There’s no denying that the Godzilla franchise got weaker with each release in the late 1960s. But there were several high points before that and Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964) was certainly a lot of fun. It was one of a few Godzilla movies that played on regular rotation on my local UHF channel in the late 70s/early 80s. It is one of my personal favorites based on, if for no other reason, familiarity.
Following quickly on the release of Mothra vs. Godzilla earlier in the same year, 1964, Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster saw Ishiro Honda back in the director’s seat once again with Eiji Tsuburaya on special effects. Unlike in previous films, Godzilla is presented here as the hero, eventually defending Earth against King Ghidorah, a giant three-headed golden dragon with one of the best sounding vocal effects in any Toho film. The story centers on a princess’ visit to Japan. While her plane is thought destroyed, she later turns up, claiming to be from Mars. She begins to preach of impending doom and the return of both Rodan and Godzilla, which eventually happen. It appears that the princess is possessed by a Martian, who then warns that King Ghidorah, a creature who destroyed Mars, is now on Earth to destroy it. A meteorite that crashed earlier in the movie is revealed to really be an egg that hatches into King Ghidorah. Ghidorah then goes on a mission of destruction. The Shobjin (once again played by Emi and Yumi Ito) are used to summon Mothra, in hopes it will fight against all of the monsters threatening Tokyo. A somewhat silly sequence follows with Mothra “talking” to both Godzilla and Rodan, who refuse to help as mankind has always hated them. Mothra confronts Ghidorah on her own until Godzilla and Rodan, having a change of heart, come to help Mothra. After a 3-on-1 battle, Ghidorah is eventually defeated and flies back into outer space. Along the way, we got a story-line about assassins and the princess eventually regaining her memory. But let’s be honest, we all came for Godzilla and the battles, which this movie offered plenty of both.
Part of Ghidorahs’ appeal is the unique design. A three-headed dragon with a screeching sound and electric bolts as weapons makes it stand out amongst all the other residents in Godzilla’s rogue’s gallery. No surprise that Ghidorah appeared in a total of 7 Godzilla movies and 2 of the Mothra spin-off movies of the 1990s. Consider Ghidorah the Joker to Godzilla’s Batman. Thankfully, the Ghidorah we see on screen was not what was originally envisioned. It had originally been conceived with rainbow-colored wings and was purple. Although, come to think of it, wings do sound kind of cool.
This entry into the series sets the tone for future films. We have Godzilla defending Earth against an assortment of creatures, sometimes enlisting Rodan and Mothra for help. It was a huge success in Japan and remains one of the most loved Godzilla films. As was now standard, the movie was edited for release in the US. In the American version, which was not released until 1965, “Ghidorah” has been changed to “Ghidrah”. Once again, much of Akira Ifukube’s score was replaced with standard music for no apparent reason. And Mothra is a female in the Japanese version while a male in the American version. There is no clear idea why this decision was ever made. In total, some 7 minutes of footage was cut from the American release.
Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster has always been readily available to American audiences. However, the superior Japanese version was finally released on DVD in recent years. It’s still available for as low as $5 on Amazon. This is one of the cornerstone pieces of the Godzilla franchise. So if you haven’t checked it out yet, watch the trailer on YouTube before acquiring a copy today.
Next time, Ghidorah returns in Invasion of the Astro-Monster (1965).