Sunday, July 20, 2014

Review: Frankenstein Conquers the World

The lightning crashes outside as a doctor feverishly works in the laboratory below, hoping to change the world with his project. Hoping to conquer death itself. That doctor is Victor Frankenstein and we all know his story, as it is ingrained in our conscious. He was a brilliant man who created a monster and it cost him everything. But what about the monster? What happened to him? Well, that's been a popular topic. Whether in films (like the recent I, Frankenstein) or in comics (like Doc Frankenstein or Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.) people seem to love the doctor's creation and want desperately to know what came next.

When a corpse pulls a gun on you, running might not quite be enough.
But, director Ishirō Honda and Toho Studios had a vision of their own, which they decided to make a reality when they released our current film selection, Frankenstein Conquers the World (released in Japan as Frankenstein versus Subterranean Monster Baragon). And yes, this movie takes place in the same established reality that most of the Godzilla films take place in, which just serves to sweeten it. Yes, that's right, they made a Frankenstein kaiju film. Take your time, absorb that information, because I certainly understand that it can be a bit bewildering to take in all at once. Now, let's dive into the stitched together hybrid of classic horror and giant monsters.

Frankie says: "Always remember to brush and floss, because nothing is scarier than having bad teeth."

Our tale opens during World War II as we find a German doctor doing his best Victor Frankenstein impression alone in his lab (and doing a rather bang-up job of it too) while numerous mystery concoctions boil and bubble about the lab. Seriously, I almost though he was just supposed to be the mad doctor himself until the time period became apparent. But his quite time gets interrupted by some rather quite Nazis who march in a take a chest from him. And, while he's clearly unhappy about this, the entire scene here plays out without a single word being uttered. It was kinda surreal if I am being completely honest. But hey, it's Nazis, they don't ever make excuses for taking things or being douches. They were the Biff Tannen's of their time.

Hey, Butthead, that's not cool.
Okay, okay, Biff wasn't really at Nazi level. The point is though that they sucked pretty badly. So the soldiers take the chest onto a submarine that then ships out to the Pacific where they transport it to a Japanese submarine just in time for some Americans to come along and blow the hell out of those Ratzis. Sucks for them, yes? The Japanese sailors rush the chest to Japan where some scientists are prepping to study what is inside it, which just happens to be Frankenstein's heart. Wait...the doctor's heart? Noooo, because clearly his heart wouldn't still be beating. He was crazy smart but he wasn't immortal. This is one of those situations where they choose to refer to the doctor's monster as Frankenstein, which is a popular misconception as the creature never really had that name. Generally it's believed his name was Adam, after the Biblical character, but I suppose it could be argued that he would share the last name of his "father". Either way, the doctors think that by studying the heart they can find a way to replicate cellular growth in other people and save lives. I mean, what else could all that cellular growth do? Make the monster grow giant sized? That'd just be silly.

So silly that he's already laughing his ass off and he hasn't even appeared yet in this film.
Sadly, this vital research center couldn't be in a worse place as it just happens to be located just smack dab in Hiroshima. Eeeeeehhhh, that has to suck immensely. Sorry we blew up that miracle cure for everything, guys. Our bad. To be fair though you kinda hit us first at Pearl Harbor and inadvertently led to the creation of the horrible film of the same name to be released upon a helpless world. So, after everything goes mushroom cloud, we fast forward to 15 years in the future to the year 1960, because not a whole lot important happened in between that time gap.

Yep, totally nothing noteworthy or unusual happened to Japan in those 15 years. Giant monsters? Pfft.
We find ourselves transported to the Hiroshima International Institute of Radiotherapentics where a young American, Dr. Jame Bowen, and his colleagues, Sueko Togami and Ken'ichiro Kawaji, are trying to save lives and provide comfort while they research radioactivity in the cellular tissue of their patients. James gets to have some character building as one of his patients gives him a gift that touches him deeply and they all talk about their work, which is pretty general science speak. Where's the monster? Apparently he's out murdering dogs and rabbits for grub. Well, a growing boy has to eat. Yeah, by the way, he's a kid. Seems he actually grew a brand new body from that heart we saw earlier. Okay, I can dig it, suspension of disbelief and all. Sueko talks to a man about the boy after his dog is killed, we see some schoolkids find a mutilated rabbit corpse in their classroom, and then James goes to her place for...well, I don't know, really. All he kinda does is give himself some more angst-ridden backstory.

Let me cook you up a nice hot dish of my deepest regrets with a side of soy sauce,
 Outside they hear a car hit the kid and she throws some food to him while they watch him. An undefined amount of time, which I have been told is around a year later, they find that the locals have had enough of the kid's pet killing shenanigans and have cornered him in some caves. Sueko manages to coax him out by the magic of being a pretty Japanese woman, and they take him to the institute. There they discover that he's Caucasian, although his actor pretty clearly is not. They even go so far as to say he is distinctly Caucasian. I'm sorry, but nope, that's a Japanese kid. You can call a rat a parakeet but it still isn't flying anywhere. They also discover that his body has a strong resistance to radiation and he doesn't seem to be getting sick from his exposure to it.

He also eats like he's got a family of tapeworms nestled deep within him. But, so do my nephews.
 Not long after, the media covers the story of the boy and Kawai, the Former Imperial Navy Officer who delivered the chest to those scientists, reads about the story in the paper just prior to a massive earthquake tearing apart his job's location, an offshore drilling platform. He manages to catch a glimpse of something during the collapse though, which I'm sure won't anything to do with the rest of the plot. Back at the hospital, the docs have noticed that the kid grows bigger and bigger the more protein he ingests. They get a bit skittish about his new hands that seem made for mass carnage and lock him up in a special cell for everyone's safety while Sueko continues to take care of him. Kawai pops by for a visit, and they all talk about the possibility of him having grown from the heart of Frankenstein, which they decide to confer with that German doctor from earlier about. He tells them that the only way to be sure is to cut off a part and see if it's still alive, because if so he's the real deal.

I tried it on my penis, but that was less successful...
James and Sueko find the idea rather inhumane, but ol' Kenny decides to throw caution to the wind and practice Operation on everyone's favourite misunderstood monster. He gets interrupted by a film crew though who send Frank into a rage that results in his busting loose and them being crushed in debris. The law is hot on the heels of the flat-headed wonder now though and he seems to disappear. That is, after he takes the time to stop by Sueko's place to creep on her. No, really, that's exactly what happens. It can be said that it's meant to be a tender moment, but it really just feels like a giant pervert leering at a woman.

Just another average Wednesday night.
After he beats feet, he goes into hiding and gets up to some shenanigans involving a boar and a large tree. Stealth is not his forte, but to be fair he is kinda massive. But while he is staying out of the public eye, that thing Kawai thought he might've imagined is running amok and people are blaming poor Frankie for what its doing. Baragon is a prick like that. That's why the other monsters never invite him to their parties. Barry is eating people, animals, and trampling villages while no one else seems to realize that Frankenstein likely does not have giant lizard footprints. Yeah, that's something that gets glazed over. Wouldn't Baragon leave massive footprints that pretty easily show that it wasn't a humanoid lifeform attacking these places? Don't tell the cops here that, as it never comes up once. They just blame it all on their scapegoat and corner him in another cave after some brats snitch on him. But he escapes like the solidest of snakes and Kawai comes to them with his theory about another monster attacking these places.

A very derpy looking monster who all the other monsters openly mock.
 But none of the authorities buy his story, because the very idea of giant monsters seems too far-fetched and silly...except for the fact that there is one loose right now that they're all after. I want to make a joke here but the accuracy of the way this whole thing is handled is quite honestly scary to me. Government ineptitude at its finest. I can feel the black bag tightening around my face already. Our intrepid heroes bid Kawai adieu and decide to go looking for the big lug themselves, but Ken takes a walk off the sanity pier, deciding that he will kill Frankenstein himself for the good of all. Too bad for him that Barry shows up instead, derp eyes and all. He and James attempt to fend the monster off with grenades but that doesn't work and Sueko almost ends up on the menu. Ken gets hurt and Frankie comes to his rescue, hammering home what a dick Ken was being. Frank delivers the injured doctor to his friends and then proceeds to throw down with Baragon until the ground finally opens up beneath them after their long battle and swallows them both, leaving everyone to wonder their fate (at least until Destroy All Monsters came out).

Come on, boys, hug it out.
Now, I have to say that I have a few notes on the film itself. First of which is that Frankenstein never really conquers anything, much less the world, so the title is rather misleading. There's also one of my favourite questions, which is what the hell did he kill to make that stylish caveman outfit? I don't think he had access to a sewing kit in his size, so clearly it has to just be one animal he killed. Does that mean he found another giant monster that he butchered just so his balls wouldn't be sagging everywhere? Who knows, maybe it's not clothes at all and his body hair grew that way on purpose.

It makes about as much sense as anything else in this movie.
I also found myself disappointed that Sueko, while seemingly important to the overall plot since she was the only person Frankenstein trusted, had almost no personality beyond being a stereotypical quiet Japanese woman who needed men to help her. She had a few moments, like her insistence on not hurting Frank, but overall she was bland. James on the other was so over-the-top angst ridden in the beginning it felt almost silly. But, does that mean I disliked the film? Hell no, it was a fun little movie and its imprefections made it even more fun to watch. The glaringly obvious Japanese Frankenstein, the forced melodrama, the crawling hand, and even ol' derp eyed Barry all helped make it a great entertaining kaiju experience that I would happily watch again. And while Frankenstein never got another kaiju movie out of this, he still holds a place in the pantheon of monsters who both terrorized and defended Japan. That's pretty damn cool. So, until he comes back to practice his secret handshake with Godzilla, I'll be here waiting with baited breath.

See ya later, Bleeders!

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