Kaiju Dreaming

The road that lead to the next Godzilla movie (release: imminent) was an unlikely one, but not altogether unexpected. 1998’s debacle notwithstanding, Toho is not inherently against being offered what I assume is large amounts of money for licensing. Director Gareth Edwards has never helmed a project whose budget surpassed 500k. But the work he did on that project, Monsters, was extremely promising. He wrote a character drama with a giant monster backdrop. Most importantly, Monsters suggests that Gareth Edwards gets Kaiju. That’s important. It’s tremendously important. To 8 year old me, staring across a summer in a new place hundreds of miles from where I was born and had grown up, it was one of the few things that mattered. I had two passions: video games and monster movies. I had an Atari 2600 and I loved it, but there was nothing quite like an arcade. Arcades sent me into a sort of trance. The world just faded away as I moved from one cabinet to the next, mesmerized. Monster movies were one of the few things that came close.

I don’t know how I developed a taste for either horror or monster movies. I was pretty afraid of the dark as a kid. But I did love dinosaurs, and movie monsters are a natural transition for a kid who is obsessed with dinosaurs. Movies like The Land that Time Forgot, The Last Dinosaur, and Dinosaurus! provided easy transitions into the broader realm of monster movies, and monster movies themselves are just an offshoot (or are offshoots, really) of horror. I can clearly remember my first: The Giant Gila Monster. I was in complete awe after ignoring significant portions of the build up. Effects didn’t matter back then. Here was something like a dinosaur, something impossible, but something that could have been menacing my block. I was impossibly hooked. At that age – 7 or possibly even 6 – I think what I really craved was stimulus for my imagination. Looking back, I think my father had an acute understanding of that. He had found me watching it and sat down to watch with me.  We talked through parts of the movie (I being absolutely terrified, watching parts through my hands).  After it ended, I remember asking him if such things could be real.  I mean, I knew there were no more dinosaurs, I had seen fossils and read many books.  But this was something else.   I can see his expression, sober and somber “It’s a big planet, and I don’t think we know everything there is to about it”. The perfect answer.   Like Star Wars, and Indiana Jones (and later, Dr Who), Monster movies became something we shared.  A secret language we had that nobody else understood.   How could I not have given over my heart, mind, and soul at this point?  I was hooked.

I was an active kid who loved to play outside, with friends. Monster movies became a drug for me, though, even if they didn't quite rival Arcades. We were fortunate to have a nearby metropolitan area (such as it was) which had a station dedicated to this stuff. I had a couple of summers of monster movie heaven. Viewings snatched and stolen on Saturday mornings and late Saturday afternoons, and occasionally on week days, in between play time spent outside doing whatever (roaming, exploring, playing Star Wars, going hours and hours without every seeing an adult). I watched every one I could get my eyes on. Them!, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, Tarantula, Beginning of the End, The Monolith Monsters, Creature from the Black Lagoon. . . no monster movie was above viewing. But few of them managed to get under my skin like the king of all of them: Godzilla. I watched all of the Showa series but one movie, as many times as I could. Even my friends – friends who loved video games, arcades, Star Wars, Tron, Indiana Jones, and Superfriends – thought me odd for this.

And then it was all gone. My father was transferred, and I found myself staring down a summer in a strange, new, location with no means to get a fix in sight. I was shattered. I would get each week’s new cable guide frantically scanning for signs of. . . well life. Civilization. Surely some person in this godforsaken place understood what I needed? VCRs appeared not long after this and there was once a time (the authors of this blog understand it well) where families would rent a VCR for the weekend, and a handful of movies to go with it. I couldn't ever get anyone interested in renting monster movies, though. Eventually proper monster movies and even Godzilla himself, found their way to my TV in this strange land. But there were lean years, before they did. I don't remember when the dreams started. I had been in my new home for longer than a season, though, possibly two. Long enough to make new friends, but recognize that I was very decidedly on the outside of most of the social groups I was around. I don't know what kicked it all off. I had always been prone to vivid dreams and nightmares. But these dreams. . . I wonder if they were inevitable. I wonder if that dry spell did something deep inside the recesses of my mind.  Pulled something loose, as it were.

The first sort was in some ways the worst; I dreamt about scanning the cable guide for monster movies; typically fruitlessly. The banality of these dreams hung in the air even after waking, casting a pall over the day. Sometimes in these dreams I found something, something that was coming on that I would be able to watch. The disappointment on waking up and realizing not merely that there was no new Godzilla fair to watch is surely trumped by the fleeting promise that there was. But these dreams occasionally took strange turns, where I not only found monster movies, but the titles were unrecognizable. What coded Lovecraftian things did I witness back then? Would that the titles had stayed with me on waking, just once (or perhaps it's for the best that they did not). I always *knew* this was some as yet unseen monster movie. And I always knew when they were Godzilla movies (in my dreams, they were never titled “Godzilla vs X”). In truth it was after that sort of dream started that the feeling they left me with turned. Disappointment at these things not existing (and my not even having poor substitutes to turn to) gave way to wonder. The dream of these movies was powerful. The dreams eventually (and only very occasionally, at that) changed. I started to catch glimpses of movies that did not exist, showing Godzilla battling familiar foes in unfamiliar settings, or sometimes even strange new creatures. Years later when I finally discovered Lovecraft, I wondered if perhaps he could have explained all of this to me. I did not have many of these dreams, but they were good dreams.

The dreams again grew stranger and more vivid still, often intense to the point of forcing me awake. There was no middle man this time; I was *there*. Some of them were absurd (twice as a famous actor shooting a monster movie, the monster in question threw a tantrum on set and I suddenly found myself living a part I was supposed to be playing, scrambling to escape impossible doom). Some of them were the genuine article – I can recall frantically trying to convince a general not to go ahead with some absurd plan to try to kill Godzilla. No one else could perceive some threat that I could, and only Godzilla would be able to deal with it. I remember manning another where I manned a sort of watch station on Monster Island, carefully studying the activities of creatures less they become active again. The last dreams, though. . . these I think Lovecraft would have understood all too well I found myself in hilly (if I was lucky, such as it was) or flat but otherwise featureless terrain, in the middle of who-knows-where. *Something* lurked nearby (as much as nearby counts for creatures hundreds of feet tall). I would scramble about looking for any place to shelter but never find it. Tension would mount as the feeling of being exposed would begin to smother me. Sometimes, *something* would shake me to the core (a roar? A thunderous footstep? Glimpses of a monstrous form off in the distance as the moon appears between clouds?) and I would wake with a start. Alone and irrelevant, entirely unsure of my place in any world. These were terrifying dreams. But I sometimes welcomed them.

The dreams stopped coming after a couple of years; after I had finally found monster movies again (if less frequently than I used to). I've never stopped having nightmares, though I don't have them as much as I used to. Some of them have travelled down stranger tides than monster movies. None of them has quite captured that feeling of wandering on a plain, alone, waiting for a titan to come and render me entirely irrelevant and lost, not even knowing myself. I think Lovecraft understood that. I think Guillermo Del Toro understands it. Monsters suggests to me that maybe Gareth Edwards does too. Sometimes I wonder if the dreams stopped because I lost something important. Sometimes I wondered if they stopped because my brain figured out a way to provide me a little cover. I miss them, terribly.

I'll see Godzilla in the next few days. Will the king return to reclaim his throne? I'll go because I have to know. I'll go because I hope to catch a glimpse of that feeling those most terrifying dreams left me with, writ impossibly large. I've been waiting to see Godzilla for months. For true, years. Since almost as far back as I can remember.

Last 5 posts by Grandy

Comments

  1. Troutwaxer says

    Heretic! Pacific Rim was a fun piece of fluff, but there is nothing like a new Godzilla movie, and this one shows all the signs of being awesome!

  2. Niall says

    No matter what, this was excellent writing, exploring valid reasons to like monster movies. Yeah, in the 70s, they were weird – but I remember a time in my brief cub scout involvement where we went to some church for a movie and they played… Ultraman. Not a monster movie, but weirdness nonetheless, and not 20 minutes passed before the movie was stopped by a Real Adult as wholly inappropriate. Forget the cries of all the children for more. (This was in the wake of the gigantically-popular Grandizer-in-French phenomenon of Goldorak. Briefly, anything from Japan was hot. We even had a glimpse of Japanese Spiderman. Oh-oh-oooh, WOW!)

    It was a taste of the Different. Even if us kids didn't know what to make of it. Children need more Different tastes than they are given today – in a controlled way at first, such as mentioned above with the father sitting and sharing the passion.

  3. Kilroy says

    I have a memory from growing up of an anime type cartoon where the superhero family was all eaten by some type of carnivorous flower, at least that is where the episode ended when my parents turned it off as too violent. I've tried for years to find the cartoon and learn of their fate, but have never figured it out. Moral of the story: let your children watch until the happy ending.

  4. Andre says

    Saw Godzilla in an advance screening on Wednesday. I loved it! Or more precisely, the little kid in me loved it! Pacific Rim is a rollercoaster ride. Here's the people, there's the monsters, go! Godzilla is not like that, it builds up. You first see the other monsters and when Godzilla makes his first appearance, they tease you with it. You see him battling the monsters on TV screens and news footage. It's brilliant in a way.

    When he uses his fire breath attack for the first time, you could tell who the die hard fans were in the theater from the cheering. It made me squeal and my girlfriend (not a Godzilla or monster movie fan) didn't get what I was so excited about.

    I can't wait until my little boy is old enough to watch this with me.

  5. Kilroy says

    And there goes an hour I'll never get back… from Science Ninja Team Gatchaman episode 39: "Jigokillers, the People-Eating Flowers". Apparently they survived.

  6. says

    @Andre, I clapped at that moment. I will have follow up commentary later. Next week, I may or may not explain how the universe won't let me watch Godzilla versus Megalon (speaking on Ultraman).

    @Niall – I think you put it well; "a taste of the different". Sci fi and fantasy novels are great for young kids because they provide this. The good Young Adult fantasy is rewriting how to do it. Monster Movies are another vector, and IMO an important one.

  7. Troutwaxer says

    @ Grandy

    Godzilla vs. Megalon. With Jet Jaguar, the evil robot who was secretly working for Gamera in a complicated plot to ruin the Godzilla movies! He disguised himself as Ultraman, but it was much more complicated than that! (Gamera, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the genre, is the monster they'd call when Godzilla turned down a script.)

  8. Stephans says

    My exposure to monster movies was through Mystery Science Theater 3000 and I cannot watch one now without my inner bots riffing.

    As such, I would recommend Godzilla vs Megalon, but only with Joel and the bots.

  9. Troutwaxer says

    @ Stephans

    It's one of my least favorite Godzilla movies, and probably mockable in a truly wondeful way. And who can forget "Gamera is turtle meat!"

  10. C. S. P. Schofield says

    I have a theory that every small boy comes to a decision point, and either falls for Godzilla movies, or for Professional Wrestling.

    The original Gamera films were immoderately awful, but in the last couple of decades three were made that compare reasonably well with the Godzilla films. They're worth a look while you wait for some of the more obscure Big G movies to make it to disk.

    I have a soft spot in my heart for Godzilla vs. Biolante. I grew up summering on the coast of Massachusetts, where the rose species Rosa Rugosa rns riot. It is the only plant I know that can choke out poison ivy. So seeing Godzilla fight a monstrous rose bush just works for me.

  11. Troutwaxer says

    Joking about the turtle who shoots fire out of his ass aside, Gamera vs. Irys is a truly great monster movie; I'd describe it as a beautiful blend of a very creepy horror movie… "Irys, I'm hot." with a rip-roaring giant monster battle.

  12. says

    @C.S.P. Schofield – I have to kill your theory. I can state uncategorically that both Patrick and I loved both Godzilla and professional wrestling, and I suspect we're not two of the small handful of outliers. In fact, some of the Showa era Godzilla films feature creature battles that are glorified wrestling matches. While they can get stupid at times. . . other times it's mostly just awesome. Godzilla has handed out more than one suplex in his time.

    I think you're on the trail of another truth, though. Wrestling is closer to a Kaiju movie than a boxing match. I suspect there are kids for whom a Godzilla movie is just too much stretching of the imagination. It's not that this sort of kid has no imagination. It's just that it concentrates in other areas. I suspect that kids who embrace sports fully at young ages take to wrestling more, but I can't prove that (and it's a touch ironic since wrestling is as much a production as a sport; the sport aspect often gives way to, and sometimes suffers because of, the production).

    I've always found Godzilla vs Biollante underrated.

  13. Paul E. "Marbux" Merrell says

    When I was six years old, our first-grade teacher treated us all to a movie, the first I had ever seen, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. When the movie got to the part where the witch was cackling over the poisoned apple, I was so frightened I peed my pants and had to go home.

    Ever since, I have steadfastly boycotted all Disney movies and all other horror flicks as well. There is more than enough horror in real life; I can't comprehend how anyone would enjoy being frightened.

  14. The Wanderer says

    Ever since, I have steadfastly boycotted all Disney movies and all other horror flicks as well. There is more than enough horror in real life; I can't comprehend how anyone would enjoy being frightened.

    I largely share that perspective, except that I can understand how people would enjoy it; I just don't enjoy it myself.

    I personally maintain that the vast majority of the "horror" genre – whether in film or elsewhere – is grossly misnamed. Horror movies and novels are actually intended to inspire fear, or what I would more specifically call "terror"; there's rarely much in them which qualifies as "horror" as I understand it, and what there is tends to be deemphasized in favor of the "terror" aspects.

    The distinction is that "terror" is about what might be, the negative anticipation of something perceived as (or expected to be) bad – but "horror" is about what is; it could be reasonably expressed as "This thing should not be, and the fact that it nonetheless is causes me distress.".

    Much horror can also inspire terror (e.g. Chucky and the Lament Configuration), but some may not (e.g., if you don't experience some sense of horror when reviewing a Holocaust memorial exhibition, you may want to question the state of your soul), and it is certainly possible to experience terror without horror (e.g. being held hostage by terrorists, under threat of execution).

  15. C. S. P. Schofield says

    Grandy,

    I have to admit that G. Vs Biolante disappoints when the giant rose develops legs. That isn't how rosebushes fight! But I'm a bit of a grouch. I was severely disappointed by the horror film THE CAVE. I mean, why put a monster in it? Just screwing around in a cave is FULL of opportunities to die unpleasantly. They could have made a MUCH scarier film about a bunch of overconfident idiots dying by inches of hyperthermia, lost in the dark.

  16. Mark - Lord of the Albino Squirrels says

    The Lovecraft connection is giving me flashbacks of Rodan and Daimajin.

    With Rodan, it's not so much the Rodans as the idea of swarms of alligator sized, earwig things hunting me in the dark underground. With Majin, well, it's an ancient demon god that usually sleeps, but when wakened slaughters civilizations and cannot be destroyed by man. He doesn't have an octopus for his head, true, but…

  17. ALareth says

    Godzilla vs Megalon's biggest failing is the fact it wasn't actually a Godzilla movie.

    It was written as Jet Jaguar vs Megalon but some execs at Toho didn't think it would make any money so they hacked Godzila and Gigan into the script for name recognition at the theater.

    Next up, I'm ready to fight with you people bad mouthing Gamera. That turtle is better than any of you.

    And who can forget "Gamera is turtle meat!"

    I despise that song with the passion of a thousand white hot suns.

    Gamera movies are silly, but MST3K was overly harsh in my opinion and turned a lot of people against them.

    Joking about the turtle who shoots fire out of his ass aside

    The flames come out ot he holes for his arms and legs you fool.

  18. Troutwaxer says

    The three nineties Gamera movies were very good. The rest… not so much. "Gamera vs. Irys" is arguably the best Kaiju movie ever made. It's certainly one of the best!

    Ultimately, however, Gamera doesn't have Godzilla's presence – probably because he's a turtle who shoots fire out of his ass!