This time I’m less staying up at night out of fear, or more what happens. I’m fine but the moment I’m about to fall to sleep my mind flaring up. Instead, this is me more wondering about something that I kind of understand yet also don’t. I’m a big fan of classic monster movies but also the entire Godzilla series of films and a few other Kaiju or (meaning monster and giant monster films in Japanese, but we really just use Kaiju over Daikaiju) and it got me wondering, the Kaiju are far more devastating and dangerous than human sized monsters yet rarely do we experience as many horrors from the giant monsters.
I can easily see people running from a shambling corpse, some hard to kill psychopath. They stalk a small group of teens who just stumble about, usually some contrived teleporting element just to explain why they can’t just leave the area in the car they came in. Other better movies coming up with better explanations for why they can’t just flee the monster (alien for one). These show the humans as maybe resourceful and able to cope with the monster near the end. Yet these are just taking a few poor humans usually in a remote location or far away from safety. Yet whenever a Kaiju like Godzilla is on screen, very quickly devastating a whole building, the whole army is powerless to stop them. Should we be not more afraid of the embodiment of the insignificance of man than the guy with a hockey mask?
I have pondered this issue for quite some time and have a few ideas on it. One stems from the sheer size of the creatures. In this notion it is perhaps that we cannot grasp the wide devastation caused. It became so big we create a greater disconnection from the film so horrors aren’t as pressing on our minds. This could be exacerbated from filming methods and changes in the approach to Kaiju films. For years the scenes of Kaiju movies when the monster is on screen is shot from the monsters eye level. This is obvious given the fact that until CG these were men in suits walking through impressively made models. It’s also worth noting how after the original Godzilla/Gojira, more and more the Kaiju films diverted to a focus on the devastation caused by the monsters. This is further pushed from people’s minds when in those films the monster fights another monster, suddenly what should be a city filled with people whose lives are ended or destroyed are now just basically fancy wrestling rings. Quite a change from the scene in Gojira when a mother was holding her children talking about how they would be seeing their father soon.
Perhaps it can also be remembered how the Showa era, which is often the time people think of as the main Godzilla/Kaiju era thanks to late night showings and cheap import era, and not long after it began, it geared more comical elements and then further aimed at children. Shows like Ultraman (which I love I’m not critiquing them) were filled with giant monsters and definitely aimed at a child audience. Can’t really forget how Power Rangers (drawn from Super Sentai) had a giant monster in basically every episode and yet also a children’s show.
But let’s look back to where it all started. What is viewed as the original giant monster film, King Kong, is definitely viewed as a horror. Sure, we may not find it scary anymore, but one could argue that with many of the classic Frankenstein or Dracula films. The original Godzilla however is definitely a horrifying film, it doesn’t go. ‘look at our cool big monster’, but instead highlights the destruction and horror of what it’s doing. Also, like many a good horror the monster is an allegory. For just as zombies are an allegory for the spread of a pandemic, Godzilla was the horror of the atomic bomb from the one country that truly felt its impact aggressively.
However, not all giant monster films of the modern age forsake the horror aspects. Cloverfield was a found footage style movie starring a group of people trying to survive an attack by a giant monster in their city. Even modern Godzilla films have embraced horror elements to show the terror of what a giant monster attack truly is. While I’d argue 2014 failed to really show this aspect. King of the Monsters had moments showing the devastation caused by them (and not in the weightless destruction kind of way Man of Steel did) mainly around the release of Rodan. The Film even starts with the lead trying to find his son in the destruction at the end of the first film. King Ghidorah the main villain is accompanied by what can be described as a demonic curio and has many scenes showing him as a nightmarish monster almost backed by the flames of hell.
THIS however pales in comparison to the true return to horror with the Godzilla movies. For while you may argue against my interpretation of King of the Monsters, argue it too has elements of weightless destruction, Shin Godzilla is true horror. It shows and spends time with the destruction caused by the monster just like the original in a “this is horrifying” way but also like the original, uses the monster as an allegory, in this case taking elements of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and the tsunami that came before. They made Godzilla’s design to be one of his most nightmarish. I did end up having bad dreams that were based on the scenes where Godzilla first came on show in that film.
So yes it is possible to make the giant monster scary again, but also I can understand that for some people they are also a source of action and amazement. For me, I like a bit of both. I love the King of the Monster’s version of King Ghidorah over the rest of them entirely because this version is most sinister and scary rather than Showa eras where he just became a pawn of aliens. I suppose maybe it is all just like with the cosmic horrors of Lovecraft. Our own ignorance saves us from the soul-destroying fear of how small we would be to those that would crush us without noticing. But when those with talent use their skill to break down the barriers that help separate us from what we fear, we do realize how scary it is standing in their shadows.