By Chuck Francisco
It had to happen, Japanese monster fans! After drinking from the waters cast off from the most excellent of Kaiju (Gamera water tastes of strawberries and is coming to a supermarket near you), a catalog of those monsters basted in weak sauce became inevitable. Consider these the Kaiju picked last in monster gym class; for one or many reasons, they fail the awesome beastie litmus test. As with all lists, disagreements will break out. Believe me when I tell you that I didn't set out to crush anyone's childhood recollections, but we're making Kaiju omelets, so let's crack a bunch of McMansion sized eggs and let the tears fly!
Varan the Unbelievable might have sold better under a more accurately descriptive name like "Varan the Flying Lizard Squirrel". Indeed this leathery skinned reptile sports skin flaps like a wingsuit, allowing him to glide menacingly through the air. Featured in only one film (with cameos in two others) Varan is unbelievably undone in its own 1958 self-titled film when the military tricks it into swallow, not one, not two, but three bombs. Without any distinguishing characteristics or armaments, Varan has been relegated to the C list of Kaiju.
For powerhouses such as Godzilla, fighting Manda would be akin to a professional wrestler taking on a full sized man with midget sized appendages. Have you seen Manda? He's like carny folk: small hands (don't know if he smells of cabbage though). As a massive snake (with four tiny little legs) practically his only mode of attack consists of wrapping himself around things and constricting them to death. Consider how ineffective this is in a world where the other monsters can bathe themselves in electricity, or are covered in sharp spines or impenetrable shells. Manda couldn't even destroy the submarine warship it tried to constrict in its own movie! His other abilities include swimming fast and breathing underwater. So he's Kaiju Aquaman. At least he's not the Guy Gardner of Kaiju? I guess? The movie it's first featured in, Atrigon, is pretty awesome though. Check out the AIP trailer (above).
Ebirah is the main opponent of Godzilla in Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, one of my all-time favorite Kaiju films. The story succeeds, despite Ebirah being incredibly lame-o, thanks in large part to a better than average human story. As for the monster itself, would you believe it's a giant mutated shrimp? An angry, ship smashing, human gulping, appetizer (full of sound and fury, signifying delicious). I'd be cheesed off too if my distant cousins were served up cold, on the rim of a glass full of cocktail sauce (I don't even rate BBQ sauce?). But would I be crazed enough to take on Godzilla with my wimpy claws and ability to swim at a brisk pace? Yeah no, not at all. Ebirah is totally trounced by Big G twice, and during the second battle Godzilla rips out his claws. He probably deveined him as well since he only shows up in stock footage appearances thereafter.
Ah, Moguera! For a last-minute addition to a film (The Mysterians) which had no Kaiju, you weren't terrible. But when considered against the width and breadth of Japanese monsterdom, you kinda suck. With its enduring, transformer-esk design, Mogura is visually interesting (much more so in later incarnations), but the performance doesn't live up to the luster. This unstoppable reptilian shaped mecha appears to signal the downfall of Tokyo until a bridge is destroyed below it. That's right, this Kaiju is undone by surprise and gravity. Mechagodzilla is so ashamed that he crosses the street to avoid being seen socializing with Moguera. At least Starscream still invites him over to play Pitfall on his Atari 2600 every Sunday morning (they're BFF's).
Minilla is a miniature Godzilla. Get it? He's a tubby, childlike version of the big G, who appears in the dreams of kids to teach them how to deal with trouble at school. That's right, Minilla is like the after-school special of Kaiju monsters and proof positive that any successful formulas can be broken when filmmakers forcefully insert a character designed only to appeal to children. He emits donkey noises and resembles a stunted E.T., while boasting the staggeringly useless ability to shrink down to human size. Woo. Minilla is the Jar-Jar Binks of Kaiju monsters and we are right to shame.
There, the dust is settled. Did I trample on one of your childhood favorites? Be honest. Who didn't make the list that you think should have?
Chuck Francisco has written for Mania, Exploitation Retrospect, Cinadelphia, Pop Kernal, and The Midnight Cheese. He is a performer and committee member for Blobfest, the annual celebration of 1958's The Blob. He's also a swing dancer, cocktail enthusiast, and right dapper gent. Follow him on Instagram because why not?