If any eagle-eyed readers noticed that the cutline for the photo of the movie “Rampage” that ran on Thursday’s Go Guide mentioned that the film was based from the Midway Arcade Game of the same name, then you guessed that was my doing, right? If there’s anyone at this paper who would find that detail important, you know it’s me.
But I’m not here to talk about a video game that consumed my weight in tokens back in the day at Aladdin’s Castle (for a change). No, I’m here to talk about movie monsters. And not the standard sized ones like Dracula or the Wolf Man, or the hard-to-measure ones like The Blob or The Fog. No, I’m talking about the big ones. You know, the kind of monster that’s eye level with the tippy top of a balsa wood and tissue paper model of a skyscraper.
And when it comes to such things, you know I’m talking about Godzilla, “King Of The Monsters”, accept no substitutes. Oh, I suppose I should support American monstery by throwing my support behind King Kong. But c’mon, Godzilla was a radioactive lizard who could shoot green plasma out his mouth. King Kong was just a big ape.
The first time Godzilla crossed my path was during the WCIA Channel 3 “Early Show.” Anyone remember that? In those days when the only afternoon TV available to you was Donahue, WCIA would play a week’s worth of themed movies, and friends, “Godzilla Week” was five straight days of literally running off that school bus, dropping my bags, grabbing my raisins and a Vess Cola and plunking myself down in front of the Zenith to watch Godzilla grapple with a different monster each day.
One of whom just may have been “Ghidrah,, a three-headed dragon who shot laser beams; apparently such a big deal that his first appearance merited top billing over Godzilla, as shown in this local ad from 1965, a notice which not only features a little poem about the film, but, if you look closely, a misspelling of the word “Godzilla.” For what it’s worth, Godzilla would regain top billing with the “rematch” movie “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero,” out the next year.
Godzilla made other appearances around the Coles County area over the years. The original “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” screened here in 1956 with “Mr. Potts goes to Moscow” on the double feature. “Godzilla vs. King Kong” was part of a local quadruple feature “spook show” at the Skyway along with “Brides of Dracula,” “Jesse James meets Frankenstein” and “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula.” Funny how only Dracula was described as “versus.” I guess Frankenstein just said “howdy” to Jesse James in his film.
Godzilla’s last theatrical appearance in the area, at least until the horrid 1998 remake from the folks who did Independence Day, was this mention of “Godzilla on Monster Island,” wedged at the bottom of a Charleston Drive-in ad from 1979 with the "Star Wars" rip off “Star Crash” as the top bill, a movie that featured Caroline Munro in some rather appealing battle attire. Because I know just enough about these old Godzilla movies to not recognize that title, know that “Monster Island” is the Americanized title for “Godzilla vs. Gigan,” a movie that actually came out in 1972 and that featured a hook-handed bird monster with a laser visor for eyes and with a buzz saw in his gut. I know…some titles give away the whole movie, don’t they?
It’s hard to put context on such things unless you happen to be a fan, and what a hearty, complicated lot it is who can claim that they’re “experts” on Godzilla, but “Godzilla 1985” was actually sort of a big deal at the time, as described in this pictured AP article. Apparently there hadn’t been a Godzilla film since 1975’s “Terror of MechaGodzilla,” a movie I think I watched during that sad six months when I borrowed literally an entire canvas bag full of Godzilla VHS tapes from a buddy.
“Godzilla 1985” was an attempt to clear the decks and start over back at how the Godzilla franchise actually began, which, you may or may not believe, was as a grim parable about the Atomic Age and the destructive power of weapons we don’t know how to control. Oh…and it also featured an “Oxygen Destroyer.”
Was I the kid who insisted on my parents renting “Godzilla 1985” from Stars and Stripes Home Video the night I had one of my first sleepovers? You bet I was. Funny thing, I only remember two things about the movie now; he falls into a volcano at the end (spoiler alert), and it started with a short film called “Bambi vs. Godzilla” that ends about the way you’d expect it to. I’m pretty sure my guest that evening conked out in his sleeping bag around the twenty minute mark but I’m pretty sure I made it all the way until that big volcano moment, and I’m almost positive I begged my parents to rent similar movies from places like Carousel Video over the years. Movies like “Infra-Man”, which was more of a Kung-Fu movie with a robot superhero fighting a lot of rubber monsters, so we’ll call it close enough. I remember my dad saying “this movie’s insane” while I watched Infra-Man use his laser wrist-beams against a monster who’s head kept regenerating every time it got sliced off until the floor was covered in decapitated monster heads.
I weep now for the too-smart-for-their-own good kids coming up. How will they ever just stumble on a badly dubbed Godzilla movie without the local TV Creature Feature or old VHS rentals? Well, wouldn’t you know, I’ve got a channel buried in the nosebleeds of my cable package called “Comet” which appears to cater to nerds like me who like their monsters made of rubber and with hard plastic eyes.
Recently, when a friend of mine was visiting Castle Clint, I made sure I left the TV on Comet’s afternoon Godzilla marathon. And when her 4-year-old looked up from her puzzle to see Godzilla ascending into the stars to do battle with a giant space moth slowly unfolding its paper mache wings, she, with wide eyes, said, “Clint, what is happening on the TV?” I just smiled and said, “Well…let me tell you….”
"The Throwback Machine" is a weekly feature taking a look back at items of interest found in the JG-TC online archives. For questions, suggestions, or his "Song of the Day" recommendation, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.