Monster Bites - Smog Hog

GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (1971)

Oh boy, where to begin. Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster as it's also know has quite a reputation. Hated by the studio and known by fans as a mix of ecological edutainment and trippy '70s musical scenes, this is a strange movie to say the least. But is it any worse than the two subsequent outings featuring things like World Children's Land and Seatopia? Is it more child friendly than the ones where Godzilla fought a giant lobster or did a victory dance on Planet X? Overall, probably not. Is it much better? I suppose it's debatable. However it has to be said that the bizarre score and the addition of animated scenes is a bit puzzling. Maybe unique is the kindest description I can give it. But that's not to say there isn't some entertainment value to be found.


I guess to begin with it's a good idea to describe the new monster of the story, Hedorah the pollution eating space monster. It looks pretty interesting, with angry red eyes and a layer of acidic mud for skin. Initially it's suggested that the microscopic particles that grew into the creature may split into a number of new organisms, but they all eventually converge into a single body. It's an interesting idea to have a monster that can regrow from tiny pieces but in a film like this it's probably not a great idea to write in things like this when the budget will never allow for it. The final showdown is only ever going to be a fight between Godzilla and a small number of enemies, there's no need to overcomplicate things.

The overall story is reasonable enough as the mysterious new creature starts to appear causing oil tanker disasters and poisoning city residents with gas. The series is after all based on the idea that man made problems might be portrayed as destructive monsters. Perhaps the message here is a little on the nose but generally speaking it's in line with the themes of the franchise. There's a surprisingly dark tone in some sequences, particularly when the victims of Hedorah are shown to have been completely dissolved leaving only skeletal remains on the ground. As things escalate the Smog Monster grows from what is supposedly a tadpole (I don't really see the resemblance) to a large flying menace that emits toxic fumes.

Godzilla on the other hand is in the role of protector of the Earth and friend to all children. At least he's supposed to be; a lot of the time people get killed anyway. A young boy has visions about his arrival to fight the new threat, and there's a vague connection between the two which is never explained. There's a weird dream scene and a shot where the kid sees the silhouette of Godzilla in the distance at a theme park, but I guess strange visuals are a big part of this film. The problem is that a lot of the time Hedorah is not beatable, and the big guy's nuclear breathe and claws are pretty ineffective against an enemy mostly made of liquid. The showdown at the end concludes only when Godzilla restarts a military trap and fries Hedorah into dust.


It's not a satisfying climax, but like many other elements here there's a sense that a kitchen sink approach was taken during writing. It would actually work better if things were streamlined and this was all just a stand-alone monster movie about pollution ruining the world. It's perfect b-movie material after all. But as it stand there are cartoon segments showing factories pumping out waste, there are astronomy lessons, and there's a crazy nightclub sequence where people wearing animal masks dance about under strobe lighting. There's never a dull moment of course, but how effective all these things are together is debatable. You could lose any one piece and there would be little effect. Personally I'd have cut the whole precognitive child subplot.

It's all very experimental considering that this is the eleventh movie in an established series. But I guess something fresh had to be done after Godzilla's Revenge. Anything would have worked. However this was to be the director's only foray into the franchise; his sequel ideas were all shelved and Hedorah never shows up again outside all the other brief cameos in Godzilla: Final Wars. But again the nature of the titular organism makes it hard to write it into future stories, the way it feeds and grows isn't really suited to a series about creatures punching each other because the military is generally helpless.

Overall it's a better film than they'd have admitted at the time, and you have to wonder why they thought sidestepping a sequel and telling a story about alien cockroaches hiding in a Godzilla shaped tower was such an improvement. The costume used to depict the layers of gunge on Hedorah is really interesting, and it's abilities like flying and firing death rays make for some neat effects moments. It's often a mixed bag because of the number of elements clashing with one another, but if you look at each part separately at least it's never dull. Purely as a product of its time there's a lot of general weirdness to enjoy beyond the special effects sequences.

3/5

BONUS REVIEW
FRANKENSTEIN VS. BARAGON


On to another blend of clashing ideas, this one has a mixture of western and eastern influences as a giant monster from Japan battles one from Germany. Also known as Frankenstein Conquers the World (spoiler - he doesn't) this is the story in which the heart of Frankenstein's monster is kept as an experiment during World War Two and is then mutated over the years after the atomic bomb drops on Hiroshima. The heart is supposedly immortal, and grows back a whole body. Because of course it does. They include the usual gaffe of referring the monster itself as Frankenstein, but really when this is the premise you can't really complain.

At least they stick to the usual tropes and depict him as a sympathetic creature, firstly as a strange feral child running about in the streets and killing local pets for food, then later as a huge man who grows to enormous size in the forests of Japan. Meanwhile in a happy coincidence there's another monster on the loose, the subterranean creature Baragon. He's a far less likeable character, destroying property and generally wreaking havoc. Why? Because they can fight each other at the end and then fall into a volcano; what else? The movie is pretty by the numbers if you've ever seen anything like this before. It does exactly what it says on the tin.

There's something fun about the whole idea as the story moves from a Nazi occupied laboratory and then to a Japanese research centre before it jumps forward to the present. There's a lot of typical dialogue about radiation and there's a lot of debate about whether the newly grown Frankenstein's monster is a threat or just a misunderstood creature. Of course selfish human intervention soon makes things worse and debate is abandoned in favour of action. A lot of this would be repeated in War of the Gargantuas (Sanda vs. Gaira) although the continuity is completely lost as they use some elements and remake others. Overall I prefer the sequel, but they're no more than the sum of their parts and there's plenty to like about each.

3/5