Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)

Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)

The Three-Headed Monster battles Godzilla, Mothra and Rodan for the world!

Godzilla and Rodan are back on the rampage in Japan, destroying cities before setting their sights on each other. In the meantime, a massive meteor crashes to Earth and from it emerges Ghidrah, a powerful three-headed space monster intent on destroying the planet. Seeing how deadly this new monster is, the twin fairies of Infant Island summon Mothra who proceeds to communicate with Godzilla and Rodan, persuading them to work together to defeat this new menace. But with their past histories of fighting each other, can the Earth monsters co-operate long enough?

 

The fifth entry in the Godzilla franchise, Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster is arguably the one where the series ditched the seriousness and started playing things for laughs. As if seeing Godzilla and a rather flea-ridden King Kong ‘fight’ and then watching Godzilla take on a giant moth wasn’t funny enough for some, the previous films at least managed to maintain a level of seriousness and treat the monsters with a bit of respect. Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster introduces such camp daftness as the rival monsters playing rock badminton amongst other things. You would think that the most loaded Godzilla film up to this point (featuring four giant monsters!) would be an exciting thrill ride full of wanton destruction, monster mayhem and Tokyo getting smashed to pieces. Unfortunately it is not.

The main problem with Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster is that despite the inclusion of four monsters, the script doesn’t gel well enough to give them a valid purpose for being in the film. There is some footage of both Godzilla and Rodan during the opening credits but once they’re over, it’s a long time before they re-appear on screen. As with most of the earlier Godzilla films, there’s little action in the first half and lots of talking. Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster tries to lay claim to be the talkiest of the Godzilla films and I wouldn’t try and argue against that case. It takes ages for the first monsters to even appear on screen and even longer for them to do anything worthwhile.

The daft human sub-plots in the Godzilla films do take the biscuit though – this time around there is some princess who believes she’s a Martian, proclaiming to all that the Earth is doomed and who attracts the attention of an assassination who continually tries to kill her. The human sub-plot and the monsters destroying Tokyo don’t exactly gel together and run alongside each other with little connection. I’m sure the writers could have come up with some better ideas to link the two better as the film comes off as two separate films mutually thrust in a weird marriage of convenience. It seems like director Ishirô Honda is trying to hold off on the monster action in order to build up a bit of suspense like he did with the original. But if the monsters aren’t on screen then at least have the characters talking about them instead of worrying about each other.

The final battle between all four monsters is strangely disappointing given how much build-up it receives during the film. It’s nowhere near as spectacular as it deserved to be and Ghidrah has his ass kicked (not for the last time either) before deciding enough is enough and simply leaving. There’s no proper resolution – he just flies off, which could mean he simply heads off to New York or London and resumes Earth-destroying. Lots of miniature houses are destroyed in the process, though not as many as first imagined as the monsters conveniently head out of the city for the final confrontation so as to avoid any unnecessary damage to Tokyo. Most of the monster sequences are well-filmed and, as a testament to how strong they look, stock footage of the final battle and of Ghidrah laying waste to Tokyo would be re-used time and time again in the later sequels.

If there is one thing to be thankful for here, it’s the introduction of Godzilla’s greatest ever foe and my personal favourite kaiju, Ghidrah (or King Ghidorah as he would come to be known later on). He’s such an awesome-looking monster and the design and costume is fantastic. There is just something about Ghidrah that looks downright evil – you can almost feel the personal vendetta against Godzilla that the monster has here and in the future films. Ghidrah has such a mythical look about him that he’s unlike the majority of the other kaijus introduced in the series. His roar is memorable, his beams weapons deadly and he’s just one bad-ass monster (who unfortunately gets his ass kicked in every single film he’s been in!). Mothra makes her second appearance in a Godzilla film here and is confined to the larva stage for the entire film, presumably because it was cheaper to film this version of the monster than the flying version. She’s pretty useless in the film and is hardly the sort of monster you’d want by your side if you were Godzilla fighting a physical monster like Ghidrah.

Funnily enough, her participation in this film, specifically the ‘communicating’ that she does with Godzilla and Rodan to convince them that humanity is not the enemy, spelt the end for the monsters as Japan’s destroyers right up until 1984′s The Return of Godzilla. After this, Godzilla and his Earth monster comrades were protectors of mankind, defending the planet from all manner of nasty aliens and their monsters. So her inclusion served as a pivotal moment for the series although the merits of Godzilla’s transformation into some form of superhero will split fans down the middle. At least Mothra has an excuse for looking so cheap – Rodan doesn’t far too well at all. He comes off as some third-rate knock off of The Giant Claw and his battles with Godzilla during the film consist of some cheap puppet head repeatedly pecking the Godzilla suit.

 

Thankfully, there were better Godzilla films to come in the future, which included a lot more fighting between the giant monsters. Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster is certainly not one of the worst in the series and manages to keep a lid on the silliness and the camp. But it’s one of the most boring entries. The lure of four of Toho’s most popular monsters fighting sounded good on paper but it’s all a bit of a let down in the end.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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