Kyôryû kaichô no densetsu [Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds] (1977)

It isn’t exactly what I would call an obvious idea.

Combining a Kaiju Eiga film with…Jaws?

I suppose Steven Spielberg’s big fish is technically giant and monstrous, but that isn’t quite the same thing. However, Jaws has one of those classic plots which has been borrowed and retooled so regularly that I suppose it was inevitable.

A reporter after a big scoop goes off to a small lake in the mountains where mysterious things have happened, a girl found a cave full of fossilized eggs that were hatching, and people have seen a sea monster. Unfortunately, during the big festival (which, of course, is being held despite the warnings) it develops a taste for the locals and the gruesome killings begin!

While Toei was heavily involved in the Tokusatsu market with their many Kamen Rider and Super Sentai (Power Rangers) series, they never really did that many Kaiju Eiga films — the only other one that comes to mind is Magic Serpent, which is also a period Samurai epic (or Chanbara) film, although they were also involved with the production and distribution of the Korean Kaiju film, Yongary: Monster from the Deep.

Which I suppose actually makes this one even stranger. The Godzilla series had just ground to a halt, and there weren’t any other Kaiju running around loose in the theaters at the time. So Toei gave us a darker, more gruesome Giant monster film, one where we only see glimpses of the creatures for most of the running time (and one of the signature monsters doesn’t show up until the last reel!). However, I can’t remember a Kaiju film where someone pulled a victim into a boat and found just a head attached to an arm!

If they’d put this in the theaters here in the U.S., it probably would have got an “R” rating for that and a few other brief scenes (including an instant of nudity). As it was, it only appeared here in a somewhat edited dub version on TV.

Which was the fate of a lot of the Japanese Kaiju Eiga films.

There is a somber and serious tone to this film which reminds me strongly of a lot of those Seventies, environmentally-themed horror films, with its downbeat contemporary music, Pop theme song, and hand-wringing emotions. Nor are the monsters up to the Toho standard, particularly in the final scenes where it looks like the plesiosaur is covered with large square fabric panels. It may just be because of the fire, although I have to wonder whether it might have been because the lighting revealed all the flaws.

But I’ll confess to liking this one. It isn’t as good as your typical Toho film, but then, neither were the Gamera films, or any of the ones put out by the other studios. Instead, we’re talking an interesting lesser film, which, despite its best efforts, failed to save the Kaiju film from its mid-Seventies slump.

The Kaiju film would return with Godzilla in 1985. But Toei never did try their hands at another such film.

I guess they were just too busy with all those Super Sentai shows.

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