Varan the Unbelievable (1962) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Varan the Unbelievable (1962) Review

Horrorific content by TE Simmons on December 09th, 2021 | Movie Review | Drama, Creature, Military, J-Horror

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It’s about an ambitious desalinization experiment that goes horribly wrong.

Varan the Unbelievable was produced and directed by Jerry A. Baerwitz (Wild Harvest) plus Ishir Honda (Godzilla and Rodan) as to the monster segments. It stars Myron Healey (The Incredible Melting Man), Tsuruko Kobayashi (Cry for Happy), and Akihiko Hirata.

Can the military, having awoken a monster, find a way to silence it?

Varan the Unbelievable Review

Like Godzilla, an original all-Japanese Varan film preceded this heavily Americanized or “localized” version which was released stateside as Varan the Unbelievable.

The original Japanese version involved two butterfly experts on a remote island who are killed by a monster-triggered landslide. Journalists pursue a lead into the forest, ignoring the warnings of a local Shinto priest. The monster emerges, shows itself, then dips back into a lake. The military coaxes him out by dissolving chemicals into the lake water and a climactic battle ensues.

The American version retains the Shinto priest waving warnings at several junctures but jettisons the butterfly scholars in favor of an American Navy officer and his Japanese wife, Anna. Commander James Bradley is preparing for an important desalinization experiment in a remote saltwater lake, despite the warnings from locals about a giant monster. When the villagers refuse to relocate, he calls in reinforcements, but the military overreacts and sends an entire tank platoon. The media catches wind of the drama and a pair of reporters is soon on the scene.

By comparing the two films, this version makes a bit more sense. Otherwise, the chronology of the monster emerging from the lake only to disappear again for several hours before re-emerging again seems inexplicable.

Varan the Unbelievable features a few unique elements for a kaiju film. First, there is no dubbing. The film clips utilizing Japanese dialogue simply retain the Japanese. When we cut to Japanese Self-Defense Force officers studying the threat over a map (conveniently including a tiny plastic reptile on the map for reference), the officers simply discuss things in Japanese.

Second, relatively few miniatures are used. Instead, probably on account of budgetary limitations, stock footage is relied upon for the most part. Also, probably due to a miserly budget, a great deal of exposition utilizes James dictating reports to Anna.  

Third, although the film is brisk and includes a good deal of giant reptile footage, the relationship between James and Anna is attended to with some sensitivity, rare for a film mostly concerned with an actor in a monster suit splashing about and roaring.  

Worth Watching?

Very much so. Varan lacks giant monster battles or color, but it has a unique sort of charm.

Varan the Unbelievable Review (1962) Worth Watching? - ALL HORROR Tweet it

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