Also known as Gamera vs. Gyaos, this third installment in the Showa era Gamera series is where the franchise really hits its stride and finds the shamelessly absurd kid-oriented formula that works. Return of the Giant Monsters is perhaps the most well-known of all the films in the classic Gamera series, as it features one of Gamera’s most famous foes in Gyaos, who would be well-utilized in the Heisei era Gamera trilogy. In all honesty, Return of the Giant Monsters is where the vintage Gamera franchise genuinely starts to get good, as it wears its ridiculous nature on its sleeve, reveling in its own goofiness while simultaneously giving the audience of little kids more of what it wants: giant monster battles.
Return of the Giant Monsters (1967)
When highway workers accidentally set-off a chain of earthquakes that cause Mt. Fuji to erupt, the long-dormant giant vampire bat Gyaos awakens from his hibernation… with an appetite! The man-eater begins terrorizing the country, gobbling-up and scarfing-down any person it can get its claws on. Even the mighty turtle-monster Gamera (Teruo Aragaki) seems powerless to stop the beast, as its super-sonic beam is powerful enough to slice through Gamera’s flesh and its fire-extinguishing smoke renders Gamera’s flamethrowers useless.
Little Eiichi (Naoyuki Abe) hasn’t lost hope and is confident that Gamera will triumph. The adults surrounding him are a little less confident, though, and pool all their resources into defeating Gyaos with a giant blood-filled turntable. No, really.
If Daiei’s Gamera series had one thing over Toho’s better-known Godzilla series, it would have to be that it knew precisely what audience it was playing toward (small children) and precisely what they came to theater’s looking for (giant silly monsters fighting each other). The Godzilla films, awesome though they are, were often prone to distracting themselves with the human-centric plots, relegating the kaiju to an afterthought, not to be dragged out until the end of the film. The Gamera series, on the other hand, had no pretenses of cinematic artistry or broad demographic appeal. Kids wanted to see giant monsters wailing on each other for 80 minutes and by god, Daiei was gonna give it to em!
True, the previous installment in the series, War of the Monsters, suffered from trying to focus on a boring, adult-centric plot, keeping the star turtle out of the spotlight for fifty minutes. Return of the Giant Monsters, however, is where the franchise turns around, stops trying to copy Godzilla’s formula and begins doing its own unique and undeniably fun thing.
Gamera officially becomes a Friend to Children Everywhere with this installment, going out of his way to save little Eiichi from Gyaos’ dinner plate, even giving him a ride to town and waiting patiently while human rescue workers get him off the back of his shell (and even responds to polite requests to “move closer”!). This inexplicable affection for pudgy little Asian kids would become Gamera’s stock and trade for the rest of the Showa series, firmly entrenching the character as a children’s icon.
The evil kaiju of the film is Gyaos, a colossal vampire bat that is almost ridiculously overpowered. Gyaos can fire a super-sonic beam from its mouth that can cut through just about anything (except Gamera’s impervious shell, of course), create hurricane-level winds with its wings, re-grow lost body parts and is even equipped with a fire-extinguishing powder that can douse Gamera’s flame attacks.
Gamera and Gyaos proceed to battle three times throughout the course of this film, with Gyaos pretty much mopping the floor with our heroic turtle every time. Gamera doesn’t take the upper hand until he cleverly stuffs a boulder in Gyaos’ mouth and drags him into a volcano. Scoff all you want, but his strategy for victory is still markedly more intelligent than the Japanese military’s (and more effective, too).
The middle section of Return of the Giant Monsters revolves around a failed attempt by the military to defeat Gyaos using an amusement park merry-go-round outfitted with a fountain of synthetic blood. Since Gyaos dies when exposed to sunlight, they figure that they’ll lure him to the merry-go-round and then make him too dizzy to escape when the sun comes up.
That bullshit probably cost the Japanese taxpayers twenty billion yen or something. Money well-spent.
It’s hard to level any serious criticisms at Return of the Giant Monsters, as that would almost be like missing the point. In many ways, it’s a far more satisfying giant monster film for children than most Godzilla fare, as it offers lots of giant monster battles throughout its 80 minutes and the silliness is quite fun. The bad special effects go without saying by this point and adults may find the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version as its only source of genuine entertainment.
But if you’re going into a Gamera movie then I’m sure you already know what to expect, and Return of the Giant Monsters is where the series really hits its stride. So give the turtle a break. He’d probably babysit for you.