As more than one person notes in the “So Happy Together: A Look Back at MST3K & Gamera” bonus feature in this excellent five-disc set, the Gamera movies were perfect fodder for MST3K. It probably also helped that Joel and early versions of the ‘bots mocked these films during the KTMA days, so the cast and crew were ready to tackle them again in season three, when they had more resources at their disposal and could do them right.
Gamera was Daiei’s answer to Godzilla, who had catapulted rival studio Toho into the hearts and minds of children around the world. Like pretty much every attempt by any film studio to mimic anything popular throughout history, the Gamera films more or less photocopied the Godzilla template: man’s nuclear follies produce an enormous creature that wreaks havoc before becoming Japan’s protector and kicking ass when other monsters arrive. In Gamera’s case, though, Daiei threw in a “friend to all children” angle that the MST3K crew ripped into without mercy.
This set leads off with Gamera’s 1965 black-and-white debut and continues through “Gamera vs. Barugon” (1966), “Gamera vs. Gyaos” (1967), “Gamera vs. Guiron” (1969), and “Gamera vs. Zigra” (1971). While each of the films was interspersed among other episodes during MST3K’s third season in 1991, you can now sit down and watch them all one after the other. Let us know how you feel when you’re done; if you find yourself nauseatingly dizzy after spinning around too much while recreating the flying turtle’s battles, seek medical help.
While all of the Japanese rubber suit monster movies of the 1960s and 1970s were pretty silly, the Gamera run presented here may be the goofiest of them all. In fact, during one episode, Tom Servo can only remark, “You know, guys, this film is really goofy.” Yes, Tom, yes it is, and so are the rest of the Gamera movies, between the kitchen utensil sticking out of the head of one monster to the miniatures that were filmed without any attempt to even try to make them look realistic. (“Toy boat, toy boat, toy boat, toy boat,” Joel and the ‘bots chant during an early scene in the first film.)
Of course, there are still plenty of folks who have a soft spot in their hearts for these films (myself included: I have fond memories of watching Japanese monster movies after school and on weekends when I was a kid), and that’s where the bonus features in this set enter the picture. The “Look Back” featurette includes not only the season three cast members and writers but also Josh “J. Elvis” Weinstein, who was on the show during its KTMA run and was part of the first whack at Gamera, when they had almost no prep time and had to ad lib every episode. Meanwhile, “Gamera Obscura: A History By August Ragone” imparts more information about the movies than you may ever want to know.
The Chiodo Brothers, who not only grew up on monster movies but were inspired by them to go into the visual effects side of the business, show up in the third featurette to wax nostalgic about Gamera, Godzilla, and many other similar films. They also chat about their own work and how they use the lessons they learned from watching movies with guys in suits. The ending to this piece is silly, but I’m sure they must have had fun filming it.
Finally, the trailer for each film is included, along with the “MST Hour Wraps” for the two episodes that were sliced in half for “The MST3K Hour,” which repackaged the series into one-hour episodes with Mike Nelson doing his “Jack Perkins” character.
There’s been a lot of anticipation about this set among MST3K fans, since the Gamera episodes are considered classics, and it’s nice to have them in a volume that also includes copious bonus features. Shout Factory has done an excellent job with the MST3K series so far, besides the bare bones standalone releases, and Volume XXI, with its tin case, does not disappoint.