April 21, 2014


HALLOWEEN is the worst example of the slasher film. Yes, you read that right. The worst. In a sub-genre known for violent and gory set-pieces, gratuitous nudity and a distinct lack of visual style, HALLOWEEN sticks out like a sore thumb. That it helped to give birth to the most derivative, crass, and uninteresting sub-genre in the history of sub-genres is slightly baffling and most definitely unfortunate. Too often HALLOWEEN gets lumped into the mix with the rest of them, rubbing shoulders with films like THE NAILGUN MASSACRE, NEW YEARS' EVIL, and THE SLAYER, or it simply gets slammed for unleashing a tremendous wave of low-quality, high-trash imitators. HALLOWEEN may have started the big, dumb ball rolling downhill but it was through no fault of its own. Its most immediate imitator, Sean Cunningham’s FRIDAY THE 13TH, is the perfect example of a done for money, no-brains, all-guts slasher film that managed to ape the structure of HALLOWEEN but not its style. While HALLOWEEN is a very visual film, FRIDAY THE 13TH is much more visceral. While Carpenter took care in his construction, Cunningham simply pointed the camera. And while HALLOWEEN took the horror genre into the rarefied area of art, FRIDAY THE 13TH took it to the city dump.

In truth, though HALLOWEEN came first and screenwriter Victor Miller used the John Carpenter / Debra Hill screenplay as a guideline, FRIDAY THE 13TH is the true father of the 80s slasher film. HALLOWEEN is too visually sophisticated, too interested in atmosphere and the slow burn of suspense, to be easily imitated. FRIDAY THE 13TH, however, is the exact opposite. It’s a cheap gimmick, run over and over, in which cardboard characters are set up like nine-pins to be bowled over in increasingly gruesome murder sequences. It feels cheap and looks cheap, with its flat, uninspired setting and cast of less than talented nobodies, but it proved to be a good business model. Once the film hit it big in the theaters, producers quickly dialed in more of the same. During the next ten years, dozens of like-minded films poured into theaters, turning a sub-genre that started in greatness with HALLOWEEN and BLACK CHRISTMAS, with tendrils reaching even further back to PSYCHO and PEEPING TOM, into an embarrassing red splotch on the face of a genre that few respected to begin with. If horror was ghettoized before HALLOWEEN, by the end of the 80s it was roundly loathed.

Looking back now, we can see just how different HALLOWEEN is from the rest of the slasher sub-genre. Borrowing more from Hitchcock than the Grand Guignol, John Carpenter and Debra Hill created a film that is as artistically interesting as it is frightening. HALLOWEEN is a film that demands your attention. It is one of the most uniquely visual horror films of its age. Carpenter's use of the wide screen format allows for an all-encompassing feel. At times, the camera seems almost aleatory (though we can sense the supreme, almost obsessive control behind the framing) as Myers wanders in and out of the frame, sometimes in the background, sometimes in the foreground. The feeling of wide openness, even in the interior scenes, is important to the success of the suspense. Death can be anywhere. In one of HALLOWEENs most famous scenes, Laurie stands just outside a doorway after discovering the remains of her friends. Behind her, in the blackness, stands the killer, an off-camera light slowly raising its intensity, revealing his white mask in the dark. In the standard horror film, there would be a shock cut to the killer leaping from the doorway. In HALLOWEEN, this scene is played out slowly over a harrowing twenty seconds, allowing for the full immersion of its audience in the suspense. This is one of the key differences between HALLOWEEN and its imitators. While the standard horror film goes for minute-by-minute false scares leading up to a big, bloody money shot, HALLOWEEN earns its scares through pure visual mastery.

Even the final act chase scene is handled differently. When Laurie escapes from the house with Myers in full pursuit, she first runs to a neighbor’s house to seek help. When the neighbor merely ignores her pleas, Laurie breaks for the home she is babysitting at only to realize she has forgotten her keys. She manages to awaken one of the kids sleeping in an upstairs bedroom. Little Tommy Doyle slowly comes downstairs to let her inside as Myers calmly walks across the street, getting ever closer. The effect is of a reverse ellipsis as Carpenter stretches the sequence out beyond the time it should have taken to reach completion. As he intercuts between Laurie pounding on the door and Myers' walk across the street, the audience is given ample time to squirm. There's no frantic editing to convey tension, just simple cross-cutting and a pulsing, relentless score.

Often overlooked in the discussion of HALLOWEENs visual merits is Dean Cundey, Carpenter's frequent collaborator and ace Director of Photography. Awash in blues and deep blacks, HALLOWEENs aesthetic is pure haunted house. The vast majority of HALLOWEEN is set in darkness with only key lighting to emphasize important details in the scene. His consistent use of elaborate lighting schemes, not to mention his clever use of deep focus, helps make a $320,000 film feel much more professional.

This level of visual sheen helps make the sometimes ridiculous elements of the screenplay go down easier. For example, after Tommy lets Laurie inside - at the end of the aforementioned chase scene - Laurie crosses behind the living room couch to get to a phone. Once she realizes the line is dead, she moves quickly away only to turn and realize that the living room window is open. Myers has entered the house and is hiding behind the same couch Laurie just crossed behind. Closer inspection reveals the window is already open when Laurie enters the house and there is simply no way for Myers to have entered without being noticed. Thankfully, things are moving so quickly that we, the audience, never notice either.

Myers escaping from the mental institution by means of driving a car is never explained. We learn very early on that he has been institutionalized since he was six. This loose end is summarily dropped with the simple, ridiculous throwaway line "Maybe somebody around here gave him lessons". There's a break-in at a small store in the middle of town during the late afternoon (presumably by Myers as the contents stolen include "a halloween mask, some rope, and a couple of knives") even though Myers is seen much earlier on wearing his mask. I guess people in small towns ignore blaring anti-theft alarms for several hours. Most confusing is the geography of Haddonfield. Laurie is first seen leaving her house and walking down to the old Myers house to drop off a key as a favor for her father. It appears that the Myers house is only a short distance away. Later that day, Annie picks Laurie up to drive them both to their respective babysitting gigs, just across the street from one another, and it takes them a good bit to get there, day changing to night in the process. Myers follows them and parks across the street from where Annie is babysitting. Later that night, while staking out the Myers house, Doctor Loomis simply turns and looks down the street and sees the state-issued car that Myers used to escape the mental institution with. Problem is, it's not parked anywhere near where we saw him park it and, if it were really that close to the Myers house, why did it take so long for Annie and Laurie to get to their babysitting appointments when the Myers house was within walking distance from Laurie's own home?

The franchise that was built from HALLOWEEN is also problematic as it completely dilutes and irrevocably damages the story of the first film. In revealing Laurie as his sister, Myers becomes much less of an unknown. While many cannot separate that which came after HALLOWEEN and the simple text of the first film, doing so is a necessary step in fully enjoying Carpenter's film. As is presented in the original, Myers is simply a psychopath, obsessively fixated on a single moment in his life, the murder of his sister, Judith. When Laurie dropped the key off that Halloween morning, she unknowingly became his sister's surrogate. Myers is driven to re-create that moment again and again at any cost. By making Laurie the singular focus of the killer's attention, as the sequels have done, it's hard to go back to the original and justify the attention he seems to lavish upon Annie, the films first victim. Myers knows where Laurie is but decides instead to focus on Annie (maybe because she yelled at him earlier when he sped by?). That is hardly the kind of ruthlessly focused killer presented to us in the various sequels which continue this strain of the storyline. None of that jives with the notion of a killer whose chief goal is to add to his list of dead sisters.

Everyone else that is killed in the course of the film is killed simply because they wandered into his line of vision. Lynda and her boyfriend Bob aren't sought out. They simply crash his party. Bob is hung from his feet in a closet and Lynda is unceremoniously tossed in a cabinet, but Annie is placed on the bed before his only memento mori of the defining moment of his life, his dead sister's tombstone. Had Laurie not gone over to investigate, would Myers have eventually sought her out? We can't be sure. But you would think that Laurie would have had that spot on the bed reserved solely for her, his little sister.

The character of Doctor Loomis is surely convinced that Myers is the devil in the flesh, something the film gives no evidence of until its final shot. Loomis, when viewed through the lens of the entire franchise is the Van Helsing character, a man of good virtue who tracks the evil Villain in hopes of ending his reign of terror. But, for the vast majority of this film (if one were to view it as a singular entity) Loomis comes off more like Ahab, a man who has made a monster out of a whale. If Loomis appears as big of a nut as he claims Myers to be, it's for a good reason. We’re meant to be as wary of Loomis as we are of a ranting street preacher. But his character also serves a greater narrative purpose. His recollections of Myers as a child - "a blank, pale, emotionless face and the blackest eyes, the devil's eyes" - are important in that they re-enforce our fear of Myers. Doctor Loomis' description of Myers very accurately describes the killer's masked visage and not, as we see later on, his actual appearance. By describing the killer as "pure evil", by referring to him as "It", we begin to associate Myers with attributes not readily on display. He is, by himself, a masked nut job. But with the power and conviction of Loomis' words ringing in our ears, he becomes much, much more. He becomes, as Tommy calls him, the Boogeyman.

It's only in HALLOWEENs final shot that we realize the truth behind the words of Doctor Loomis. Having been shot six times and fallen off a balcony, Myers apparently gets up and walks away. This is a clever trick on Carpenter's part. More than simply providing a launch pad for a sequel, it robs the audience of any closure. If Carpenter's true intention was to show that evil can and does exist everywhere, even in a small town just like yours and mine, then his ending is pure perfection. Having deprived the audience of the releasing image of the dead killer, Carpenter's film is all the more powerful. The evil is still on the loose.

HALLOWEEN survives to this day because of how elegantly it tells a simple story. The least offensive slasher film ever made, HALLOWEEN manages to walk the border between the boy’s only school of horror and the mainstream to become a film that is easily enjoyable by anyone who enjoys a good scary story. It's one of the few films that appeals both to the art house as well as the grind house, with a keen sense of cinematic style that continues to defy the years. Even now, some thirty years after its release, it feels fresh and genuinely rewards repeat viewings. No other slasher film comes close to touching its perfection in tone, substance and execution. In fact, it must be said that very few horror films since HALLOWEEN have managed to reach the very high bar Carpenter set way back in 1978. HALLOWEEN remains strong because it is strong. It deserves its place alongside FRANKENSTEIN, PSYCHO, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and CAT PEOPLE as one of the greatest of all American horror films.

April 16, 2014


We’ve all heard the stories about the writing of Naked Lunch, about how Burroughs was doped out of his mind, just writing in stream of consciousness style, laying pages all over the place as he went. When it came time to compile the manuscript, Burroughs and his friends Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac just put the pages together in a manner that seemed correct, giving the novel its fragmented, surrealistic flavor. I have no idea whether or not any of that is true, but I can imagine the writing of NIGHT OF THE DEMON went more or less the same way. Because I’m here to tell you right now, Dear Reader, that nothing about this film makes sense. This is easily one of the most confused, disorientating films around.

I have friends who are writers. Most of them struggle with one aspect of the process or another. Some struggle with writing beginnings. Some struggle with the endings. Most struggle with all the stuff in between. This film feels like three aborted attempts to write a screenplay. At first, the writer thought about making a slasher film. He devised a loose story about a bunch of people being hunted in the woods. For some reason, he gave up. Then he decided to write a script about Bigfoot. Unable to make heads or tails of this new idea, he just dumped Bigfoot into the slasher film. Then he gave up on that one too. His final idea involved backwoods devil worshippers. Clearly, he didn’t think that one through. So what did he do? You guessed it. He dropped it into the Bigfoot slasher film and called it a day. I’m convinced that is how this mongrel came into existence. It’s almost inconceivable to think it could have been a product of anything other than desperation and incompetence.

The police are interrogating an anthropology professor named Bill Nugent. He was found in the woods, his face covered in third degree burns. Despite his injuries, he is able to tell the police all about his terrible week in the woods. Turns out Bill and a half dozen of his students were trekking through the forest in an attempt to prove the existence of Bigfoot, a monster allegedly responsible for mutilating a whole slew of people over the past decade. They learn of the town nutjob, a lady known only as Crazy Wanda that lives deep in the woods. Thinking she may have some insight into the beast, they set off to find her. Before you can say “bad idea”, things start going south. Their boat goes missing (along with all their ammunition), Crazy Wanda refuses to speak to them, they stumble across a cult holding a black magic ceremony in the middle of the night and one of the students gets attacked by Bigfoot. Crazy Wanda eventually relents, allowing Bill and students to seek shelter in her home. When she proves unresponsive to their questioning, they hypnotize her. She finally spills the beans. When she was a teenager, she was chased out of her home by her religious wacko father. Alone and scared, Wanda was attacked and raped by Bigfoot, the assault leaving her pregnant. The father allowed Wanda to carry the baby to term and then killed it. Outraged, Wanda burned her father to death. Now she lives alone in the woods but sometimes her attacker comes around to visit her in the night. Unfortunately for Bill and Company, tonight is one of those nights. Bigfoot shows up, breaks into the house and proceeds to attack everyone in the slowest slow motion you’ve ever seen.

Now, having read that, can you explain to me why this film is called NIGHT OF THE DEMON? Have you seen the movie? If so, can you explain to me why Bigfoot acts like Jason Voorhees? Seriously, he actually uses an axe to kill a person, picks up a guy in a sleeping bag and throws him against a tree, (basically) stabs two girl scouts to death and understands human anatomy well enough to know that dragging a guy’s jugular across a broken windowpane will cause a quick death. He doesn’t act like some kind of wild beast. He acts like a slasher film killer. At one point, our *ahem* heroes open a door to find their friend’s dead body tied up in the doorway. WHERE THE FUCK DID BIGFOOT LEARN TO TIE KNOTS?!? But to extend the stupidity to the human characters, why in the holy mother of fuck would you leave all your ammunition on a boat while hunting a monster you believe to have killed a dozen people over the past ten years? Wouldn’t you take precautions? Wouldn’t you give a second thought to stealing off in the middle of the night to fuck your girlfriend? I can forgive a lot of stupidity in a film like this (ie. all the students are in their mid-thirties, all of these anthropology students think anecdotes are evidence, all of the characters respond to strange noises by going towards them) but when all the idiotic shit is constantly flying right at you at 100 miles per hour, it becomes harder to avoid and a helluva lot harder to excuse.

And then there’s the narrative devices used. It’s bad enough that the film is told in flashback, thus ruining any surprise the ending might have held, but the film constantly utilizes MORE flashbacks. Every ten minutes, the professor tells a story about how Bigfoot mangled some dip shit. Essentially, every ten minutes, we get treated to a slasher film set piece. In the first, someone gets their arm ripped off. In the second, a man is attacked mid-coitus, his mortally wounded body slowly sliding down the windshield of a van while his half-naked girlfriend overacts wildly. A man is axed a couple of times and some biker has his dick ripped off (and yes, you do get to see a Bigfoot hand grasp an actor’s actual dick). I mentioned above that Bigfoot basically stabs two girl scouts to death. That scene is one of the worst in the entire film. For some reason, two girl scouts are out in the woods carrying knives. When Bigfoot finds them, he grabs them by their wrists. He then spends the next four minutes slamming them together, their knives carving each other up. Why they didn’t just drop the fucking knives is beyond me.

So OK, we have flashbacks inside a flashback. But wait, that’s not all. When the group tracks down Crazy Wanda and (inexplicably) hypnotizes her, we get another flashback, which moves into a flashback inside a flashback. So we have a flashback in a flashback of a flashback in another flashback…  That’s some Christopher Nolan shit right there. Unfortunately, no one bothers to ask her why she was lying on the altar during the black magic ritual we saw earlier on. Oh, did you forget about that? Well, so did the filmmakers as we clearly see in that scene that everyone involved is from the town, including the cops. So why are the cops even bothering to interrogate the professor at the beginning of the film if they already know what happened?

I could go on and on but honestly, what’s the point? You should already be able to tell that this is not a film worthy of your time. I only watched NIGHT OF THE DEMON because of its place on the DPP Video Nasties list. That list contains some of the worst horror films of the 1980s, films like ANTHROPOPHAGOUS, NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES and DON’T GO IN THE WOODS. This film puts them all to shame. I can say, without a moment’s hesitation, that this is, unquestionably, the worst film on that list.

April 14, 2014


On March 1, 1954, the American military detonated a hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The test was planned for a six megaton device. What was ultimately tested however was a 15 megaton device. As the test was carried out, a Japanese fishing ship sailed in the nearby waters. Crewmen reported the western sky lighting up like a sunrise. The sound would arrive shortly after. Later that day, a substance like a fine snow began to fall from the sky, fallout from the explosion. It fell on the unsuspecting crew members for close to three hours. When the ship finally arrived at shore 13 days later, several members of the crew were experiencing symptoms of acute radiation exposure. They were hospitalized, their fellow fishermen were sent home and the catch of irradiated fish was sent to marketplaces. The other crew members eventually fell ill. On September 23, the first of the Lucky Dragon No. 5 crew would die from radiation poisoning.

It is safe to say that nuclear anxiety was high in Japan after that event, not that it had ever really gone away after the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We were hardly immune in the west. Unleashing the bomb unleashed knowledge of the devastation of the bomb. The fear of nuclear attack was bolstered by the images and reports of structural damage, horrifying accounts of bodily injury and the growing widespread information regarding the terrors of radiation. In the west, these fears were expressed in popular entertainment. The giant bug films of the 1950s were one way to deal with those terrors. These films concerned giant, mutated bugs or creatures created from nuclear energy. They must have been frightening to watch in those tense times. But in the end, there was nothing to fear. The military would protect us. Tightening of nuclear regulations would make the horrors all go away. In the end, everything would be alright. We would conquer the nuclear age, not be a victim of it. In 1954, the Japanese would show us how wrong we were.

It’s one thing to have a situation described to you. It’s a whole other thing to have lived through it. Ishiro Honda, a filmmaker and longtime collaborator of Akira Kurosawa, found himself drafted into the Japanese army during World War 2. He would spend the latter part of the war as a POW. Returning home to Japan, Honda traveled through the areas affected by the American bombing. He saw the devastation firsthand. There was no better writer/director for producer Tomoyuki Tanaka’s latest film, a monster movie that would be released by Toho Studios in 1954. The initial story duties went to a popular science fiction novelist, Shigeru Kayama. Many of his ideas would remain through the final shooting script written by Honda and Takeo Murata. The major changes were to the characters, removing the more melodramatic characterizations popular in the kind of pulp novel Kayama found so much success in writing, replacing them with more human, less clichéd characters. There would be a love triangle between the daughter of an archeologist, a courageous salvage ship captain and the man she was promised to in marriage, a scientist deeply worried about the ramifications of his groundbreaking work. Unusual for this kind of film, the scientist would be portrayed as a human being with a conscience instead of the clichéd mad scientist trope that pervaded the science fiction movies of the west. This would be a mature monster film, one rooted more in the dramatic than the cartoonish.

Instead of the usual stop motion used in many of these monster films, Toho’s monster would be a man in a rubber suit. The budget and release schedule wouldn’t permit the use of stop motion. The carnage would be depicted almost entirely in camera with only the occasional use of matte paintings and optical printer tricks. Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects would utilize massive tracts of incredibly detailed miniatures. A mixture of low angle photography, skillfully crafted miniature sets and false backgrounds was planned to convey the sheer scale of the devastation and create a believable experience. For the first time in Japan, a film was storyboarded completely, from the opening scene to the final shot. When production began, the monster was not named. The screenplay was only called “G”, the letter standing for “Giant”. Eventually, the monster was named. A curious mix of the Japanese words for “gorilla” and “whale”, the monster – and the film – would be called GOJIRA.

When GOJIRA was released, it was panned by Japanese critics who saw it as immature and too western. This was 1954, the same year Akira Kurosawa released THE SEVEN SAMURAI and only a few months after Yasujiro Ozu released his masterwork TOKYO STORY. Those films proved to be international hits and, moreover, represented the Japanese film industry as a mature, serious business. For critics with strong feelings about preserving the heritage and prestige of the Japanese film industry, GOJIRA seemed childish, crass, unskilled and exploitative of national tragedies. But for movie audiences, GOJIRA struck a nerve. It became one of the most successful films released in Japan in 1954. A couple of years later, an American film distributor would re-edit GOJIRA for American audiences. Removed were any and all references to Hiroshima and Nagasaki along with most of the human suffering. In their place, an American reporter, played by Raymond Burr, would describe the action in superfluous monologues. Looking at the two versions side-by-side, the Japanese film is undeniably the better film, more complex and emotional. But American audiences had no way to compare the two. The Japanese original wouldn’t premiere in America until 1982. Regardless, the film was successful and influential. Far from the gung-ho celebration of military diligence (though it would ultimately play the same “all is well” card in the end), the American edit of GOJIRA, here renamed to GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, sucked some of the camp from the giant monster movie. Even in this butchered form, GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS is a refreshing dose of horror in a subgenre of film known more for spectacle than fear.

Growing up, I was always watching GODZILLA films. It seemed like there was always one playing on television at any given time. I remember being endlessly fascinated by those films. They were undeniably stupid and laughable, but there was this cartoonish sensibility to them that I found enjoyable. To this day, I find the obvious special effects to be one of the best qualities of the franchise. There is no doubt that the planes, tanks, buildings and battleships are little more than toys. It’s obvious that the monsters are just men in suits wearing radio or wire-controlled masks. But that’s what I love about them. Everything is right there on the screen. They make no attempt at hiding the artifice. I think of that aspect as an invitation to enjoy, rejoice in and share in the process of filmmaking. You can see the seams and the fakery. If you can’t get past that, you’ll hate every single film in the franchise. If you can accept it, you’ll be able to revel in the ingenuity and creativity of the filmmakers.

I didn’t see the original GOJIRA when I was a kid. I didn’t even see GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. It wouldn’t be until the Good Times Home Video release in 1995 that I saw the Americanized version. At the time of the home video release, word was already out that Tristar had purchased the rights to the GODZILLA property with the intent on releasing a new American GODZILLA film. It made sense for all the Japanese films to hit home video. I rented GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS at the local video store and sat down expecting yet another GODZILLA film. I didn’t get one. This was different. This was darker. And even though I could tell where the edits were, where the “American bits” clashed with the “Japanese bits”, I found it entertaining. Godzilla was more frightening, more raw and cruel. This wasn’t the superhero Godzilla I was used to. I was honestly struck by the film even though it felt like something was off. In 2006, I finally got my chance to watch the Japanese original. I suddenly knew what was missing and my appreciation for the film grew immensely.

GOJIRA is, to this day, the best monster film I’ve ever seen, but that has relatively little to do with Godzilla. What resonated most with me when I first saw the film were the characters and the handling of the devastation of Tokyo. Unusual for this kind of film, GOJIRA often puts the monster on the backburner and spends time with the human characters. Some of the impact of the love triangle is lost in translation. Arranged marriages were still reasonably common in Japan at the time the film was made. The scenes between the three actors (and especially the scenes between the daughter Emiko and her father Kyohei, played by the great Takashi Shimura) are restrained and lacking in any kind of false emotionalism. It is obvious that these scenes must have carried great weight for Japanese audiences and though the cultural implications were lost on me, it’s these quiet scenes that helped me relate to this group of characters. In virtually any other monster film, the hero of the piece would have been Hideto, the handsome, brave sea captain that has captured the heart of the leading lady. Though he does figure heavily in the film, the hero role goes to Serizawa, the scientist, one of the film’s most intriguing deviations from the norm.

Serizawa is the most interesting character in the entire film. He has constructed a device with enormous and deadly potential. This device, known as the oxygen destroyer, is capable of disintegrating all oxygen in its immediate vicinity, even the oxygen inside the bodies of men and animals. Realizing the dangers of what he has created, Serizawa is conflicted. He is driven by his scientific impulses but restrained by his conscience. What would happen if this device were used as a weapon? It’s clear that Serizawa represents Oppenheimer, Fermi and the other great minds that would create the perfect weapon of genocide, but Serizawa’s reluctance to use his weapon and the terrible burden of conscience it puts on him is clearly meant to draw a line between Serizawa and the Manhattan Project. GOJIRA is a film littered with moments of political and social commentary. Never once does Honda make an explicit anti-American accusation but Serizawa’s characterization says it all. When the film comes to a close and Serizawa sacrifices his life to kill Godzilla by using the oxygen destroyer, his self sacrifice is not done out of heroism or humanism. It’s motivated by guilt and by a desire to make sure this new weapon of mass destruction dies with him. The Japanese film ends with recognition of Serizawa’s actions and a plea to end nuclear proliferation and testing. In typical American fashion, the re-edit ends with a reassuring statement that we can all
“wake up and live again”. It’s clear the American distributors missed the point.

But that isn’t the only area of the film that was sanitized. Honda’s idea for Godzilla’s final night time raid in Tokyo was simple: Godzilla would be the personification of the explosive force of the A bomb. The scenes of Godzilla melting electrical towers, destroying countless buildings (including the famous Nichigeki Theater, the very building the audience was sitting in at the time) and blasting away with his nuclear breath are intercut with scenes of people screaming, running and in several instances dying. In one of the film’s most powerful moments, a mother cradles her young child, telling her that she will soon be with her father in Heaven, as the beast lumbers ever closer. Once the carnage is over, the camera lingers on the devastation. It looks remarkably similar to the photographs of post-bomb Hiroshima. We see patients dying from their injuries in hospitals, numerous shocked faces and children being tested for radiation. All of these scenes were removed from the American edit. Like many (if not most) of the American giant monster films, Godzilla only destroys property and military equipment. The human toll is completely ignored. In GOJIRA, the buildings are landmarks are unimportant. It’s the loss of human life that is unbearable to watch.

Time has been unusually kind to GOJIRA. Not only does the film still hold up as a drama and as a piece of entertainment, the subtext has not at all been dulled by the years. Honda envisioned GOJIRA not as a simple monster film but as a political and humanist statement, an allegory for the dangers and repercussions of nuclear technologies. While the film has gained a reputation amongst serious critics, it still feels tainted by the Saturday morning monster mashes that came in its wake. I still find the film every bit as enthralling, frightening and moving now as I did when I first saw it eight years ago. It isn’t worth arguing over the direction the franchise took over the years. GOJIRA stands on its own as an exciting, troubling and unforgettable film. It is possible to separate the film from the rest of the franchise and I would honestly recommend trying to do just that while you watch it. Because this isn’t Godzilla the superhero. This is Gojira the destroyer, the inevitable outcome of our own worst ideas.