Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) — Godzilla’s cousin strikes back

“Ahhh, these monsters are as stupid as human beings!”

Drew’s rating: If you think “Hey baby, how’d you like to meet my three-headed monster?” is a good way to pick up women, then you are wrong. Dead wrong.

Drew’s review: I was a stupid kid, apparently. I didn’t think so at the time; if anything I remember being a bit overly confident in my intelligence, a trend that continues to this day. But that’s the only explanation I can think of for the fact that I devoured Godzilla movies one after another in my youth, whereas now I can’t sit through a single one without falling asleep or needing to be doing something else at the same time. I still like the Transformers, so what gives?

My slow slide into antiquity notwithstanding, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster has a reputation as one of the most famous and enjoyable of the Godzilla oeuvre, so let’s see if I can muster up the energy to get through a full review.

The plot is typical 1960s Japanese craziness: a meteor crashes to Earth just as a foreign princess is seemingly assassinated en route to Japan. Before long a woman matching her description appears wandering the streets, claiming to be a Martian and warning of the Earth’s imminent destruction. Meanwhile, Rodan escapes his volcanic prison and Godzilla rises again from the sea, and immediately begin battling each other because why the hell not?

As a police officer and his sister try to guard the princess/Martian from further assassination attempts, the meteor opens to release space dragon Ghidorah (AKA Ghidrah, AKA King Ghidorah, AKA Bitch, Where’s My Money?), who immediately sets upon Japan and starts wrecking stuff up. With three marauding monsters at large, the land of the rising sun is well and truly boned until the humans recruit Mothra to, um, talk to Godzilla and Rodan and convince them to xenophobically unite against this alien monster who’s destroying the buildings they’re supposed to destroy. Look, just roll with it, okay?

Depending on what you’re expecting, you may be in for a bit of a surprise here. In many ways GtTHM pounds the final nail into the coffin of the early, more serious Godzilla movies and officially kicks off the bizarre highjinx that will comprise the big G’s next decade. No more will the camera give us low shots of colossal titans from the human viewpoint… from here on out it’s all MEL (Monster Eye Level). Any social commentary is gone, replaced by a broad slapstick element at play for the first time, including Godzilla getting dropped testicles-first onto an electricity tower (ouch) and grabbing his rear after it’s singed by Ghidorah’s gravity beams. Then there’s the volleyball match Godzilla and Rodan have with boulders, capped off by three giant monsters having a screeching conversation with each other, which incidentally sounds exactly like my six-month-old when she talks to herself.

While not bad necessarily, this is a far cry from the mindless engine of destruction from the original film, so if you like your Godzilla dark, titanic and terrible, you should have stopped with Mothra vs. Godzilla. Whereas if you have an ironic appreciation for giant lizards busting a move and roughhousing like 300-foot toddlers, this is where the series truly begins for you.

To be fair, it’s not all giant kaiju battling, and the human plotline is more engaging than some later entries. The actors seem to do a good job, though my appreciation is obviously limited a bit by the fact that all of their dialogue is dubbed. There’s an espionage angle at play in Shindo’s efforts to safeguard the princess from her would-be killers, leading to a couple of slightly tense standoffs. It’s a little hard to care about people who might be trampled or accidentally eaten any second, but give them points for trying. Shindo definitely should’ve gotten that kiss at the end, though.

Final verdict? Not bad, though not as great as I remembered. (Ain’t that always the way?) I still have some of that cheesy appreciation in me, and I hope I never lose it; but I’m finding that these days, a little ‘zilla goes a long way. While I have no doubt Kyle will eventually review every James Bond movie, don’t look for Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster to be popping up on Mutant Reviewers anytime soon. Unless Gigan’s in it, because dude, that guy is harsh.

Didja notice?

  • Previously depicted as a mindless force of nature, this is the first film in which Godzilla displays human characteristics like talking, laughing, and knowing kung fu.
  • The planet the priestess is from, the one Ghidorah had previously razed, is Venus in the original Japanese film but changed to Mars in the English translation.
  • Godzilla’s radioactive breath attack, formerly fire and later an atomic ray, here appears to be just, uh, steam. Lame.
  • The previous film in the series, Mothra vs. Godzilla, ended with two surviving Mothra larvae. In this movie, the fairy princesses mention that one of the larvae died, leaving the remaining one as the sole living Mothra.
  • The only thing stupider than Godzilla and Rodan laughing at each other while covered in silk is the victory dance Godzilla does in the sequel, Invasion of Astro-Monster.
  • How Mothra’s entire strategy was “grab onto his tail and hang on”? Brilliant tactics, larvae.

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