Godzilla just keeps getting sillier and sillier. I honestly can’t say I mind, since the majority of my favorite and most beloved childhood memories of the Big G stem from his later Showa Era films, and not so much his earlier successes. Along with Godzilla vs. Gigan, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (which most Americans know better as Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, but again, I’m using Toho’s officially designated English titles for consistency) is one of the movies I remember most vividly from my youth.
Did you know that back in the day, you had to pay extra to have the Disney Channel added to your cable package? It was like HBO or Cinemax, back then (before the “tier” system became a thing). Anyhow, I was lucky, and we had the Disney Channel. In those days, it wasn’t the “Hannah Montana Network” and actually showed a diverse selection of their classic cartoons, films and other licensed media. Every now and then, they’d run a Godzilla movie; Ebirah, Horror of the Deep being one of their most frequent offerings.
After his brother goes missing when his fishing boat sinks, country bumpkin Ryota (Toru Watanabe) is determined to find him and bring him home. After a series of unlikely circumstances, Ryota becomes lost at sea with two groovy teenagers (Chotaro Togin and Hideo Sunazuka) and an expert burglar (Akira Takarada). Their voyage is a disaster after they become stranded on Devil Island, which happens to be the secret base of the terrorist organization Red Bamboo. Red Bamboo is busy manufacturing nuclear weaponry and kidnapping natives from the neighboring rock of Infant Island. The slaves have the task of making a strange yellow liquid that controls Devil Island’s fearsome guardian: The giant lobster, Ebirah (Hiroshi Sekita)! Teaming up with escaped slave, Daiyo (Kumi Mizuno), these reluctant freedom fighters have to come up with a scheme to stop Red Bamboo. Lucky for them, Godzilla (Haruo Nakajima) happens to be napping in a nearby cave…
For the first time since Godzilla Raids Again, a Godzilla movie is directed by someone other than Ishiro Honda. It’s a refreshing change of pace, too, since Director Jun Fukuda brings a very different and unique style to the series with this effort. Don’t get me wrong, Honda is the man, but it was getting a little monotonous. Fukuda’s approach is almost blaringly different from Honda’s, choosing to be far more contemporary, wacky and with a much greater presence of humor and mirth.
While the last film, Invasion of Astro-Monster, had all the trappings of a silly ‘50s B-movie, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep feels much more modern and “with it” (at least for the ‘60s, anyway). It has something of a James Bond-vibe to it, with the heroes sneaking around supervillain headquarters and secret island-based laboratories, rescuing a pretty girl and trying to stop the bad guys from world domination. Red Bamboo with its eye-patched leader (Akihiko Hirato) definitely seems to channel Blofeld and SPECTRE.
If Ebirah, Horror of the Deep differentiates itself from the previous entries in one single defining way, it would have to be the music. Honda was very fond of Akira Ifukube’s classical, triumphant score while Fukuda seems to have desired the opposite. The music in this flick, provided by Masaru Sato, is so ‘60s it hurts. What with the setting taking place on a tropical island, Sato brings us some hip and happening surfer music. Lots and lots of it. It almost sounds like a rerun of Hawaii Five-O. The music sets the light-hearted and whimsical tone nicely and acts as a very different, but simultaneously refreshing backdrop to the giant monster battles.
From what I’ve been able to dig up, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep was actually initially scripted to be a film featuring the Toho version of King Kong. The film got the shaft and Toho went on to make King Kong Escapes a few years later, instead. And yet, they had this perfectly good script lying around, so whaddaya gonna do? Swap King Kong out with Godzilla, that’s what. This leads to some rather awkward moments of characterization for Godzilla, to say the least. Godzilla is seen snoozing in a cave on Devil Island and is awoken and powered-up by lightning (back in King Kong vs. Godzilla, electricity was shown to be King Kong’s element). In one of the most unusual sequences, Godzilla saves Daiyo from Red Bamboo agents and a giant condor then proceeds to sit down in front of her and stare longingly at her until he falls asleep.
Despite channeling the Eighth Wonder of the World for a few awkward scenes, Godzilla is still Godzilla in this installment. He blasts everything he can with his atomic breath and does so with his usual zeal. There’s also a “dance sequence” featuring Godzilla that you’ll either love or hate. As Red Bamboo jets attack him, more of Sato’s trendy rock music starts blaring. Godzilla’s various swaying, swatting and swinging actions look identical to the dance moves showcased by the human characters at the beginning of the film. Hey, as much as I love Godzilla, acting “dignified” isn’t one of his stronger traits. At least it wasn’t during the ‘60s.
We get a pretty healthy number of monsters to round out the roster. Ebirah receives the spotlight in this film, and while I’m typically not a fan of monsters that are just bigger versions of normal animals, his design really works and he provides Godzilla with a more unusual adversary than his typical foes. He’s a bit light on the power side, with nothing really going for him outside of boulder-tossing and a really big claw.
Mothra makes her second-to-last Showa Era appearance (and her last one as a full-grown moth), but mostly participates in a cameo role. She has a brief tussle with Godzilla, but it’s half-hearted at best. One final monster makes a completely random appearance here; the giant condor (some fans call him “Ookondoru” but that just means “giant condor”). He wasn’t intended to be some titanic heavyweight, but more of a time-killer than anything else. His appearance is especially out of the blue and he dies as swiftly as he came.
The human drama is pretty fun; a nice change of pace from scientists, soldiers and reporters (the standard set of human characters in Godzilla movies). These are basically just completely different people from completely different walks of life, hurled into a bizarre circumstance together and forced to make due. Veteran Toho actor Akira Takarada (whom you might recognize from the past handful of Godzilla movies) acts as the leader of the group and is always a class act in these movies. Kumi Mizuno, another of Toho’s go-to cast members, is definitely looking her prettiest here. An odd change of pace is that the Twin Fairies have been recast. The Peanuts (Emi and Yumi Ito) have been let go and replaced by another idol-singing duo, Pair Bambi. They fit the bill well-enough, but they sort of lack the “adorable” factor that the Peanuts had.
Ebirah, Horror of the Deep is one of my favorites from the Showa Era and a criminally overlooked installment in the series. People tend not to pay it much mind since it doesn’t feature a visually stunning adversary for the Big G, like King Ghidorah, Gigan or Mechagodzilla, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t any fun.