Japanese Kaiju movies from the 50’s and 60’s tended to come complete with the weirdest plots, but maybe that’s to be expected from a country that attempted to make sense of the bombing of Hiroshima by making a movie about a giant, atomic lizard. However, in a genre of movies that regularly featured a giant, eco-friendly moth and a fire breathing, child loving turtle that flies like a freakin’ frisbee, Frankenstein Conquers The World surely takes the cake when it comes to utterly perplexing, batshit plots. In fact it may have the most casually bonkers storyline of any giant rubber monster movie I’ve ever seen and it’s all wrapped up with the usual bout of titanic wrasslin’ that these kind of movies are renowned and mocked for in equal measures. And yet, amid the insanity, Kaiju director extraordinaire Ishiro Honda somehow manages to find pathos in a movie that mixes Mary Shelley’s legend, WWII conspiracies and a floppy-eared lizard that burrows like a gargantuan groundhog.
During World War II, located somewhere in Nazi Germany, officers burst into the lab of a professor who is running tests on the still living heart of Frankenstein’s Monster and confiscate it, delivering it to the Japanese Navy who then deliver it to a research center in Hiroshima. No prizes for guessing what happens next; but fifteen years after the nuclear bomb was dropped, a small, misshapen, feral boy is bothering people in the district with his Gollum-like behavior of scampering around in a loin cloth and devouring small animals and eventually he is taken into the care of American abroad, Dr. James Bowen and his assistants Drs. Seiko Togami and Ken’ichiro Kawaji who discover something strange. The flat-headed waif is not only highly resistant to radiation, but he seems to be growing in size due to his protein intake and after getting some backstory from a man who served on the submarine that originally brought that undying heart over from Germany, it seems that Frankenstein lives again as this mutant child appears to have grown from that forever beating organ. However, after his growing size requires him to be kept in a cage, “Frankenstein” soon escapes and roams the countryside aimlessly as the military plot to kill him while the doctors plot to save him.
Meanwhile, the large amounts of devoured animals and property damage that’s been attributed to young Franky is actually the work of a subterranean monster named Baragon who has randomly appeared for reasons I’m not entirely sure of.
As the two creatures seemed destined to beat the ever loving shit out of one another before the credits roll, the scientists struggle to find a way to reduce Frankenstein’s size before cruel fate decides to take him out – but this deranged chapter in the life of the beleaguered creature is set to end as tragically as all the others.
What the hell would Mary Shelley have made of this?
It’s not every day you settle down to watch a movie and its ends with a giant Frankenstein’s Monster getting a monster in a head lock, but as I stated before, Frankenstein Conquers The World goes a little harder than your average Kaiju flick and it’s to Ishiro Honda’s credit that the movie is as coherent as it is. But beyond that, the movie actually carries quite the somber undercurrent due to how the movie entwines the origin of particular version of Frankenstein with the Hiroshima bomb, something that at the time had only occured fifteen years prior – that’s like making a superhero movie in 2016 and claiming the hero’s powers were caused directly by the events of 9/11. Sure, Honda famously pulled off the same trick in 1954 with Godzilla, but where the King Of The Monsters is a straight metaphor born from this earth shaking event, Frankenstein feels less like a cautionary tale – that’s probably all but jettisoned in the american dubbed version – and more like a funky, freaky occurrence that’s far too fantastical to resonate.
Still, random inclusion of global events aside, Frankenstein Conquers The World (or Frankenstein Vs. Baragon) is still an enjoyably odd watch that keeps you on your toes as the plot seems to have been completely created by a game of Mad Libs.
Still, the added weirdness does add an extra level of interest because you find yourself wondering exactly which direction the film will lurch into next; there’s no real reason for the appearance of Baragon, who comes armed with the gormless, thousand yard stare of an over bred pug dog and scientists simply throw the term “dinosaur” around like that’s any kind of explanation and after the Kaiju has finally been vanquished, the movie realises that it has still hasn’t found a way to end Frankenstein’s arc, so it literally throws a giant octopus at him in order to bring his story to a watery, head scratching close.
Aside from a plot that seem to have gained sentience and chosen chaos, Honda gives us the first pairing of Nick Adams and Kumi Mizumo, a duo that proved to be memorable during Invasion Of The Astro Monster, a Godzilla epic released later the same year. In fact while Adams sat out the equally bizarre sequel, the superior War Of The Gargantuas, Mizumo stayed on to negotiate the world of heavy-browed, brawling monsters which proved to be some much needed connective tissue as some versions of that second movie omits any reference to the previous movie and its sub-plot of a severed, living Franken-hand.
The climatic smack down that sees our tombstone-toothed “hero” square up to his dumpy nemesis is as a forrest burns down around them has a subtly different feel to other final reel fights as we have the rather novel sight of a suit performer, utterly entombed within a bulky creature suit fighting an opponent that’s technically just a dude in a loin cloth and a rubber forehead which gives the scene a different sort of energy than your usual types of monster mash thanks to one of the combatants not being slowed down by around 220lbs of extra bulk.
Quick side bar on Baragon; the tunneling beastie who draws villain duties here went on to make a few other appearances of note in the larger Toho universe with a last second cameo in monster opus Destroy All Monsters (cheeky bugger made the poster, though) and a more substantial role in 2001’s GMK where Godzilla infamously curb stomps her into oblivion.
Genuinely unaware at how strange it truly is, Frankenstein Conquers The World’s dizzyingly left-field plot makes for a fascinating watch, especially when trying to add gravitas to a tale that’s frequently as unstable as its lead creature’s body mass.