Monster Planet: United Kingdom
The 1st episode of Wikizilla's Monster Planet video series takes a look at the United Kingdom. It was uploaded on March 14, 2020.
[KOOPA:] Hey, kaiju fans. I'm Koopa, one of Wikizilla's admins...
[STEVEN:] I'm Steven of the Kaijusaurus Podcast...
[JOSH:] And I'm Josh of Biorante!
[KOOPA:] This video marks the beginning of a new series on our channel: Monster Planet!
"I have a great idea!"
"Godzilla is following them. There must be some link."
"♫ Goodbye, England ♫"
"♫ You've been crushed by giant lizards ♫"
[KOOPA:] English-language coverage of how kaiju films have been distributed around the world tends to be very American-centric, including on Wikizilla itself, and we're trying to branch out, starting with our own country. A huge number of kaiju films played in theaters throughout the United Kingdom from the 1950's to the 1970's, but between a strict ratings board and limited television airings, the genre never caught on the way it did in the U.S.A. We've been something of a desert when it comes to home video releases—fortunately, the Kaiju Renaissance is finally starting to change that.
How Did You Discover Godzilla?
[KOOPA:] I was first introduced to giant monster movies through a title which I'm sure probably introduced quite a few younger British fans to the Godzilla franchise: GODZILLA ‘98, probably around Christmas at some point in the mid-2000's. Being born in 1996, I don't remember any marketing regarding the 1998 film, but it must have done well enough for the likes of ITV 1 and Channel 4 to show it a handful of times in the years that followed. Come 2013, I was introduced to Wikizilla when the site, which at that time was still situated at the old Wikia domain, was undergoing its first major cleanup. There, I discovered the rest of the franchise, and the rest is history. Even with the 2014 Legendary reboot getting closer and closer by the day, I only had access to the handful of films released on DVD over here, such as the British Film Institute's remastering of the original 1954 film, and the Universal cut of King Kong vs. Godzilla. As a result, I had to resort to... more "high seas" methods. I didn't have a bank account at the time, so importing was out of the question.
[STEVEN:] I was indirectly introduced to Godzilla and kaiju films initially through Stephen Jones' book The Illustrated Dinosaur Movie Guide, which—don't get me wrong—utterly tore into the films in a way that was typical of Western print at the time, but still nonetheless prominently featured them. Later, in the summer of 2000, my family and I were on holiday in the English seaside town of Skegness, and we came across a video shop. I found and eagerly snapped up The Lost World: Jurassic Park, while my dad encouraged me to go for a different tape. I knew the name, but not the specifics. It looked strange, anyway—what was a three-headed dragon doing wrapping itself around a giant dinosaur? Anyway, it turned out The Lost World was a wee bit too intense for seven-year-old Steven, and as a consolation, my parents gave me an early birthday present—it turns out they'd bought that weird tape anway, because they knew, somehow, I'd love it. The next morning, I watched Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. My parents were right, and the rest is history.
[JOSH:] How I discovered the kaiju genre was down to a friend in primary school. He was pretty big into reptiles, dinosaurs, all that kind of thing, and adored the ‘98 entry. When I looked up the film online to get a sense of what exactly was Godzilla, I instead came across the whole franchise... not just G'98. And it was pretty crazy at first because there were so many films out there I hadn't heard of, and I spent a good few lunch breaks in the school library looking them all up. So, after having a few watches online, back when these films were available on sites like YouTube and Dailymotion, I was hooked, and spent most of 2009 importing the DVDs of the main series.
[KOOPA:] Horror movies have a long history of controversy in the UK. Following the release of Frankenstein here in 1932, the British Board of Film Censors introduced a new advisory rating specifically for the genre, and banned it outright during the final years of World War II. Consequently, Godzilla and his ilk had one strike against them from the start. In 1957, Godzilla, King of the Monsters! made its way to British shores, about a year after it had been released on the other side of the Atlantic, and was paired with 1945's House of Dracula as a double feature. The distributor was Eros Films, a fairly new firm that was formed in 1947 and went on to release several more monster movies over the course of the 1950's. Quite amusingly in hindsight when you consider the number of younger Godzilla fans nowadays, the film received an X rating from the BBFC, standing for "Extremely Limited"; viewers of Godzilla had to be at least 16 to be allowed into screenings!
The next year, Rodan was released in British cinemas, being distributed by the same studio that was originally supposed to bring it to the U.S., RKO. Like Godzilla, it received an X rating. 1958 was also the year when British audiences got their first dose of Daiei's attempts at entering the new market established by Toho in 1954: Warning From Space, retitled Mysterious Satellite and distributed by Gala Film Distributors. This company, established in 1952 by film producer Kenneth Rive, primarily focused on bringing subtitled foreign language films to the United Kingdom, especially in London, where there was a rapidly-growing audience for the material. Warning From Space, in contrast to Rodan, received a U rating; it had been deemed by the BBFC to be suitable for everyone.
Director Eugène Lourié, who had kicked off the whole atomic-monster craze with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms in 1953, gave the UK two giant monster movies to call its own: The Giant Behemoth in 1959 and, more famously, Gorgo in 1961. Like Mothra, released in Japan the same year, Gorgo shook up the usual formula by letting the monsters win. Gorgo's mother, Ogra, takes out the Tower Bridge, Big Ben, and Piccadilly Circus before rescuing her son from his human captors and returning to Ireland. The film received a lurid novelization from Monarch—no, not that Monarch—and a comic book series from Charlton. Konga, also released in 1961, enjoyed the same treatment.
Once the 1960's began, the UK entered a period of fairly abundant film releases with regards to monster movies, and the strong market meant that a wide variety of distributors took the helm in bringing the films to British audiences, ranging from household names in the United States such as RKO and United Artists, to more local British companies such as The Rank Organisation, BLC, and Grand National Pictures. Oddly enough, the X rating stayed prominent for kaiju films, even as the genre began straying away from horror in favour of a science fiction approach. Even the fairly light-hearted Mothra vs. Godzilla, released by Warner Brothers under the well-known Godzilla vs. The Thing retitle, was available only to audiences aged 16 and up. That's a far cry from nowadays, when most films in the series are rarely placed above a 12 rating. 1969 was a bumper year for kaiju films in the UK, with eight Japanese monster movies playing in theaters.
"They're all coming to the base at Mt. Fuji to attack!"
Matango, incidentally, was based on the 1907 short story "The Voice in the Night" by British author William Hope Hodgson.
Four of the five Godzilla movies Toho made in the 1970s reached the UK, plus Latitude Zero and Space Amoeba. But they also nearly made a kaiju film with the UK's premiere horror studio, Hammer, inspired by Dino De Laurentiis's impending King Kong remake. Nessie, first proposed in 1976, would have seen the Loch's most famous resident mutated by a chemical spill and embark on a worldwide rampage. Columbia Pictures, David Paradine Productions, and British film producer Euan Lloyd—best known for his work on the 1978 war film The Wild Geese—were also involved. Toho and Hammer's plans called for Teruyoshi Nakano to direct the special effects and extensive filming in Toho's Big Pool. Unfortunately, Columbia president David Begelman was caught forging checks three months before filming was set to begin, throwing Nessie's funding into chaos. Hammer persisted with their attempts to make the film a reality as late as 1979, when it was finally abandoned. At least the monster herself got to meet Godzilla a couple of decades later in Godzilla: The Series.
Another British monster movie inspired by the De Laurentiis Kong did manage to reach completion, though it ran into its own problems. In Queen Kong, a giant gorilla amorously chases a petty thief named Ray Fay around the streets of London. A Cine-Art München and Dexter Film London co-production, it was directed by future Robotech producer Frank Agrama. Despite being an obvious parody, De Laurentiis and RKO managed to block its theatrical release in the UK. Their reasoning was that it hewed too close to King Kong's plot, in addition to being terribly written, and could damage the remake's reputation by association. Still, it managed to play in Italy and West Germany, both popular destinations for kaiju films at the time. A Japanese company, Pando, unearthed it for a DVD release in 2002. The dub included on that disc, featuring the voices of Taichiro Hirokawa and Noriko Ohara, is supposedly even more of a parody. Queen Kong's UK premiere took place at the Far Out Film Festival in 2003—but no DVD for us yet.
Marvel's Godzilla comic made its way to British shores in 1979, two years after the series was first released in America. The stories were reprinted in black-and-white alongside other Marvel comics, and many of the issues featured all-new covers.
[STEVEN:] Even as new films continue to play in cinemas, the state of Godzilla on UK television in the 1970's was dismal. From 1972 to 1980, only five of his films aired on any channel, 23 times in all. Far wider-reaching was the Hanna-Barbera Godzilla cartoon, which debuted in 1980. Its viewers included a kid in Warwickshire named Gareth... we'll get to him later. 1980 also marked the release of the first British kaiju VHS: Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla by Hokushin, one of countless companies that materialized to take advantage of this incredible new technology. Four more Godzilla films followed from 1981 to 1983, plus The Mysterians, The Human Vapor, Gappa, Goké, Matango, and The X from Outer Space. The X ratings many of them had been tagged with in theaters were irrelevant, not because standards for horrifying content had moved on, although they had, but because absolutely no one was regulating the industry. That couldn't last, of course, and the backlash was dramatic.
The Video Recordings Act 1984 brought every tape under the purview of the British Board of Film Classification. Though the main targets were a selection of horror movies dubbed "video nasties", its effects were wide-reaching. The Act applied retroactively, meaning the type of small companies releasing kaiju films had to submit their entire back catalogues for review at £600 apiece. Most didn't survive for long after that. The only other kaiju film to reach the UK for the rest of the decade was Godzilla 1985, courtesy of Entertainment Film Distributors in 1986. The BBFC asked for 17 seconds of cuts to the Shockirus attack in order for the film to be released with a PG rating. (Incredibly, an internal document identified the monster as a seahorse.) It arrived on VHS fully intact a year later. Around the same time, Sandy Frank commissioned a group of voice actors based in Britain, including Garrick Hagon and Liza Ross, to dub the original Gamera, as well as Gamera vs. Zigra. While plenty of the Hong Kong dubbers who had worked on kaiju movies since the mid-60's were British ex-pats, including Axis International founder Ted Thomas, this was the first time kaiju dubs had actually been recorded here. Now, were they ever released here? Don't be ridiculous.
Things picked up a little bit in the Nineties. Polygram released seven Godzilla films on VHS in 1992, followed by Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah and Godzilla vs. Mothra by Manga Video in 1995. At the time, the two Heisei films were still completely unavailable in the United States. 1998 was an especially busy year. 4 Front Video and Carlton unleashed a horde of Godzilla movies on tape. The BBC produced the documentary Godzilla, King of the Monsters, which aired six days before the UK premiere of TriStar's GODZILLA. Highlights included interviews with a ton of Japanese actors and staff, footage from the set of Rebirth of Mothra III, and a London rampage by a very silly incarnation of the Big G. Joining Godzilla in theaters was the UK Special Edition of Gamera, Guardian of the Universe, an insane creation by Arrival Films. With an all-British voice cast and techno music crammed into nearly every scene, inspired by the recent success of Trainspotting, it's an experience like no other. Arrival announced plans to redub the Showa Gamera movies as well, but it never came to pass. Still, that wasn't the end for Gamera in the UK. Manga Video brought Guardian of the Universe to VHS in 1999, followed by a DVD which was only sold with a 2002 issue of Playnation Magazine. A.D.Vision added Gamera 2 and 3 in 2004. A few of Toho's more obscure genre titles also arrived here in the early 2000s from Artsmagic, including Princess from the Moon and a trio of 70s vampire movies dubbed the Bloodthirsty Trilogy. Meanwhile, the Millennium Godzilla series passed us by completely.
[JOSH:] In 2005, BFI released the Japanese version of the original Godzilla to cinemas and DVD, correcting a major oversight in the VHS era. The same year, Sony released the Monster Wars trilogy from Godzilla: The Series, still the show's only presence on home video here. A year later, BFI released another Ishiro Honda flick, The Mysterians, on DVD, in Japanese with English subtitles. Universal also brought over their cuts of King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes. Unfortunately, those would be the last films we'd get from the kaiju back catalogue for the next nine years.
2010 saw the first British giant monster movie since Queen Kong. British director Gareth Edwards' Monsters had its UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, arriving in theatres on December 3rd. Shot in Central America, Mexico, and the United States on a budget of only $500,000, the flick managed to do surprisingly well at the box office and with the critics, catapulting our beloved Gareth towards bigger projects.
The Kaiju Renaissance period kicked off in 2013, when Pacific Rim stomped onto our cinema screens. Hollywood's kaiju films arrived here unaltered—Warner Bros. even dropped the "II" in Godzilla: King of the Monsters' title just before its release. Worth noting, however, is that a vast array of British actors have participated in Legendary Pictures' output—Idris Elba, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Tom Hiddleston, and Millie Bobby Brown to name a few.
Moving onto 2014, Gareth Edwards owns this year for the kaiju, directing Godzilla and producing Monsters: Dark Continent, the latter premiering at the BFI London Film Festival. He also contributed a sketch to God-Zine-La, a zine edited by British cartoonist and animator Hamish Steele. The following year, Toho's live-action Attack on Titan films premiered at Scotland Loves Anime. That was followed by an extremely limited theatrical run, a fate they shared with Monsters: Dark Continent. Sony quietly released Mothra on DVD, which has since gone out of print. And Hamish Steele celebrated Gamera's 50th anniversary with another zine, Gamera Versus Zine-Ra.
Going forth to 2016, Love & Peace screened at the Glasgow Film Festival and Third Window Films gave it a much-needed Western DVD and Blu-ray release. Americans hoping to view it can buy a region-free player and get a small taste of our pain. The Attack on Titan films also made their debut on Blu-ray. After being briefly locked in distribution limbo, Shin Godzilla was finally brought to theaters nationwide by Manga UK in the summer of 2017, followed by home video releases in December.
[STEVEN:] Shin Godzilla also played at the Glasgow Film Festival in February—and I wrote its introduction in the festival guide!
[JOSH:] Universal also released King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes on Blu-ray, three years after doing so in the United States. 2018 marked Arrow Video's first venture into the world of Toho SFX with HD presentations of the Bloodthirsty Trilogy. It was also the first year of the United Kaiju Convention, hosted in Stratford-upon-Avon and inspired by the success of G-Fest in the United States.
The UK's home video fortunes changed dramatically in 2019, with Sony distributing Criterion's Showa Godzilla boxset here. Some of these films had been unavailable since the VHS days, while others had never been released on home video at all.
Now what's in store for the future of kaiju in the UK? This summer, Arrow Video will drop their much anticipated Gamera Blu-ray set. Featuring all 12 films, with 4K transfers for the Kaneko trilogy, it will also include the first high definition presentation of Gammera, the Invincible on physical format. Plus, another United Kaiju Convention is set to be held in Birmingham on August 8th, hoping to bring together more British fans for another weekend of kaiju fun.
And that's our recap of the past 63 years of kaiju in the United Kingdom. There's a lot we couldn't cover in depth for the sake of time, so if you'd like to learn more, check out the links in the description. Thanks for watching!
- Kaijusaurus Podcast: https://www.breaker.audio/kaijusaurus-podcast
- Biorante: https://biorante.co.uk
- Hamish Steele official site: https://hamishsteele.co.uk/
- UK Kaiju Convention official site: http://ukkaiju.com/
- Excerpt from Mark Kermode's essay "The British Censors and Horror Cinema": https://books.google.com/books?id=H21BB8SZuyQC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Monsters from an Unknown Culture: Godzilla (and Friends) in Britain 1957-1980: http://www.smguariento.com/monsters-from-an-unknown-culture-godzilla-and-friends-in-britain-1957-1980-by-sim-branaghan-part-1/
- Gorgo on Mystery Science Theater 3000: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6NWEmwunmg
- Read "The Voice in the Night" by William Hope Hodgson: http://www.scifijapan.com/articles/2007/03/22/a-more-interesting-reality-than-ours-a-close-look-at-matango/
- Nessie mentioned in A History of Horrors: The Rise and Fall of the House of Hammer by Denis Meikle and Christopher T. Koetting (page 221): https://books.google.com/books?id=80b7V1AwF4UC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Nessie: The Kaiju That Hammer Locked Away panel at G-Fest XXVI: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUTpb63L_EA
- DeadLoch (Nessie episode of Godzilla: The Series): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCvSRc5CgYA
- Queen Kong: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3UzzbCqHf0
- Footage pertaining to the Video Recordings Act 1984 comes from the documentaries Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape and Video Nasties: Draconian Days, available to stream on Shudder.
- Godzilla 1985 BBFC case study: https://bbfc.co.uk/case-studies/godzilla-1985
- Ted Thomas interviews and voice reel: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xmxy3e *https://vantagepointinterviews.com/2017/05/17/man-of-a-thousand-voices-hong-kong-voice-actor-ted-thomas-on-his-prolific-dubbing-career/ *https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OiZeImBmws
- Investigations into the Sandy Frank dubbers: https://dubbing.fandom.com/wiki/Gamera, https://forrestcrow.proboards.com/thread/21406/dubbers-sandy-frank-productions
- Soundtrack for the UK Special Edition of Gamera: Guardian of the Universe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYSkBf0NQNg&list=PLGlMaE-UYVUa3KypPWMjH0m6VrLz_4fSY
- Retyped SFX article on the UK Special Edition of Gamera: Guardian of the Universe: http://www.scifijapan.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=10&t=413&p=3744
- BBC Godzilla, King of the Monsters documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjxBzx2zAsw
- Steven Sloss's Shin Godzilla article for the Glasgow Film Festival: https://kaijusaurus.tumblr.com/post/157703135884/i-wrote-an-article-on-shin-godzilla-and-its-place