During the 1960’s there seemed to be a declining interest in new Godzilla films, an event which is today contributed to the explosion of television and people’s fascination with serials. As a result, Toho would bring in a new director, Jun Fukunda, who would handle Godzilla in a less dramatic way than Ishiro Honda had. Instead he would deliver what could be described as a popcorn-flick, designed for easy viewing with a tighter budget. The result was Ebirah Horror of the Deep.
When a group of men go in search of a missing sailor on a yacht, they are shipwrecked onto a remote island by the sea monster known as Ebirah. After they find themselves unable to escape, with the monster patrolling the surrounding waters, and are eventually hunted by a secret terrorist organisation on the island, the men awaken a sleeping Godzilla to buy them time as they wait for the benevolent Mothra to arrive and carry them away from the island.
Perhaps more so than in any other Godzilla film so far, the low budget of Ebirah Horror of the Deep is immediately noticeable. The sprawling cities and alien set pieces of Honda’s work have been traded out for remote bases and expansive wilderness. On the surface this may seem to be a negative, but it’s actually a nice change of setting that allows the film to stand out from the others in spite of its other draw backs. Those other draw backs being the thin plot:
Despite the premise being a group of friends searching for a missing sailor, this hook is dropped for the vast majority of the film only to be reignited moments before the climax when the sailor is conveniently found on the island, having been held captive by the terrorists. Speaking of the terrorists… What do they want? Well they seem to enslave primitive island people and sailors so that they can mine a substance that keeps Ebirah away from their ships. But why do they want to do this? Well we can assume that they’re pirates, but the film doesn’t really offer any explanation, and it is thus very transparent that they are just an arbitrary threat invented to give the characters something to do while on the island, with no real goals of their own. Perhaps with the exception of King Kong vs Godzilla, which embraced it’s silliness and thus didn’t bring too much attention to the plot, this Godzilla film has the weakest story so far, even when compared to when compared to the contrivances seen in King Kong vs Godzilla. Given that this film comes off of the back of Invasion of Astro-Monster, one of the more story-rich Godzilla films that was better off for it, this is a real let down.
But what about the monster action?
Surprisingly enough there are some decent special effects in this film that can be rather imposing and intimidating. Often it is Ebirah that is the root of it; His claw erupting from the ocean, dwarfing the yacht and cutting it in half, is one of the most striking images of the Showa Era Godzilla films. Everything from the storm, to the water effects, to the way the camera cuts between the model work and actors is done very well in the scenes containing Ebirah terrorizing boats at sea. But there are points where you have to wonder just how tight their budget was, such as when we see Godzilla throwing rocks at things instead of using his atomic breath. Did they not have the time or money to animate him breathing fire as much as they might have wanted him to? And then there’s the state of Mothra, who has gone from looking like an absolute beauty in her last appearance, to now looking like an unwashed dishrag. You can see the dust settling on the model of her, and I swear I saw something falling off that wasn’t supposed to.
And yet for all that the film does remain engaging, if only on the lowest level. Despite there being little stakes, due to the lack of motivation there is for the main characters or terrorists to be at each others throats, the tongue-in-cheek tone and the sort of whacky antics the protagonists get up to do successfully capture the popcorn-flick feel that the director and studio were trying to achieve.
This may be one of the most flawed films in the franchise, but it is by no means the worst. It’s the sort of film that invites multiple watches because of how casual it is, contrasted against the higher-quality, but often draining, entries made by Ishiro Honda. And since I do have fun watching this film I cannot say that it fails, in spite of its many short comings. Thus you may find it surprising that I recommend this film, and that it may be higher on the ranking list below than it perhaps deserves to be.
At the end of very Godzilla review I rank each film based on how much I enjoyed them. The updated list can be seen below:
- Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)
- King Kong vs Godzilla (1963)
- Mothra vs Godzilla (1964)
- Godzilla (1954)
- Ebirah Horror of the Deep (1966)
- Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
- Godzilla Raids Again (1955)