Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965)
By: Craig Villinger on February 4, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Tokyo Shock (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 2.0 Mono, Japanese DD 5.1, English DD 2.0 Mono, English DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 93 minutes
The Movie
Director: Ishiro Honda
Starring: Nick Adams, Kumi Mizuno, Tadao Takashima
Screenplay: Kaoru Mabuchi
Country: Japan
AKA: Frankenstein vs Baragon
Twelve years after unleashing Godzilla onto the world in 1954, famed kaiju master Ishiro Honda directed this lesser know Japanese/American co-production which took one of the horror genre's greatest icons, expanded him to gynormous size, and had him battle a giant rubbery monster whilst crunching cheap plastic scenery underfoot. Fun for all, surely!

It's 1945, and with the second World War all but lost in Europe the Nazi's have delivered the disembodied but still beating heart of Dr. Frankenstein's most famous creation to their Japanese allies in the hope that it can be used to engineer a race of near indestructible soldiers. Just as the doctors begin tinkering with the illustrious ticker inside the Hiroshima Army Hospital however those meddlesome Americans show up and drop the A-bomb, obliterating everything in sight. Project over.

Fifteen years later, a group of scientists who have devoted their lives to helping the victims of Hiroshima discover an ominously browed feral boy living on the streets. At first they believe him to be an orphan whose parents were victims of the blast, but the shocking truth soon becomes apparent: the immortal heart of Frankenstein managed to survive the Hiroshima fireball, and as a result of exposure to radiation has mutated - into Frankenstein himself (well, Frankenstein's monster technically, but let's not get anally retentive here; if the filmmakers are calling him Frankenstein, that's what I'm calling him) – and young Franky just won't stop growing! Despite their best efforts, the scientists are unable to control the rapidly developing mutant, and as he works his way towards Godzilla-esque proportions Frankenstein eventually makes his escape and heads into the mountains, with the military and his esteemed scientist minders not far behind. This coincides with the unexplained emergence of another giant monster, Baragon, which begins trampling poorly constructed cabins and chowing down on local livestock with gay abandon, and eventually, the two heavyweights cross paths and battle it out in true Japanese monster movie fashion.

If nothing else, Frankenstein Conquers the World is one of the kookier offerings from the great Toho Studios. The plot is just plain ludicrous at times - young Frankenstein was growing at a normal rate for the first 15 years of his life, but seemingly from the moment the scientists pick him up he's on the fast track to gigantism - and like many kaiju productions of its era it spends far too much time focusing on the human characters and their attempts to study and track the creatures instead of bombarding us with the hardcore monster action that we have paid to see. Occasionally the beasts do pop-up for a few seconds here and there to trample the scenery, or just put a big case of the spooks into a group of onlookers, but we have to wait until the final minutes for the real monster-on-monster action. When we do eventually get there however it's an enjoyable tussle filled with everything you'd expect from a 60's Toho production – WWE style grappling, irradiated breath blasts, semi-realistic looking miniature trees to be trod upon or ripped from the ground and used as weapons, a foreboding score from prolific composer Akira Ifukube (who has over 250 films to his credit, including a good percentage of Toho's Godzilla productions), and a few hilarious moments where Frankenstein jumps on Baragon's back and appears to ride him like a mechanical bull.

Adding to the kookiness is the design of the creatures. Frankenstein is not the lumbering collection of human extremities and nuts and bolts that we are accustomed to seeing – here he looks more like a young Cro-Magnon man from the upper Paleolithic period - while Baragon is, quite frankly, dopey looking. Giant floppy ears make it look like some sort of dinosaur/Dumbo the elephant hybrid, and the luminous horn jutting from its face does little to add to its menace. On the upside, Baragon is responsible for some of the more memorable creature carnage moments in the movie. Whereas Frankenstein is more of a morose, misunderstood character with no real desire to harm anyone, Baragon is more than happy to crush, kill, and destroy at every opportunity. One sequence in particular which shows Baragon lumbering towards a packed chicken coup, then cuts to a shot of it walking away with a stream of feathers falling from its mouth is guaranteed to raise some chuckles.

It's far from the best film on Ishiro Honda's resume, but Frankenstein Conquers the World is a cheesy, old school viewing experience that is bound to provide at least some entertainment value for those who like their monsters to be made of foam and rubber rather than computer generated pixels. The title is grossly misleading however, as Frankenstein doesn't actually conquer the world at all. In fact, he doesn't even conquer Japan - mostly he just wanders around with a sad look on his face.

Frankenstein Conquers the World might not be one of the most highly regarded, or widely know productions in the annals of Japanese monster mash history, but Tokyo Shock have gone above and beyond for this DVD presentation, treating us to no less than three different versions of the film on two discs: the Japanese theatrical cut (titled Frankenstein Vs Baragon) which clocks in at 89 minutes, a 93 minute international version, and the dubbed 84 minute US cut. The differences between the three versions aren't monumental, although the international version is definitely my personal fave as it inexplicably tacks-on a tussle between Frankenstein and a giant octopus at the end!
All three versions of the film are presented in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with 16:9 enhancement. The transfer quality is uniformly excellent – for a film that is over forty years old, various speckly marks and print damage would be completely forgivable, but these artefacts are rarely noticeable, although the US cut does show a little more wear and tear than the other two versions. Colours are just a little bit faded on all three prints and the tint can change in the middle of a scene from time to time, but considering the age of the source material, these transfers could be considered nothing less than top shelf.
The International and Japanese theatrical versions come with the original Japanese mono tracks as well as a 5.1 channel remix, while the US cut features dubbed English mono and 5.1 audio options. Audio on all tracks is clear and easy to understand, however the differences between the original mono tracks and the new 5.1 remixes are negligible. There's no need to roll out those rear speakers or the subwoofer here as they won't be needed.
Extra Features
Kicking off the selection of extras on disc one is an audio commentary over the International cut from chief camera operator and director of special effects Sadamasa Arikawa with the help of an unnamed yet knowledgeable moderator. The track is full of interesting nuggets of info, and Arikawa has a good recollection of events that took place some 40 add years ago. The commentary is spoken in Japanese, with optional English subtitles provided.

Also on disc one you'll find trailers for other Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock titles – Atragon, Dogora, The Mysterians, and Matango.

On disc two we get a "Special Announcement", which is more or less a brief trailer, as well as the original Japanese theatrical trailer.

Extra International Footage is basically the finale of the International cut of the film, which does seem like a pointless inclusion since the entire International cut can be found on disc one, but if you've only watched the US or Japanese theatrical cuts I suppose this is a quick and easy way to see the extra international footage without actually sitting through the entire movie once again.

Deletes Scenes features some uneventful images of a group of tanks rolling through the forest (without sound) and longer versions of two scenes that were apparently shot for yet another international version of the film. These scenes portray Frankenstein as a slightly more aggressive creature.

Finally, we get a photo gallery containing a massive selection of Japanese, US, Mexican, and German Lobby Cards, comic art, posters, production stills, and press clippings.
The Verdict
Frankenstein Conquers the World was the first in a planned series of horror/science fiction amalgams from Toho but unfortunately the idea never really took off, although Frankenstein did make one more appearance in Honda's 1966 sequel The War of the Gargantuas. To be honest, it's all a bit silly, but if you dig the sight of rubber suited monsters and giant mutants in desperate need of a good wax job you should get a kick out of Frankenstein Conquers the World. Tokyo Shock has delivered an impressive DVD package which certainly won't disappoint buyers.
Movie Score
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