I remember watching a lot of monster movies when I was a kid. My family was too poor to have cable but my Grandma did. We would spend every Sunday at her house and I would spend the time being happily traumatized by the horror movies that Grandma loved to watch. I can remember standing in Grandma’s kitchen and peering around the corner at the TV, anxious to see if the current B movie monster killed the hapless heroine.
I watched all kinds of monsters rampage across Grandma’s TV screen: from the iconic The Blob to the legendary Dracula and from the mighty Godzilla to the whirling Gamera. I don’t think I ever saw all the Godzilla movies – there are an astonishing 28 Godzilla films produced by the Japanese company Toho – but I certainly saw a bunch of them.
Since a new Godzilla movie is coming soon to theaters everywhere, I thought I would take a look at some of the famous giant monster movies that are available FREE in the Public Domain. Sadly, none of the Godzilla movies are in the Public Domain but several other giant monster movies are. I recently reviewed the first Gamera movie (“The Fire-Breathing Turtle Destroys Tokyo“) which was a much better movie than I remembered. Most of the giant monster (also known as daikaiju) movies that I remember watching seemed to be rather campy stories with guys in big rubber monster suits. Gamera was not as silly as I feared, but Monster from a Prehistoric Planet more than makes up the silliness quota.
Monster from a Prehistoric Planet (aka Daikyoju Gappa aka Gappa, The Colossal Beast aka Gappa: The Triphibean Monster) is a 1967 color kaiju film produced by Nikkatsu Corporation. Monster from a Prehistoric Planet is Nikkatsu’s only daikaiju movie. Their inexperience in the genre may help explain some of the goofiness of the movie.
Monster from a Prehistoric Planet begins with an expedition formed by Mr. Funazu, greedy publisher of Playmate Magazine, to gather strange creatures for his proposed new tourist attraction: Playmate Land. The expedition’s ship comes across the island of Obelisk which is endangered by an exploding volcano. Although no one in the expedition seems to be very worried about the dramatic explosions and fires since seven of them eagerly waltz ashore in search of strange creatures (and any treasure lying around). The seven explorers are greeted by a village full of people with incredibly bad and rather insulting make-up. Saki, one of the native boys, leads two of the adventurers (Kurosaki and Itoko) to a mysterious giant statue and an ably timed earthquake topples the statue to reveal a hidden cave. Inside the cave, they discover monstrous sized bones and a giant egg which almost immediately hatches to reveal a peculiar creature (called a “Gappa“ by the villagers). Naturally, the expedition members assume this creature is the one and only member of its species and, despite many wailed warnings from the native villagers, they immediately cage it up and take it back to Japan. And, of course, the village is straight away destroyed by the little baby’s angry gigantic parents who then take off in wrathful pursuit of their kidnapped offspring. Lots of scenes of rampaging daikaiju ensue.
Where Gamera held up pretty well to the test of time, Monster from a Prehistoric Planet does not. The story is filled with timely coincidences and shallow characters but the biggest failure, by far, is the ridiculous monsters. The Gappa are not only guys in big awkward rubber suits but the creature design is laughably bad.
The Gappa are repeatedly described as “bird-lizards”. So we get beaks and wings and tails but they are unbelievably unrealistic. The bird-lizards cannot turn their heads and they hardly ever blink their big blank eyes. They have a beak, sort of, but the baby appears to have a big grinning mouth at times. The Gappa have big clunky dinosaur feet and a tail that just drags limply. But the worst aspect are their wings. The Gappa wings just pop open like fans and then stay stiffly in place. They never flap or wave or anything. When the Gappa fly, they just bend their knees a bit and hop up in the air and then magically fly around with their rigid unmoving wings and their drooping tails. Their bodies are sort of bent so that they look like exactly what they are: cheap models being dangled on wire.
Some of the models of soon-to-be-destroyed buildings are reasonably well done but the various explosions are simple and boring and the tsunami is an horribly obvious overlay effect. Oh, I give the movie credit for the cleverness of their plan to use sound waves to drive the adult Gappa from their hiding place in a lake but that is pretty much the only sign of intelligence from the card board cutout characters. And the characters are as stiff as a board. There is the greedy business man, his sweet little daughter, the super solemn scientist, the adventurous but full of himself male star, the pretty and limp wimp female starlet, and the brave little native boy (with the insultingly bad make-up job and ridiculous wig).
On the other hand, there is nothing in this movie that is overly frightening for young viewers. Some movie fans will just love the hapless but adorable baby Gappa and find the inevitable Gappa family reunion so be very sweet. And, of course, some movie fans will just sit back and enjoy the sight of guys in big rubber suits smashing model cities.
Here are a few scenes from the movie:
- Three overly enthusiastic reporters lavish praise on greedy Mr. Funazu: “Oh, very good!!”, “Wonderful!!”, “It’s terrific!!”.
- The expedition guy who is the comic relief in the first half of the film and almost completely vanishes for the second half exclaims over a strange jungle bird: “That almost scared me!”
- Intrepid girl photographer Itoko is frightened of the cave: “I’m scared. I don’t like places like this.” Manly man Hiroshi Kurosaki rebukes her, “Don’t be silly. You’re supposed to be a news photographer,” “But….” she whines. Kurosaki continues to rake her over the coals, “Then go back to Tokyo and learn how to cook. Marry some little office worker, have babies, stay home and wash diapers.” This stiffens Itoko’s limp spine, “Alright! I’m not quitting!”
- At first Mr. Funazu thinks he’s been ripped off: “Stupid bird-lizard!” Later the baby Gappa has him seeing dollar signs: “You can tame any animal. We’ll teach it tricks.” ….. “This’ll be the greatest thing I’ve done.”
- Mr. Funazu’s sweet little daughter speaks the obvious when she first sees the baby Gappa: “Wow! It’s big!”
- When it’s all over and half of Japan has been leveled, delicate Itoko decides Kurosaki was right and it’s time for a career change: “You know, I decided to quit my job. I guess I’m just an ordinary woman. I should stay home, marry an office worker and wash diapers. You see, I, well …. Goodbye.” Whereupon, he-man Kurosaki realizes he’s in love and chases after her. (My reaction: “Yuck! Ptooey!”).
So, overall, Monster from a Prehistoric Planet is a huge daikaiju fail. It was apparently intended to be a “lighthearted satire of the daikaiju films of the period” but basically just comes across as clunky and silly. But the baby Gappa is cute and helpless and its reunion with its parents is sweet.
Of course, the very best thing about Monster from a Prehistoric Planet is that it is FREE in the Public Domain. The Internet Archive has three versions of the film. I watched all or part of the Ogg video of each version. Two of the versions are very dark and it is very hard to see any details of the Gappa and much of the action. The third version is much brighter and clearer and its opening credits are a bit different from the other two. Sound quality on all three versions was good.
Please click this link to go to the version of Monster from a Prehistoric Planet that was much brighter and clearer than the other two.
Please clink this link to go to the version of the film that seems to be most popular (19,000+ downloads) even though it is darker.
Please click this link to go to the third and also darker version of the film.