The very first film I can recall seeing in an actual movie theater was GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER. I can’t claim to have ever become a huge die hard Godzilla buff, but my love of this particular adventure of this continues to this day. Growing up, Godzilla was a Saturday afternoon staple in my home, yet although I readily admit to having a certain fondness for the tiny fairies that summoned sometime collaborator, sometime foe MOTHRA, most of his movies seem to blur together in my mind. Not so with SMOG MONSTER, a.k.a. GODZILLA VS HEDORA, a movie that stands out like a pulsating purple sore thumb. In fact, Godzilla producer TOMOYUKI TANAKA was so flabbergasted by the film that he disowned it and even claimed that it ruined the franchise.
One might assume that my affection for SMOG is based simply on blind nostalgia or a need to be contrary since it’s widely perceived to be the King of Monster’s red-headed step child. The truth is, it’s just a great movie. Filled with gloriously grim imagery, crazy psychedelic tuneage and bizarre animated inserts, SMOG holds up better than should be expected, and its environmental message is, of course, even more timely today.
As a monster, HEDORA/SMOG is quite a specimen. The creature, speculated to have come from space via meteor, begins life as a crazy tadpole that consumes water pollution and grows to an enormous size. Soon it’s large enough to knock over oil tankers and eventually take to land. Once land mobile, it jumps at the chance to take long bong hits from toxic smoke stacks that empower it even further. Eventually the slimy glutton is capable of flight and shooting mud pies from his grey, goopy torso.
The aerial attack scenes are what struck me the most as a child. Shaped like a giant horseshoe crab HEDORA is shown flying over schools while children below in the playground drop like flies. Many of the monsters victims are memorably left as mere skeletons after exposure. The most disturbing image perhaps is shown during a television news broadcast of an infant crying, neck deep in sewage and mud. (O.K, I’m lying here, The most disturbing image SHOULD be the one of the infant drowning in filth but for me it’s actually the image of a poor confused Alley cat covered in mud howling at the camera!…What’s wrong with me?)
I guess there may be something undeniably silly about a film that climaxes with two men in rubber suits wrestling on a miniature train set, but the eco-disaster that frames the action is notably ahead of its time. Long time GODZILLA fans may call foul when it’s revealed that the big guy has been keeping them in the dark about his ability to fly over the years (he propels himself with his atomic breath), but I get a kick out of this reveal every time. Regardless of its initial reception, nobody could argue that the film’s heart is in the right place. For me, the one two punch of dismal disaster and goofy broad slapstick is pretty irresistible.
As much as I love HEDORA/THE SMOG MONSTER in all of his guises, and as much as I am still riveted by a scene in which a character inexplicably hallucinates that everyone in a disco has turned into fish-faced ghouls, my favorite thing about this movie is its marvelous opening song. Taking a cue from JAMES BOND, a beautiful woman is shown singing before a screen of pulsating hues as clips of pollution and decay flash by. The song, “Save the Earth” (in the American version) is just about the greatest thing ever, and it’s sure to be running around in your brain for days after you hear it.
If I could go back in time and pick what movie should be the first that I ever saw in a movie theater, I don’t think I could do much better than this one. Balk if you like, but GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER is a trippy, gonzo free-for-all that had me instantly falling head over heels in love with the film going experience.