Shortly after the release of 1971 movie Gamera vs Zigra, production company Daiei collapsed, leaving the series in limbo. Though Daiei was revived in 1974, it took nine years for another Gamera movie to appear – and it took the form of 1980’s Gamera: Super Monster.
It opens with a sequence that feels cheap and derivative; an interstellar battle between spaceships that’s rendered entirely using painted, still images with accompanying sound effects. The model effect that follows this – one of the ships heading for Earth – feels like a complete rip off of Star Wars. Things don’t improve when we arrive on Earth: three apparently super powered women seem to be our only defence against the approaching aliens (and Star Wars isn’t the only film being ripped off – these scenes feel very reminiscent of Richard Donner’s Superman and Richard Lester’s Superman II).
It wouldn’t be a Showa-Era Gamera film without kids though – and we’re soon introduced to a Gamera-obsessed boy who acquires a pet turtle (from one of our super-powered women, who owns a pet shop because why the hell not, right?). Things get really nuts, even by the standards of the usual Gamera films. So the thee super women live in a van at night. In a bag. Because of course they do.
There’s an evil space woman who keeps trying to kill Gamera with some strangely familiar creatures – and it’s here that we discover the real reason the ‘new’ Gamera film came to be, after the series was in limbo for nine years: aside from the insane framing device of the intergalactic attack on Earth and the three superheroes (accompanied by the kid), there’s no new footage here at all. It’s entirely recycled fight scenes from the previous Gamera films, in a weird order and shorn of context, purporting to be one new monster attack after another – instigated by the new alien threat. It’s just as bad as it sounds.
As hilarious as it is to see the terrible new stuff with the awkward costumes and incoherent attempt at making sense of old scenes in a new story, it’s a complete failure on every level. I was beginning to be concerned that I was having actual fun watching the Gamera movies in such quick succession and losing all sense of objectivity, but thankfully this 1980 entry has reminded me that I can still spot a turd when I see one. Imagine, if you will, being an audience member in 1980 – being excited to see the first new Gamera film for nine years – and ending up watching a film comprised mostly of all the scenes you’ve already seen countless times before, with the new stuff barely making any sense at all anyway (though there’s three heroic women, two of them never get involved in the action – which is just one example of how baffling the entire proceedings are!). Though re-using footage from previous films is a trick the series pulled off more than once before, it was never to this extent. It’s utterly, embarrassingly shameless.
Unsurprisingly, this terrible cash in marked the true end of an era for Gamera – and it’d be a tragic send off if the series had never continued. Thankfully, Gamera did return – though it was fifteen years before the next entry, the long overdue 1995 reboot: Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. DId the new era herald a move away from the cheap and cheerful antics of the 60s, 70s and final ‘original’ entry in 1980? We’ll find out soon enough…
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