Giant Monster Movies
 Robert Marrero
Language: English Release: 1994
Publisher: Fantasma Books Pages: 254
Genre: Non-fiction ISBN: 0963498223

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Back Cover
Nicholas Driscoll

Warning: This review contains spirited ranting, sarcasm, and multiple uncensored examples of horrendously mangled English.

Back in the years of my adolescence, I treasured most every visit to the big city (well, Des Moines anyway), even though usually my family's reason for going had something to do with a doctor or two. The source of my happiness, then, despite the prospect of long hours sniffing antiseptic smell in hospital waiting rooms? Why, the reward of materialistic excess afterwards, of course! If it wasn't Toys "R" Us or Children's Palace, it was the Half Price Book Store. Few things could get me more excited than a monster collection of cheap used books, comics, and movies—especially if that collection included cheap used monster books, comics, and movies. It was Half Price Book Stores where I would frequently purchase informational paperbacks on movies and dinosaurs, from Hot Blooded Dinosaur Movies to Hong Kong Action Movies to The Dinosaur Scrapbook. With so many victories under my movie-loving belt, when I saw Giant Monster Movies by Robert Marrero there, even despite the ghastly cover art, I decided to take a chance and blow eight bucks of my scarce teen-years moolah on the work. Even back then, when perhaps I was (somewhat) less discerning in my reading habits, it only took a few minutes before the prose in this book made me want to scream, and a weight hit in my chest. My eight dollars was gone forever.

But let's not get into the pain too quickly. First off, it's important to look at what exactly Robert Marrero has for his readers in this tome. Along with the introduction (in which Marrero claims that his book is a "classic collector's item"), the book includes five chapters: The Silent Giants, King Kong: The Eighth Wonder, Prehysteria at the Movies, Godzilla and Friends, and More Giant Movie Monsters, which, according to the contents page, is followed by a "filomgraphy" and index. For our purposes here at Toho Kingdom, the chapter Godzilla and Friends will be receiving the most attention, but it's worth giving a little overview of what else is available for the curious—I suffered through the whole book, so don't think I'm not going to at least mention what else is there. The Silent Giants is pretty much self-explanatory, being a record of giant monsters (mostly dinosaurs) in silent film. King Kong: The Eighth Wonder is a break down of all the giant gorilla movies, a sub-sub-genre at best. Prehysteria at the Movies, predictably, is about dinosaur movies; due to the somewhat contemporary release of Jurassic Park to his book's publication date, Marrero feels the need to bring up JP and compare it to any number of movies in these first three chapters. More Giant Movie Monsters is a mishmash of everything else—giant humans, miniaturized humans, giant bugs, aliens, and fantasy (which for some reason doesn't rate its own chapter), all squished together and treated with a merciful lack of detail in comparison to the initial chapters. After wading through all that dreck, quite suddenly the book ends, without even an attempt at any form of conclusion. The problems in the book are pretty well universal throughout the text, but, either because I had resigned myself to my fate or because of a miniscule increase in writing quality, the book seemed to improve slightly towards the end, which doesn't diminish the terminal troubles of the text.

The biggest problem, far and away, is the stunningly awful writing prevalent from the first page. I wrote before that The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture had a lot of errors in the text, but Schilling's book was nigh flawless next to this. It reads like a sloppy first draft, and though an editor is listed (some poor soul named Rick Schanes), whatever his editing practices were, they certainly didn't help the writing much. At one point, Marrero even points the reader to a nonexistent biographies section in the back of the book. The errors are so ubiquitous and so gapingly obvious that I got tired of recording even the knee-slappers after a while. In addition to doubled periods, period/comma combinations, bewilderingly bad paragraph structures, incorrect use of parentheses, brain-scarring sentences, and rigorous abuse of capitalization, Marrero has some of the most jaw-dropping spelling and incorrect word usage I have ever seen outside of an early elementary school paper. For the morbidly curious, I have compiled a list of some of the funnier ones: King Kong, which Marrero worships, includes "the single most greatest moment in movie history," (pg. 28) and Kong's son was "a lot more friendlier than his father" (pg. 39). Jurassic Park's "scientifically computer synthesized special effects" were "supped-up" (pg. 113). Consistently throughout the entire book, Marrero uses "weather" in place of "whether," and "statute" instead of "statue"—including six times in one paragraph describing the plot of the original Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974). In the movie The Creatures the World Forgot, Marrero describes a "doggie-dog world" (pg. 96)—meaning, of course, dog-eat-dog, but sounding more like a rejected Snoop Dog song. Somehow Marrero managed to include three O's instead of zeros when writing out "The Beast from 20,OOO Fathoms" on page 69, and in The Crater Lake Monster, a "snow plot" (instead of a plow, pg. 106) finishes off the stop-motion animated plesiosaur—which might be a more clever way to express the ending than he intended, since the monster's demise was, after all, written into the plot. In perhaps the most imaginative spelling error, Marrero writes that the Australian movie Razorback features a monstrous "wild Bohr" (pg. 204), but unfortunately the film's villain is not a mutated Danish atomic physicist, but just an oversized porker. At least three times in the book, Marrero misspells "roster" with two O's—and thus in one instance Marrero proclaims that "the monster Atragon was dropped from the studio's rooster" (pg. 138), conjuring up a very strange mental picture, and missing the fact that there is no monster named Atragon. In his comments for Frankenstein vs. Baragon (1965), Marrero asserts that the character Dr. Bowen could prove his theory about the Frankenstein monster by "decapitating the boy's arm" (pg. 139), which implies that the monster's arm had its own head! Godzilla, meanwhile, is described as the "savor" (pg. 162) of humankind. King Kong Escapes (1967) is paradoxically "much better, but not by much" (pg. 151) than Son of Godzilla (1967). On the Daiei side of things, Gamera produces a feat that I never thought I would see in a monster movie when he "manages to destroy a massive damn" (pg. 148, 149) in War of the Monsters. Thanks for fighting against bad language everywhere, Gamera! He truly is the friend of children.

Then we come to perhaps Marrero's most maddening prose affectation. See, Giant Monster Movies was written in the early nineties, and there was a particular mode of sarcastic slang usage fairly popular among certain sections of the youth at that time. Anyone who survived the time period should know what I'm talking about: the infamous "not." You know how it works. Say a statement that isn't true, add on a layer of mocking derision, and then pause dramatically before declaring loudly, "NOT!" For example, "The American Godzilla movie was perfectly faithful to the spirit and mythos of the Japanese original. NOT!" Perform this particular routine, and you're almost guaranteed to annoy any refined ear within a five mile radius. It's not particularly hard to master, and younger siblings are especially good at the practice. Yet somehow, Marrero even gets stupid 90's slang fads wrong and writes, concerning the much-maligned flying sequence in Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971), "can it be possible that this was Toho's way of comparing Godzilla to Gamera? NOT!" (pg. 158, 159) What exactly is he negating here? That he's asking the question? Is he saying it's impossible for Toho to compare Godzilla with Gamera? Why? The fact that this isn't the only time Marrero employs this abominable practice in the book makes me wonder how he got published outside of amateur fanzines printed on toilet paper.

Marrero's fact-gathering skills are almost as poor as his writing. This is especially obvious in his Godzilla chapter, in which he claims Godzilla is a mutated tyrannosaurus released from Antarctica, and states that "Today, Godzilla is looked upon as Inoshiro Honda's epic translation of KING KONG" (pg. 122), begging the question of who exactly holds to that rather dubious belief. As has been pointed out many times before, the original Gojira was largely inspired by The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, not the popular big ape. In his synopsis of King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Marrero gets a lot of events out of order or just plain wrong; later on he makes several jabs at Toho for supposedly killing off Godzilla in the first four films and not explaining how the monster keeps coming back to life, even going so far as to make the assertion that Godzilla drowns at the end of Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964). Godzilla, drowning? Marrero must not have understood much about who Godzilla was, or what he was capable of. The author makes a number of embarrassing blunders about Destroy All Monsters (1968), writing that the film has extensive stock footage (it has hardly any), that Ghidorah lives on Monster Island (he does not), and that Anguirus, Minilla, and King Ghidorah are unpopular monsters! In the same chapter, Marrero unbelievably goes to some length to mock Shochiku studios' The X from Outer Space, claiming that the monster literally is a giant X, a "fact" he repeats and underscores several times. Now, Guilala may be many things, but he isn't an oversized letter of the alphabet. Marrero also blunders through his description of Monster from a Prehistoric Planet, calling the film a remake of Gorgo ("inspired by" might be better), and even goes so far at one point to insinuate that Gamera was created by Toho—although he corrects himself later on. The factual mistakes seem somewhat less prevalent in the chapters about non-Japanese fare, although I wasn't as careful checking over them.

Even beyond the extensive writing and factual mistakes that Marrero makes throughout the book, most Toho and Japanese movie fans will find Giant Monster Movies infuriating due to the author's scathingly disdainful opinions about those films. Again and again Marrero slams Japanese movies, and Toho films in particular, guffawing over the fantastic elements that are so common in them ( Mothra gets particular hate) and decrying the films as unintentionally funny—apparently not realizing that a lot of the Godzilla entries were supposed to be fun and amusing. Marrero sneers that "Toho writers were notorious for throwing in ridiculous and meaningless subplots that had nothing to do with the film" (pg. 128), and blasts Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), writing that the "feeble plot is aimed towards adolescent viewers…with very little in the way of escapist entertainment to offer the imagination" (pg. 144). Even the highly regarded Matango (1963) can't escape his scorn; Marrero labels the movie "infantile" and "disastrous" and tells the reader to "Thank Toho for not making a sequel" (pg. 210). (How Matango counts as a giant monster movie comes from Marrero's loose definition of the genre, including just about any monster bigger than a human being.) The author at least concedes that the original Godzilla (1954) film is good, even complimenting the special effects and plot, but he feels the nuclear parable aspects of the film are insubstantial at best, finding more commentary on nuclear warfare in a brief scene in The Return of Godzilla (1984) than in the entire original film!

All of that being true, it would be bad form to neglect the good points of Marrero's work here, and there are a few aspects worth noting. Despite the crippling problems of the text, Giant Monster Movies is impressively comprehensive and includes information on a wide variety of sometimes painfully obscure films that I have found rarely even mentioned in other similar books. Marrero was also the first author that I've come across to point out a possible inspiration for Mechani-Kong—the giant robot gorilla from The Monster Gorilla (or Gekko Kamen: Kaiju Kongu), a Toei film, and one that I very much wish to view now. The path of inspiration may not be so clear, however; Mechani-Kong was first featured in the Rankin-Bass King Kong cartoon series which, while animated by Toei, would have been written by Rankin-Bass writers, who were just as capable and likely to come up with the robo-ape from their own imaginations. Regardless of Mechani-Kong's true inspiration, it would be interesting to see how Toei handled a similar giant monster situation some eight years before Toho did it. Giant Monster Movies also includes a large collection of sizable photos and posters from dozens of different movies, a number of which are rather uncommon, presented on nice glossy paper which, while it doesn't help the reading process due to glare, displays the visual element well. Not all of the photos are great, but enough of them are quite fine as to make the book seem attractive—although for some reason two identical shots of a Gammera the Invincible lobby card are included on page 147. Then again, Giant Monster Movies sports some laughably incompetent cover art, complete with lousy binding and a badly designed spine. The old adage that you can never judge a book by its cover was never proven less true.

In a sense, I can't help but respect self-proclaimed film historian Robert Marrero, in a similar fashion that I extend a certain respect to the infamous German director Uwe Boll. Much like Boll and his absurdly awful/amusing video-game movies, Marrero (if we can take Giant Monster Movies as a representative sample) writes bad books, and then somehow manages to keep publishing more despite his gut-bustingly egregious previous efforts. A quick search on Amazon reveals a fairly large number of Marrero's books dating as far back as the early eighties, including several vampire movie surveys, a tome on silent film, and another on Spielberg. After Giant Monster Movies, he went on to write an entire book about Godzilla (titled Godzilla King of the Movie Monsters which Toho subsequently sued into relative obscurity), a surprising effort considering his marked distaste for J-films displayed in Giant Monster Movies. For the adventuresome thick-skinned reader, Marrero's works can provide a distasteful, derisive pleasure, but be warned; Giant Monster Movies hurts. While I was reading this one, the book, which had by some manner achieved sentience and realized I was prepping to write this review, managed to slice my wrist as I brushed the crumbs of my breakfast away from its side. I'm sure I had an uncommon experience with a particularly violent specimen, but Giant Monster Movies is brain-eatingly bad. Not even worth half-price.