If you asked me to generalize my favorite subset of Psychotronic films, I would more than likely say “Low budget 1950s Science Fiction.” A nice label with enough wiggle room to fit Cat-Woman of the Moon, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and the world of Ed Wood. (When I was kid, the sci-fi/horror films I loved were dismissed as ‘cheap trash’ by my mom, so even a big budget movie of the time, like This Island Earth, is automatically rekajiggered in my mind to low budget). If left to my own devices, I may have never wandered beyond these black and white beauties. However, in the pre-cable/pre-VHS era a viewer was at the mercy of the Local TV station’s film library. My movie show of choice was the creatively named “Early Show”, on between 3-5 pm. In many ways, The Early Show was the last locally produced show going after the kid viewer. Sure they would have plenty of dramas for Grandma, but the emphasis was on action, action, action. Westerns, War Movie and, most importantly to me, Sci-Fi and Horror. If host Ed announced on Monday we were having a theme week, well, it was appointment viewing!
A recurring “theme week” was GIANT MONSTERS. A couple times a year some variation of the theme would appear and expand my movie universe. I myself like the big bugs: grasshoppers, tarantulas, and really big ants. One of the local stations apparently had a long time deal with the American International distributor, because a week of Toho or Daiei movies were more common than my beloved bug movies. While I never really got into Gamera, Godzilla was a monster I respected. Other than the 1933 King Kong, occasionally screened at the U of I, Godzilla was my monster of choice. That’s why the end of a Toho theme week was the best of both worlds for me: King Kong vs. Godzilla!
While I liked the ‘original’ (meaning US version—9 year old kids aren’t into subtitles!) Godzilla, even I could see how the Raymond Burr bits were forced into the story. Like, if I could just block him out, it would be an even better movie. By contrast, the ‘United Nations News’ segments, while clearly not in the original, were for me, a much better way of ‘Americanizing’ the movie. The segments frame the acts, not try to actively invade the movie.
And the monsters do not disappoint. We get a nice capsule version of the Kong story (with the very discomforting image of Japanese people in blackface) and several scenes of monster battles and destruction. The giant octopus fight on the beach is a classic of the genre and the final battle of the two ‘Kings of the Monsters’ is my favorite Kaiju fight of all time.
Like so much of our love for movies like these, it isn’t just the movie than connects with us, it was a certain feeling–a sense of anticipation which always surrounded the movie. The first time I watched it unfold on the TV screen, the anticipation of the final fight kept me riveted. Every time after that, all those Toho Theme weeks, the anticipation of watching it again as Friday slowly approached, it was like knowing tomorrow was Christmas and you weren’t getting socks.
I am sure the true Kaiju fan could suggest a few ‘better’ films for me to watch. Maybe I’d like Godzilla even more watching the Japanese version. But even if there are better movies, I doubt I could love them like I do King Kong vs Godzilla. The only two Giant Monsters who truly matter get a movie and battle worthy of a clash of kings.