Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Varan the Unbelievable

For years I've owned a video tape copy of Varan the Unbelievable put out by Something Weird. It was the U.S. version, starring Myron Healey, and it was awful. I tried watching it about 10 times and managed not to fall asleep about twice. But those images of the monster, Varan, always intrigued me. I wanted to know, what were the secrets of the original film, how had Americanization screwed it up.
Thanks to Media Blasters, now I know. The company's Tokyo Shock division has been putting out some great Japanese films of late, including The Mysterians and one of my favorite films, Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People. Varan is the first giant monster movie in the series (well, Mysterians features a giant robot, Mogera, but is really focused on the alien invasion).
And I've come to find out that Varan is still not a great giant monster movie. The first part of the film, set in the "Tibet of Japan," has some atmospheric looking locations and includes actual danger to the protagonists. But the rest of the film is bogged down in military movements and Varan thrashing around in the water. Even the smashing of buildings near the end isn't all that exciting.
Varan, itself, is a pretty good monster, as long as it stays on four feet. In those scenes, it moves like no other monster in the Toho canon. It seems to move like a cat, slinking back and forth, and often pulls its front two legs up on to a structure or mountain to get a better look at flares shot off by the military. On two legs, which only seems to happen near the end, it's just embarrassing. Varan's arms move side-to-side like the Creature from the Black Lagoon and really, it just doesn't look stable.
Then there's the flying. Completely excised from the American version, Varan flees from his homeland by getting on top of a mountain and spreading flying-squirrel-like wings. It makes the monster seem all the more interesting, but it seems to come out of nowhere and is never used again.
Still, this version is a far better film than the American, and it certainly deserves a look from all dedicated monster fans.
The disc is terrific. You get Japanese language with subtitles on the movie, plus there's a second version of the movie as it was originally edited for television. There's also an audio commentary.
But the best extra I've seen is a short video about the molding of Varan. Keizo Murase, the original molder of Varan, teaches this little course in the making of scales and skin. It makes me want to build my own Varan at home!
Media Blasters isn't finished yet, either. They've got two more giant monster movies lined up, both of which I can't wait to see. The first is Dogora, giant jellyfish that come from the sky. That DVD is out now. The second is Yog, the Monster from Space, which will go under its original American title Space Amoeba. Details on both films can be seen in the HenshinOnline archives.

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