Monday, October 22, 2012

RODAN (1956)

Death in almost any form is ugly and messy, so it’s especially absurd to think of a hydrogen bomb being able to cleanly dispatch millions of people. Besides the human toll, from both the victims, their families, and the entire society around them, there is also collateral damage in the form of nuclear fallout (hello flipper babies), as well as BIG ASS SCARY MONSTERS! Really, is the H-bomb worth all this horror and trouble? Perhaps you should just try talking to the other guy first, maybe box him in the ears if you have to. 

American and Japanese monster movies of the fifties share a lot of sensibilities, the most glaring one being the monster as a manifestation of fears specific to the technology of the nuclear age. However, the Japanese monster movie tends to more specifically revolve around the fear of a giant friggin’ bomb dropping on some poor bastard’s head and obliterating an entire city, and you can probably figure out why. Also as a result, these Japanese monster movies had crossover appeal to American audiences at the time, assuming they were dubbed and had scenes of some white guy standing around explaining things (or, in this case, white guys doing stuff while another white guy explains things in voice over). 

One such movie is Rodan, which sort of differentiates itself from the likes of the Godzilla movies by essentially being a monster horror movie and tacked on to a I’m-gonna-fuck-up-your-city-and-there’s-jack-all-you-can-do-about-it monster movie. Within the cliché ridden realm of the monster flick, anything that structurally differentiates your film from other monster movies is an innovation worth celebrating. If you ripoff Jaws but tell it from the shark’s point of view, you’re gonna get high-fived by monster movie fans and rightfully so. 

The first part is about mine workers who fall prey to a mysterious unseen creature who tears these dudes apart (“it’s not murder…it’s worse!” one character proclaims). I like that this part is milked for psychological tension; the workers sense something is wrong before anything actually happens and even start falling apart from some unknown mental stress. The monster is not initially shown at all; for example, one dude is even sucked underneath the water with no explanation given. This is what makes it horror as opposed to an action filled story of a giant piece of rubber ripping people’s heads off and hurling a bus into the ocean just to be a dick.  When the monster is finally shown, it’s both shocking and hilarious. I don’t want to give it away, but it’s sort of like grandpa being in the closet his whole life, and then during Thanksgiving one year he suddenly comes out to everyone and starts acting like Rip Taylor out of the blue. Yikes. That’s the best metaphor I could come up with? I’m sorry. 

Almost as amusing is the scene where the miner with the head trauma and resultant memory loss is trying to recall if he actually saw the creature. An official hands him a mugshot of the monster to try and jog his memory, as if this once ethereal and mysterious force has now been booked and fingerprinted and photographed in close-up. The dude with the head wound also provides the human drama, as he was about to get married, but now, thanks to that asshole monster, he can’t even remember his fiancée’s name. She gets pretty teary about it as you might imagine. That’s just one example of the human effect that a monster like this can have, whether rubber or nuclear. 

The second part is about, you guessed it, Rodan, a big ass bird with the ability to knock buildings and shit over through the power of supersonic flight. Watch the military truck do a 360 and the little dude fall out and get crushed underneath. This is the more conventional part, where people stand around and talk about science stuff (they especially like referencing Rodan’s “supersonic” ability) in between scenes of Rodan going to town on a city. Get it? Going to town on a city? Oh dear god help me. 

Anyway, my favorite attack is when Rodan drags off a couple who are spending their honeymoon in front of a volcano about to explode. You see, the H-bomb testing has not only cracked open the earth, and cracked open several prehistoric eggs that lay deep within said earth, but has also caused the local volcano to become active again. Of course, this madman immediately takes his new wife to the volcano so he can have her pose for pictures in front of it while a giant killer bird is flying around. If you want to get “wild and dangerous” on your honeymoon, snort some blow and have sex in an airplane bathroom like a normal person. 

The response to this threat is to simply have a bunch of military dudes empty firearms into the creatures. No strategic subtlety whatsoever. Just call up every tank in Japan and unload everything you got into that giant bird until he keels over or decides that messing with Japan is a bad idea and flies away and goes and ruins Bratislava’s day instead. Unfortunately, the devastation brought on by real bombs and such is not quite as easy to fix. However, the "unleash the firepower" solution makes for a way more awesome third act, so I’ll let it slide. 

P.S. Yet another post in the Lazy Baker Halloween Horror Countdown.  Maybe 4 more, but I could be wrong.  I'm not going to bother to look it up right now.


  1. I never realized that a) I hadn't seen this and b) I probably should. I think I lump all the Japanese monster movies together, but from what I've been told and based on your review, this one does stand apart. I need to get on it.

    1. RACIST! No, I do the same thing. I initially thought I had seen this but actually hadn't. It doesn't help that some of them go by different titles.