Friday, December 19, 2014

Gamera vs. Zigra (1971) - MST3K Review


It all starts on the moon, when a candy colored space ship arrives and blasts a moon rover with a strange beam, causing it to vanish. Later, some marine scientists working at Sea World perform some experiments in their rowboat, when two things happen. Their kids Kenny (Yasushi Sakagami) and Helen (Gloria Zoellner) have stowed away, and then the aliens abduct all four. Turns out these aliens are comprised of one space babe (Eiko Yanami) and one huge beaked monster called Zigra. They have the power to cause earthquakes and eruptions, so that isn’t good.

Luckily Gamera (friend to all children) is on the case. He is able to save the four humans, and even attempts to take on Zigra. But little does he know that Zigra can grow to enormous size, fight with amazing skill under water and pretty much trounces Gamera. Meanwhile the space babe arrives in Sea World to kill Kenny and Helen, Zigra takes over the television and telling everyone how cool he is, and there is a really long scene with two men arguing about fish. You can bet your bottom dollar that this will all end with two monsters beating the tar out of each other while the Gamera theme song plays triumphantly, or else they wouldn’t have called it Gamera vs. Zigra.

Movie Review:
Joel tastes the rainbow of fruit flavors.
Every year since 1965, a new Gamera film hit theaters. But by 1971, the old rocket powered terrapin has pretty much run his course. The folks at Daiei had run out of stories, run out of monsters and run out of time as the studio went into bankruptcy after this film was released. Still, looking at the way Gamera vs. Zigra plays out, you could argue that the time had come to put the series aside and let some new ideas percolate. Gamera would return in 1995, with a new look and a new story line.

In some ways Gamera vs. Zigra is kind of like a celebration of the previous Gamera films, kinda like Die Another Day is like a celebration of the first 20 James Bond films. Another similarity is that both films aren’t that good.

One of the big problems with the Gamera film is that the story beats are oh so predictable at this point. One of the reasons Gamera vs. Guiron is so much fun, is because it goes in completely new direction with the giant monster storylines. Sure it’s a goofy direction, but it is still new and surprising. Here, everything that happens, you’ve seen before – and it was done better in the earlier films.

The space babe's plan is evil. You can tell by the
green under lighting.
Alien beings from space threaten earth and the space babe? Both right out of Gamera vs. Guiron. Alien unable to withstand the light? Got that one from Gamera vs. Gaos. The marine scientist and Sea World doctor look familiar? They both appeared in key roles in Gamera vs. Barugon. Even the space babes from Gamera vs. Guiron appear again, but in different roles as a housewife and … wait… as a space babe? To be fair, Daiei was using a pool of actors for all its films, very similar to the studio system in the golden age of Hollywood. So seeing familiar faces in films was nothing new. But it all adds to the feeling that you’ve seen this stuff before.

However, like all the Gamera movies from Gamera vs. Gaos going forward, Gamera vs. Zigra has a lot of just plain goofy and off the wall moments. The moon base abduction sequence seems to have no purpose at all, until a very odd late film revelation – that does absolutely nothing for the story. The Sea World angle just seems bizarre, especially when they have living facilities and a hospital on site. The side story with the bathysphere and the long, long sequence featuring two men arguing about fish sales will cause you to wonder if you put a completely different movie in your DVD player. There are little things like Helen obsessed with drinking Coke, and the cartoonish chase scene with the space babe and the kids.

"Let's keep mugging and bantering. We can
stretch this scene out 6 more minutes at least."
Then there are the visuals. Gamera gets a bit of a redesign. Well that’s not exactly correct. He gets a tongue, which sticks forward from his mouth in a very disturbing way. The Zigra spaceship is a very colorful and silly looking thing, with jutting points and rounded Skittles lights all over it. But Zigra itself is a pretty cool monster, a fishlike beast who can swim very quickly and has blades all over its body. Gamera gets pretty beaten up and bloody by this fishy creature. It looks a bit like a Goblin Shark, a disturbing deep-sea creature that is a living fossil.

One of the odd things about Zigra is that this is the first time the monster in a Gamera film can actually speak. And boy is he an arrogant blowhard. Some of his ranting and raving provides unintentional laughs, mostly because the dubbing is so poor. And yeah, I know I keep saying that, but Gamera vs. Zigra may have the worst dub of the series. Lots and lots of nonsensical lines and moments that attempt to match the lip flaps, but do so with the most bizarre lines or sounds we’ve heard yet.

Part parrot, part horseshoe crab, part manta ray - all evil.
Still it all makes for some entertaining moments. Unlike the slow pacing of Gamera vs. Barugon or the original Gamera film, at least Gamera vs. Zigra moves pretty quickly. The outlandish visuals are fun for a little while. And you can attempt to untangle the storyline, which seems to be really thrown together this time around (I’ll admit the edit used by MST3K doesn’t help things, it really feels like whole scenes are missing). As far as a finale for the monster series goes, well it could have been a lot better. But as a finale for Joel and the bots to celebrate their final Gamera movie on MST3K… well, read on and find out.

Episode Review:

No matter how hard Gamera tries, his new tongue
will never top Barugon's.
If Daiei studio was feeling some fatigue with the Gamera films, it is no surprise that the cast and crew of MST3K was also feeling some fatigue watching them. This comes through in the celebratory nature of the host segments, as well as the riffing of Gamera vs. Zigra. In a way, I kinda wish they spread out the Gamera (and Japanese movie) riffing over a couple seasons. It would have kept some of this a bit fresher for them. But when it is all said in done, we’ve got what we’ve got. Luckily the riffing is pretty solid for this episode.

What makes the best riffing are the really odd moments. These are still enough to give Joel and the bots material for funny jokes. When our marine scientists jump into the rowboat to head out for specimens, Joel quips, “Let’s get some tuna safe dolphin!” When the boys discover that the little boy is named Kenny they all yell “NOOOOOOOOOOO!” at the same time. Kenny from the first Gamera film really scarred them.

Does this shot look familiar to you too?
When the Zigra space ship is revealed the boys keep referring to it as a candy dish, and Crow tries to figure out if it is filled with Skittles, Dots or Jujubes. When Zigra starts talking Joel points out that “it is weird that the monster is badly dubbed.” One of the scientists asks Zigra why he does horrible things, Tom replies, “Because I didn’t get picked for cheer!”

Near the end after the Gamera vs. Zigra portion of the film concludes, Gamera does a kind of victory dance, to which Joel encourages him with “Bust a move, Gamera”. But then turns to Crow and says, “You know what? These films are weird.”

Unfortunately a portion of the riffing revolves around how familiar the plot is, how annoyed they are that they are watching another Gamera movie and a surprising amount of obvious observation (or State Park) jokes. It almost feels like an episode from Season One in that regard.

I'm not a real space babe, I just play one in Gamera
The episode begins with Joel and the bots enjoying a root beer kegger. They’ve got a Gamera piƱata and they are ready to party. Why? Because this is the last Gamera movie they have to tackle. For the invention exchange, the mad scientists have created 3 Stooges guns. Should be seen to be believed. For the party Joel had turned Tom into the root beer keg and Crow into a shish-ka-crow. At the first break, Tom and Crow have crated a model show how Gamera works. It turns out Gamera has a game room inside of him as well as sleeping quarters for Kenny. Joel ruins it when he opens the secret door leading to Gamera’s guts. When we come back from the next break, Joel and the bots show off their dioramas featuring their favorite scenes from the Gamera films. When we come back Joel and the bots are visited by Kenny and Helen (Mike and Bridget badly dubbed). It gets kinds surreal. When the movie ends Joel the bots and the Mads all sing the Gamera theme song in different styles. This final sequence is not for the feint of heart.

The bots reveal the inner workings of Gamera!

When it comes down to it Gamera vs. Zigra is a fun episode, but it falls somewhere in the middle of the bunch. Gamera vs. Guiron is still the funniest episode, and I think I’d take Gamera vs. Gaos over this one too. But it makes for a solid finale for any MST3K Gamera marathon.

This episode is available on the MST3K vs. Gamera boxset (Vol. XXI).


  1. I'll have to remember to block the green under lighting of my own face. Maybe that's what is tipping off people.

    I wonder at what age Gamera stops being your friend. Or is it enough to be a child at heart?

    1. Yeah that is just good advice. Green lighting is seldom flattering, and if you're plotting an evil act, it just gives away your intentions.

      Gamera seems OK with Cornjob in "Gamera vs. Guiron", so I'm guessing the child at heart concept works fine with the big guy.

  2. I just started watching Gamera movies, I started with Gamera Defender of the Universe, the effects are pretty cool, on par and sometimes better than the new Godzilla movies! Reviews up soon. My question is why the hell does a giant turtle have rockets on its feet? It never made sense to me!

    1. That's great news Francisco, looking forward to reading them!

      I have no idea how they explain the rockets in his feet, or in his shell or however that is supposed to work. But hey, I guess we just accept rocket propelled turtles if we are also going to accept a monster who's head is a knife. Comes with the territory. ;)