Direction: Ishiro Honda
Screenplay: Ishiro Honda and Kaoru Mabuchi
Music: Akira Ifubuke
Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya and Teisho Arikawa
Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka
Gadzooks, Godzilla’s blasting the U.N. building! Gorosaurus is crumbling the Arc de Triomphe!
And Rodan is buzzing the Kremlin!
Never before had we seen Toho’s giant monsters attacking cities outside Japan, but
this was one of the core delights of 1968’s Destroy All Monsters,
a film that in many ways marked the end of Godzilla’s Showa series glory days.
Indeed, Toho originally intended DAM to be Godzilla’s last movie, one that
would end the series on a high note.
To Japanese monster fans, the plot is well-known: The year is 1999 (which sounded
distant back in the late sixties). Earth’s most destructive monsters have all
been captured and confined to the Ogsawara Islands, a.k.a. Monsterland. However, evil aliens called Kilaaks
wrest control of the monsters and send them out on a spree of worldwide
devastation. The never-say-die heroes eventually destroy the Kilaaks’ means of
controlling Godzilla and company, and the aliens send King Ghidorah against the
earth monsters as a last resort. After a fierce battle, Earth’s monsters
prevail over the three-headed space monster. Godzilla demolishes the Kilaaks’
secret base, and the kaiju return to Monsterland.
That’s the story in a Gamera shell. Indeed, some have criticized DAM for offering
little in the way of characterization or story intrigue. But the filmmakers
structured the movie as a showcase for a veritable army of Toho kaiju from the
fifties and sixties, and on that level, it works quite well.
Spectacle was the order of the day in DAM, and it provided plenty of it. Unfortunately,
despite a higher budget that Godzilla’s previous two entries, DAM’s special
effects prove erratic. Take city miniatures. The Tokyo set
attacked by Godzilla, Rodan, Manda, and Mothra is quite detailed and impressive
– indeed, the monsters’ attack on Japan’s often besieged capital is the film’s destructive
highlight. Likewise effective is the Arc de Triomphe model that Gorosaurus
obliterates when tunneling up from beneath Paris. But the shoreline of New York City is obvious and disappointing,
and even Godzilla’s ray-blasting of the U.N. building lacks punch.
In addition, the outer space effects appear inferior to similar effects in past
Toho efforts such as Battle In Outer Space and Monster Zero. For
example, when either traversing over the moon’s surface or flying to Earth,
smoke billows from the SY-3’s engine flames. Of course, in space, there
wouldn’t be any smoke. And in Battle of Outer Space, Toho’s effects
artisans were careful to omit any smoky exhausts in space (save for two or
three brief sequences). To some this might be a minor detail, but it would
have been so easy to have avoided this gaff by simply providing animated flames
to spurt from the rocket’s engines. After all, the SY-3 itself looks nifty, so
it’s a shame Toho wasn’t more careful with DAM’s space scenes.
Of course, at this point, Eiji Tsuburaya was not actually directing the effects,
but simply supervising them. The scope of visuals attempted in DAM is
ambitious, and the SPFX set pieces are entertaining, even when they don’t
always come off.
To some extent, DAM appears to have been rushed – which is the norm for Toho SFantasy
films. For example, Baragon and not Gorosaurus was to have burst up from the
earth in Paris, but Baragon’s suit wasn’t ready. We’re also told
that Mothra is attacking Peking (Beijing) and that Manda is mauling London, but we
never see either monster in either city. (It’s easy to imagine Manda coiling
around Big Ben or snaking across London’s Tower Bridge.) This makes one wonder if such scenes might have
been planned but scrapped due to time and budget restrictions.
In addition, the film’s script never explains how the
monsters were captured in the first place (a couple of flashbacks showing kaiju
being ferried to the Ogsawara chain might have been nice). Especially
mysterious is Mothra’s appearance in Monsterland. Mothra’s twin fairies are
nowhere in sight and remain unmentioned – what happened to them? And for that
matter, what happened to the natives of Mothra’s Infant Island – and Infant Island
itself? Also, Mothra was always a “good” monster before, so why is she now
caged up with a troupe of kaiju baddies?
Along with the story and special effects, the monster
suits appear likewise uneven in quality. Godzilla’s new costume is vastly
better than the ghastly concoction used in Son of Godzilla. But the
suit is a total departure from the Big G’s more menacing and well-known suits,
such as the King-goji used in King Kong vs. Godzilla and the Muso-goji
used in Godzilla vs. The Thing. Also, Rodan’s DAM head is something of
a disaster with its downturned beak. And while King Ghidorah’s return is
welcome, the suit doesn’t measure up to the original costume used in Ghidrah,
The Three-Headed Monster and Monster Zero. This time the wings
appear less bat-like and organic, looking instead like spray-painted plastic.
On the plus side suit-wise, Angilas’ modified look is first-rate (though there is
little if any attempt to hide the fact that the actor in the costume is walking
on his knees). Manda appears more serpent-like, having lost his Asian dragon
countenance. And Gorosaurus remains as impressive as in its debut in King
DAM’s sets are well-designed, from the Monsterland interiors to the alien bases to
the surface of the moon. The sprawling model of Tokyo appears less futuristic
than practical – which, in fact, is the way 1999 turned out to have actually
Akira Ifubuke turns in one of his best monster movie scores. The title march is
particularly spirited. Of course, DAM was the “last hurrah” of Toho’s old
guard – composer Ifubuke, director Ishiro Honda, and special effects master Eiji
Tsuburaya, the three men behind Toho’s best films from Toho’s Golden and Silver
Despite its shortcomings, DAM remains a favorite of many kaiju eiga fans, and it
remains a personal favorite of mine also. I still recall how knocked out I was
when I first saw DAM at a drive-in movie theatre in the summer of 1969. The
film’s got plenty going for it. For example, the terran monsters knock-down,
drag-out battle against King Ghidorah remains one of the best monster wars in
Highlights of the battle include Angilas clamping onto one of the space monster’s necks
and finding himself airborne, only to lose his grip and crash to the earth;
Godzilla wrestling with one of Ghidrah’s heads; Gorosaurus drop-kicking
the three-headed dragon; and several of the monsters ganging up on the
downed Ghidrah and stomping the life out of him. You actually see a bit of red
kaiju blood (Ghidrah’s); in addition, the golden dragon’s death warbles
and feebly writhing tails presage the monster’s demise. It’s refreshing to see
a battle against the space monster that ends in a definitive defeat, rather
than Ghidorah’s usual flapping off into outer space.
During the seventies and eighties, DAM used to show up on local TV. Nowadays the film
is available on ADV Films DVD and video in a pristine, widescreen edition.
Unfortunately, this is Toho’s “International Version” dubbed by Frontier
Enterprises rather than the original AIP dub provided by Titra Studios. The
AIP dub is vastly superior to the International one, and besides that, the AIP
dub represents one of the best dub jobs of any Japanese monster movie. While
the film is of course still entertaining, it just isn’t quite the same without hearing
Hal Linden (that’s right!) and the many other English voices that enriched the
Still, in any version, DAM offers one of the high points of the sixties kaiju eiga
scene. A review of DAM in Castle of Frankenstein #21 (1974 issue) notes that “usual comic book spirit
prevails.” I agree. DAM is very much like a live-action comic book bursting
to the seams with monsters and flying saucers and spaceships and smashed
miniatures. A Toho treat radiating agreeable Saturday matinee vibes, DAM was
made for the (monster) kid in all of us.