes tear the earth apart, the volcano erups, spewing magma everywhere and setting the monsters on fire.

One hell of an ending, for sure.

It’s definitely a cult movie through and through, though i wish it was a little better, it’s good fun, no doubt about it, but at times feels quite slow moving, making you wait for shit to get down proper, which eventually happens, with a monster vs monster showdown that happens in the last 20 minutes, kinda, it’s not like the two monster have a reason to fight each other, but it’s tradition….

At worst it’s a more than decent movie, one that definitely needs some time to properly get into gear, but it grows on you and by the end you’re glad to have stuck with it. Also, i happened to watch an english dubbed version (an uncut one, given the gore and the very few nudity NOT being censored) of the movie, and surprisingly it’s not a bad dub, especially for the time..

A nice piece of trivia to end with: Legends Of The Dinosaurs was actually the first japanese movie to be released in the USSR, as it landed there in 1979, in a shortened 80 minutes version, and became a huge hit. Not because soviet people at the time cared about the rubber suit monsters, but because it happened to give them a rare glimpse of common everyday life in a capitalist society.

So it became a cult hit of sort there too, but thanks to stuff like the film featuring Polaroids, not the actual “non-dinosaurs” monsters themselves.

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