Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Weird Tales:
The Evil Eye
by Boileau & Narcejac

(Four Square, 1961)

Before being subsumed into our dearly beloved New English Library at some point in the 1960s, paperback imprint Four Square published a wide variety of interesting stuff, including a lot of obscure and/or sought after titles (often in translation) which have rarely been reprinted since.

Four Square books also often featured bold, attention-grabbing artwork, of which this fabulous, comic book style ink & watercolour number from acclaimed SF/fantasy illustrator Josh Kirby provides a perfect example [the signature in bottom right confirms this as Kirby’s work, although it looks drastically different from his later, better known style]. As such, obscurities from the company’s long-lost back-list have done much to liven up second-hand book shopping in the UK across the decades, although collecting them can also prove a frustrating experience.

Due to their especially cheap binding (or so I’m assuming), Four Square’s paperbacks have a tendency to look reasonably well preserved on the outside, but to crack and fall to pieces, scattering dried out pages to the four winds, as soon as some poor fool tries to read them. Thankfully I just about managed to make it through ‘The Evil Eye’ without destroying it in the process, but… I’m not sure that many future readers will get a chance to enjoy the charms of this particular copy, let’s put it that way.

In the English-speaking world, Pierre Boileau (1906–1989) and Thomas Narcejac (1908 –1998) will almost certainly get more name recognition from film fans than literary types. With their names appearing ominously on the writing credits of Clouzot’s ‘Les Diaboliques’ (1955), Franju’s ‘Les Yeux Sans Visage’ (1960) and Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ (1958), its safe to say that the duo’s residual influence has sunk deep into the very bones of the horror and thriller genres, as well as those of auteur and arthouse cinema more generally.

Back in France of course, Boileau-Narcejac are equally remembered for their achievements in the field of putting words together on the page, but for whatever reason, translations of their work have remained extremely scarce over the years. So, naturally I was keen to take the opportunity to check out some of their prose, despite the risk of the book crumbling to dust in my hands.

It’s probably fair to assume that ‘The Evil Eye’ (‘Le Mauvais Oeil’, originally published in France in 1956) is a minor work within the duo’s oeuvre, weighing in at just over 120 pages, and sadly the horror spin that Four Square’s packaging puts on the material turns out to be almost entirely erroneous, with the protagonist’s suspicion that he is afflicted with the power of the “evil eye” merely numbering among a number of fantasies and delusions which flicker through his unsettled mind through the course of the novel.

In fact, ‘The Evil Eye’ barely even qualifies as a thriller in the conventional sense of the term. What we have here rather is kind of a downbeat, quasi-gothic character study, in the ever-popular “dysfunctional remnants of an aristocratic family bounce off each other in their decaying old house” vein which went on to become so beloved of filmmakers in the late ‘60s / early ‘70s, for whatever reason.

It's a testament however to the talents of Boileau-Narcejac (and indeed to their translator on this occasion, Geoffrey Sainsbury) that this rather morose and uneventful tale actually remains a thoroughly engrossing read, drawing me into the story far more deeply than I suspected it would once I’d got the basic gist.

Our protagonist here is Rémy, a young man who has been paralysed from the waist down since infancy, when his mother apparently died under traumatic yet mysterious circumstances. We join him on the morning when, aged eighteen, and following the ministrations of a questionable ‘healer’ hired by his emotionally distant father, he gets out of bed and walks.

Disappointingly for Rémy, this Lazarus-like recovery prompts surprisingly little jubilation from either his brash, business-minded uncle or the two female servants who have provided him with his only real human contact over the years, and so, largely left to his own devices, he sets out to undertake the long-delayed process of growing up, digging into the inevitable backlog of uncomfortable family secrets in the process.

Intelligent, self-possessed and callously confident, yet at the same time hopefully naïve and chronically lacking in the kind of practical experience which most of us have gained by the time we reach adulthood, Rémy makes for an interesting and complex viewpoint character. Though he is not necessarily an “unreliable narrator” in the usual sense of the term, a lifetime of near isolation has left him with an unhealthily introspective approach to life, and throughout the novel, we’re forced to bear witness as he twists the people and events around him into his own melodramatic, self-centred narrative, unable to understand the feelings of others or to comprehend the more prosaic motivations behind their actions.

Though ‘The Evil Eye’ offers few of the shattering narrative revelations or surprise handbrake turns that Boileau-Narcejac’s cinematic reputation may have led one to expect, its strengths lie elsewhere – in the deceptively complex exploration of character dynamics, and in the cultivation of a richly ominous yet finely tuned atmosphere.

In fact, the book is steeped in that very particular world of seedy, grey-skied decay which seems to persistently creep into French culture of this era, from the damp-stained walls, musty bedclothes and corked, half empty bottles to a persistent impression of poverty and bankruptcy dogging the heels of the purportedly wealthy characters, and of the grindingly tedious, antiquated duties still performed by their indentured servants, long after modernity should have rendered them irrelevant.

Inevitably, the duo’s writing reminded me somewhat of the precise, descriptive prose of Georges Simenon, even as they push things far further than he would have done, including a few extraordinary, opium-scented flights of poetic fancy which can't help but push the tale toward the eerie, indefinable realm of what we’re obliged in this context to call le fantastique.

For all that it’s essentially a naturalistic, psychological tale in fact, one could perhaps apply a supernatural explanation to the book’s final paragraph ‘shock’ ending. But, this is never directly implied, cleverly leaving readers to map their own beliefs and gut feelings over the plainly recounted events.

All in all then, a surprisingly rewarding few nights reading, well worth making time for if you can manage to track down a copy that’s still in one piece.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Noir Diary # 10:
Storm Fear
(Cornel Wilde, 1955)

The directorial debut of tormented-leading-man turned tough-guy-auteur Cornel Wilde, ‘Storm Fear’ (adapted from a book of the same name by the otherwise little-known Clinton Seeley) is to some extent a low rent, ‘50s riff on the old ‘Key Largo’ scenario, with added familial melodrama, and a rural, snowbound location reminiscent of Nicholas Ray & Ida Lupino’s ‘On Dangerous Ground’ (1953).

I’ll try to avoid delving too far into the horrendously convoluted inter-character plotting, but the basic gist here is that hard-luck bank robber Charlie Blake (Wilde) and his two surviving accomplices (Steven Hill and Lee Grant as a comically loathsome dead-beat criminal couple) drop in unexpectedly on the isolated homestead occupied by Charlie’s older brother Frank (Dan Duryea), a destitute, seemingly TB-afflicted writer, his wife and Charlie’s former lover Eizabeth (Wilde’s real life partner and frequent co-star Jean Wallace), and their sad-eyed twelve-year-old kid (David Stollery), who essentially becomes the film’s protagonist.

Naturally, the crooks are planning to hide out overnight following a botched heist which has left two men dead – Charlie has an infected bullet wound in his leg, thus allowing Wilde to foreground his masculine virility by playing the entire movie in various degrees of sweaty, gritted teeth pain – and naturally, they’re none too happy when a sudden blizzard appears to leave them stuck with the family for the duration, as the municipal snow-ploughs and police dragnet move ever closer.

For the first half of the movie, it’s hot and cold running melodrama, as the six characters, each with their own grievances and personal agendas, bounce off each other on the cramped sets representing the Blake homestead. There is plenty of self-justifying, chest-beating (and generally poorly composed) speechifying, much hissed unpacking of family secrets, some waving around of guns, and a great deal of exhausted, futile grappling between the men.

The most surprising aspect of the drama arises from the fact that, whilst we might naturally be expected to sympathise with the family being subjected to this home invasion scenario, the meek, semi-incapacitated father figure is actually portrayed as a bit of a dick. It’s interesting to see Duryea – who made his name playing sneering heels in ‘40s noirs (see ‘Scarlet Street’, ‘Black Angel’, ‘Criss Cross’ etc) – essaying a slightly different kind of flawed male here, as the spiteful, emasculated patriarch. (Ten years earlier, he would have been in Hill’s role for sure).

Acting coldly toward his wife and ‘son’ even before the intruders arrive, it’s later revealed that Frank shot the kid’s beloved dog simply because it was a gift from brother Charlie(!), whilst Wilde’s raw, alpha male charisma and affectation of paternal warmth meanwhile draws the sad-lad-in-search-of-a-dad toward him with a kind of irresistible, magnetic pull, even as he realises that his ‘uncle’ is clearly no good and a bad ‘un, who’s probably gonna get everybody killed, more than likely.

Hill and Grant meanwhile proceed to stir the pot, doing what hoodlums and low status nogoodniks have done throughout movie history, mixing genuine menace with just being really annoying. (As in much of Wilde’s later work, there’s a kind of puritanical sub-text running through the film suggesting that people who drink alcohol, smoke or get up late in the morning are inherently no damn good.)

One particularly cringe-worthy, seemingly improvised bit sees Grant’s Edna seemingly auditioning for Claire Trevor’s Oscar-winning part in the aforementioned ‘Key Largo’, singing along to the radio and reflecting on her long-gone days as a showgirl, in lieu of her character being given anything else to do, whilst Hill’s Benjie simply succeeds in being spectacularly dislikeable as the comically venal, simple-minded thug of the piece.

Meanwhile, Wallace, never the most gifted of actresses to be perfectly honest, dutifully tries to get on with her life of frontier wife drudgery whilst being bothered and harangued by no less than five needy males (if we count belatedly heroic handyman Dennis Weaver), her facial expressions running the gamut from ‘pained’ to ‘offended’ and back again with tedious regularity.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I could handle ninety solid minutes of this, but thankfully things open up a bit in the second half of the picture, as the crooks set out to make their getaway, traipsing across the forbidding mountain pass which separates them from the nearest highway, wearing gigantic wicker ‘snow shoes’ and forcing the kid to accompany them as a kind of local tracker, showing them the way.

This kind of rugged, ‘survival against the odds’ stuff went on to become Wilde’s bread and butter in his later directorial career (which included such highlights as ‘The Naked Prey’ (1965) and ‘No Blade of Grass’ (1970)), and indeed, he manages to build quite a gritty and exciting little wilderness survival drama here, despite some all-too-obvious budgetary constraints, which sometimes give the impression that the desperate trekkers are merely schlepping their way up a single hillside behind the house. (Most of the exterior close-ups meanwhile seem to have been shot back at the studio with painted backdrops, which certainly doesn’t help.)

Nonetheless, things turn pretty nasty pretty quickly here, leading us to the film’s most purely nihilistic noir moment, as Charlie takes the decision to callously abandon Edna, who has broken her ankle after being pushed down a ravine by the thuggish Benjie. Throwing her share of the loot after her before they move on, her accomplices leave the now useless bank notes strewn around her prone, mink coat-clad body as she pleads for help. Pretty dark stuff, especially as Charlie drags the tearful kid off by the arm, immediately babbling away as he tries to rationalise his inhumane behaviour.

In fact, Charlie’s desperate attempts to try to justify his actions to his law-abiding family members make for probably the most consistently compelling aspect of the film’s scripting. “There was nothing else we could do”, “someone will find her, she’ll be ok”, “I never shot anybody,” he keeps repeating to himself, painfully aware that no one is buying it, and that the line separating his self-image of tarnished nobility from Benjie’s openly villainous, sewer-rat approach to life is wearing increasingly thin as their situation deteriorates.

In making ‘Storm Fear’, Wilde seems to have called in some fairly heavy favours. The photography of Paramount veteran Joseph LaShelle (‘Laura’ (1944), ‘Where The Sidewalk Ends’ (1950)) is impressive, if never stylised or expressionistic in the manner of his more classic noirs, and the equally effective musical score is provided by no less a personage than Elmer Bernstein, with both of these gentlemen’s contributions helping smooth the rough edges of Wilde’s characteristically workmanlike, point-and-shoot compositions and decidedly blunt approach to directing actors.

As with most of Wilde’s later productions, ‘Storm Fear’ is an interesting watch despite its flaws, and has the potential to linger long in the mind… if not necessarily always for the right reasons. The material is far too contrived and over the top for us to really take it seriously, but as usual, Wilde’s approach is too gruelling, sincerely intended and emotionally enervated for us to enjoy the unsavoury proceedings as mere pulp escapism either.

Further filtered through the director’s own strange set of bug-bears, vanities and recurring obsessions, the blatantly unsatisfactory ‘happy’ ending tacked onto the story’s bleakly inconclusive conclusion simply leaves us feeling… I don’t know… exhausted, and a bit seedy, perhaps? And what could possibly be a more ‘noir’ state of mind than that, I suppose.


For such a low budget and generally un-beloved production, this movie sure ended up with a lot of different poster artwork.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Gothic Originals:
The Virgin of Nuremberg
(Antonio Margheriti, 1963)

(AKA ‘Horror Castle’, ‘The Castle of Terror’, ‘Das Schloss des Grauens’, etc.)

When ploughing my way through the canon of ‘60s Italian gothics a few years back, I overlooked this early effort from Antonio Margheriti – his first entrée into the horror genre, I believe - simply because I couldn’t locate a watchable copy. Nowadays of course, the internet provides, but I’m not sure that ‘La Vergine di Norimberga’ was entirely worth the wait.

Filmed in colour on the same sets used for Mario Bava’s The Whip and The Body (does the presence of Christopher Lee indicate that both films were filmed around the same time?), Margheriti conjures some splendid - albeit entirely conventional - passages of gothic atmosphere here, complete with all the looming, cob-webbed staircases, candelabra-bearing, night-gowned peregrinations and baroque, wrought iron latticework one could possibly ask for.

Ernesto Gastaldi’s script (supposedly based on a book by the fictitious sounding ‘Frank Bogart’) meanwhile throws a few novel ideas into the mix to off-set the clichés – not least the decision to make this one of the first ‘60s gothic horror films which ostensibly takes place in the present day. It’s unfortunate therefore that the filmmakers consistently fail to put these innovations to very effective use, but… more on that later. (1)

For now, let’s simply state that the idea of our unsuspecting young bride (Mary, played by Rossana Podestà, in this case) discovering that the airless rooms of her aristocratic German husband’s creepy familial mansion are haunted not only by the memory of his most infamous ancestor, a scarlet-garbed inquisition torturer, but also by the more recent horrors of the Third Reich, is a fantastic and potent one indeed.

Specifically, the heroine’s dashing husband Max (Georges Rivière) is the son of a deceased Nazi general / surgeon, whose legacy is personified by the menacing presence of Lee, who remains largely in ‘looming heavy’ mode here in the role of Erich, the taciturn, scar-faced former adjutant of the house’s dead patriarch, who, obedient to the last, now spends his days maintaining his erstwhile commanding officer’s on-site family museum, dusting off the thumb-screws and iron maidens, and keeping the black-hooded effigy of the ‘The Punisher’ (as the medieval torturer was known) in good nick.

“He laid down the law in this region, and punished adultery with death,” Max cheerily notes of his nefarious ancestor. “It seems he killed many women, torturing them to death. Was he a moralist, or a maniac?” Let’s hope that was intended as a rhetorical question.

Though this ‘return of the torturer’ plot-line is a direct lift from Corman’s ‘The Pit & the Pendulum’, which had been a huge hit in Italy the previous year, the version of it presented here must surely have exerted a strong influence upon Massimo Pupillo’s camp classic Bloody Pit of Horror (1965), after which the idea of defunct torture instruments being put to use by contemporary killers went on to become a common motif in Italian horror, recurring in Fernando Di Leo’s ‘Slaughter Hotel’, Bava’s ‘Baron Blood’ and Emilio P. Miraglia’s ‘The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave’, to name but a few.

Likewise, the rich crossover between gothic horror’s familial, sins-of-the-past atavism and unresolved Nazi guilt was irreverently explored in a number of later European horrors - Jean Brismée’s supremely entertaining ‘The Devil’s Nightmare’ (1971) and Sergio Bergonzelli’s delirious giallo ‘In The Folds of the Flesh’ (1970) immediately spring to mind - but ‘The Virgin of Nuremberg’ feels very much like ground zero in this regard.

Indeed, unease over the inclusion of such contentious subject matter at this comparatively early date perhaps accounts for the fact that the treatment of this theme is somewhat bungled here by Gastaldi and Margheriti. The shaky lines connecting dusty medieval sadism, ultra-masculine Teutonic tradition and the apparent impossibility of reconciling war-time atrocities with peace-time forgiveness are all plainly visible to the viewer, but they remain frustratingly undrawn by the writer and director.

In particular, the final act revelation (conveyed to us via a crudely assembled stock footage-based flashback) that Max’s father was actually one of the conspirators who plotted to assassinate Hitler circa 1944, and that he was subsequently disfigured and driven insane by the punishments inflicted upon him as a result, feels like a real face-palm-worthy example of missing the point.

Thereafter, the film’s villain is allowed to become an ultimately sympathetic figure, somewhat akin to the tragic / damaged characters played by Vincent Price in the early Poe films, rather than the black-hearted, unrepentant monster from Europe’s collective id which this story’s younger characters should really be finding a way to stand up to and deal with as they try to build a new life for themselves in the 1960s.

Whilst the skull-faced killer’s depredations may be curtailed in the physical sense at the film’s conclusion, the psychic and historical wounds he represents remain untended and unacknowledged, lending the film a numb, depressing feel which is only enhanced by the longueurs of relative tedium which precede its finale.

Readers familiar with Margheriti’s work will be aware that his chief behind-the-scenes innovation involved dramatically speeding up production schedules on his films by using the kind of multi-camera shooting style which would later become the norm for TV soap operas and sit-coms. Said readers will also sadly be aware though that, however much money this technique may have saved for his producers, it also had a tendency to leave Margheriti’s films feeling distant and emotionally uninvolving, even when (as here) all the necessary ingredients for a greatness were seemingly present and correct.

This was by no means always the case of course (career highlights like ‘Castle of Blood’ (1964) and Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) remain absolute bangers), but ‘The Virgin of Nuremberg’ suffers particularly acutely from Margheriti’s characteristic lack of dynamism, to the extent that it’s run-time feels padded to an absurd degree, even at a double-bill friendly 80 minutes.

The purportedly exciting final act in particular feels like a master class in how to not generate tension, as Rivière’s character finds himself stuck in that ever-green classic, the locked room slowly filling with water, whilst Podestà, unaware of her husband’s predicament, traipses around the house’s interior in the company of a maid, in search of a door that the killer hasn’t yet locked.

Suspenseful stuff, you might think, but as Margheriti proceeds to simply cut between master shot footage of these two scenarios for about ten minutes, with no narrative development and no clearly defined, visible goal for his imperilled characters, even the most indulgent of viewers will be liable to find their eyelids crashing down in anticipation of bed-time.

Performances are likewise pretty flat across the board. Not even Sir Chris (who is dubbed by other actors in all of the film’s extant language tracks, much to his chagrin no doubt) manages to make much of an impression, despite some impressive scar make-up, whilst editing and audio/visual match up feels sloppy throughout (in the version viewed for this review, at least), suggesting that a rushed and/or uncaring attitude prevailed during the film’s post-production.

An incongruously upbeat, jazz-inflected score from the usually reliable Riz Ortolani doesn’t exactly help matters either, incorporating a series of hysterically bombastic cues which sometimes feel entirely inappropriate to the relatively sedate activity on screen.

In accordance with its torture theme, ‘The Virgin of Nuremberg’ does dutifully include a few ghoulishly sadistic horror ‘bits’, which I’m sure must have sent the British censors in particular into a veritable meltdown when it arrived on these shores as ‘Caste of Terror’ in 1964. Most notably, one somewhat revolting scene involves an unfortunate woman getting a basket containing a hungry rat strapped to her face - whilst ‘The Punisher’ meanwhile delivers a chilling monologue concerning the universality of torture techniques across the globe, which serves as probably the film's most legitmately unsettling moment.

The rat device dates from the fifteenth century and was utilised as far afield as China, he calmly informs his victim, as if she might find this interesting. Whilst the modern era has brought us many innovations, he darkly reflects, the old methods are the best.

Though not as explicit or impactful as they might have been in the hands of some of Margheriti’s more visually daring contemporaries, such ‘shock’ moments – including the ‘Black Sunday’-influenced opening in which Podestà finds a mutilated corpse within the iron maiden, and some equally gory B&W surgery flashbacks - have a touch of sordid, low rent nastiness about them which makes them feel like distant precursors to the hey-day of Nazisploitation other more full-on forms of Italian exploitation, which were still some 15 years down the line at this point. (The idea of a hideously mutilated, insane surgeon lurking in a darkened dungeon even reminded me slightly of Fulci’s ‘The House by the Cemetery’ (1981), if we’re keeping score.)

If the sheer number of later films I’ve managed to name-check above might suggest that ‘The Virgin of Nuremberg’ deserves to be reconsidered as a significant landmark in the development of Italian horror though, this would have been cold comfort to anyone who actually paid to see this visually attractive but otherwise rather dreary plod through the halls of gothic cliché in the early 1960s, especially after the local censors’ scissors had inevitably done a number on it.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the film doesn’t seem to have made much headway in winning over the hearts and minds of horror fans in the decades since then either, despite of its scattered innovations and points of interest, joining such later cobweb-strewn Margheriti snooze-fests as ‘Web of the Spider’ (1971) and ‘Seven Deaths in a Cats Eye’ (1973) on the “walk don’t run” / “not as good as it sounds” list.


(1)Curiously, this film also assigns an extremely unlikely co-writing credit to Edmond T. Gréville, the Anglo-French director best remembered for 1960s ‘Beat Girl’. Quite how he got involved, god only knows, but I think it's fair to say that the finished script feels far more like Gastaldi's work than anyone else's, to the extent that I'm comfortable with naming him as the primary author. 

(Pure speculation here on my part here, but, given that Christopher Lee also appeared in ‘Beat Girl’, and also boasted an Anglo-French background, perhaps he and Gréville were friends? Perhaps Lee brought him in to do some rewrites, or perhaps Gréville just threw in some ideas over dinner which were then brought to the production by Lee, or something? Who knows...)

Monday, 8 June 2020

Kaiju Notes:
Son of Godzilla
(Jun Fukuda, 1967)




Kumonga, the giant spider!

A bunch of giant Praying Mantises!

Ok, let’s begin with a quick show of hands. Who here has seen the original, 1933 ‘King Kong’? Yes, just as I thought, every self-respecting man, woman and child. Now, who has seen RKO’s hastily slapped together 1934 sequel, ‘Son of Kong’? [Cue awkward silence, tumbleweed.] I rest my case.

For whatever reason however, the top brass at Toho studios seem to have overlooked this lesson from history, and verily it was decreed that director Jun Fukuda’s second modestly budgeted addition to the Godzilla franchise would take the form of ‘Kaijûtô no Kessen: Gojira no Musuko’ [‘Decisive Battle on Monster Island: Godzilla’s Son’], better known to the English-speaking world simply as ‘Son of Godzilla’.

As you can imagine, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this one as I worked my way through Criterion box set of Showa-era Godzilla films, but… sometimes you’ve just got to grit your teeth and hit ‘play’ on these things, y’know? I mean, it’s a learning experience, if nothing else - and having paid something in the region of ten quid for each movie on this set, you’d better believe I’m going to take my seat in the classroom, pencil and paper at the ready, and get what I can from it.

Well, guess what – to my surprise, it turns out that ‘Son of Godzilla’ isn’t all that bad. In fact, it’s pretty good fun all-round. Though clearly a step down from Fukuda’s extremely enjoyable Ebirah: Terror of the Deep, it retains much of the breezy, event-packed charm of its predecessor, and includes some memorable scenes and top-notch special effects.

As in ‘Ebirah..’, the influence of ‘King Kong’ upon Fukuda’s Godzilla films is clearly evident. Once again here, we have a danger-filled tropical island setting, in which a bunch of excitable guys run around getting into scrapes. We have another native girl in peril (actually, she’s the daughter of a long-lost prior explorer this time around), and a primary monster who is more concerned with protecting a vulnerable dependent (his ‘son’ in this case) from the depredations of lesser monsters than he is with fucking the humans’ shit up.

In fact, the film even seems to draw upon the legend of ‘King Kong’s lost spider pit sequence for inspiration, effectively recreating it in the form of a stand-out scene in which our characters tangle with Kumonga, the island’s resident giant spider.

By far the best things in this movie however are the giant praying mantises which regularly pop up to menace all and sundry. Inadvertently created by the humans’ crazy climate experiments (more on which below), these blighters put me in mind of the infamous pulp horror paperback Eat Them Alive, although needless to say they don’t get up to any such nasty business here. Nonetheless, the effects used to realise these creatures – seemingly utilising huge, string-operated puppets, big enough to go toe-to-toe with the man-sized Godzilla suit – are really superb, and the fight scenes in which The Big G tears ‘em apart have a real clout.

Speaking of which, although ‘Son of Godzilla’ does inevitably get a bit goofy and mawkish later in it’s run-time, there’s something pleasingly animalistic and.. non-anthropomorphic?.. about the scene in which ‘Minira’ [as he has been named by fans, though he is never identified as such on-screen] is initially introduced.

It’s certainly a pretty traumatic introduction to the big, bad world for the young ‘un, as he immediately finds himself menaced by the aforementioned mantises, which have been swarming around his big, speckled egg, until daddy reluctantly stomps along to sort ‘em out.

Instead of greeting his new-born with affection though, Godzilla’s first interaction with the little one is to knock him over with an accidental swing of his mighty tail, before he goes huffing and puffing off over the horizon, leaving his mewling bairn to fend for itself.

Though they do later establish a slightly more traditional, audience-pleasing father/son relationship, we’re still basically left here with the perversely endearing idea of Godzilla being a bit of a shit dad – or a dedicated practitioner of ‘laissez faire’ parenting, at best. Lazing around and snoozing whilst the kid is in trouble and/or wants attention, he doesn’t exactly exert himself too hard when it comes to schooling his charge in the ways of giant monster-dom.

Having said that however, if ‘Son of Godzilla’ is remembered for anything, it’s probably for the later scene in which Daddy Godzilla takes his son down to the river for a bit of male bonding and tries to teach him to utilise his radioactive fire breath – but, the best young Minira can initially manage is some puffy little smoke rings. Oh, how adorable!

Which seems a good point as which to stop and reflect on how far we’ve come from the days when those fiery blasts of radioactive death were decimating entire districts of central Tokyo, threatening to obliterate Japan’s shaky post-war reconstruction in one unholy conflagration, and terrified crowds fled in blind panic, and so on.

The biggest question to arise from all this though of course concerns the mysteries of Godzilla’s reproductive cycle, and more specifically, the pressing issue of who the hell the mother might be!?

Needless to say, the film’s screenwriters never deign to address this, which is probably for the best, all things considered. All we know is that, at the point at which our story begins, the big egg containing Minira is just sitting in the middle of this weird island, and Godzilla seems duty-bound to slog his way back toward it in order to reluctantly exercise his solo paternal duties once the kid hatches.

Thus, we’re left with a scenario weirdly reminiscent of the compromised, all-male lineage of Disney’s McDuck family (though we do at least have a direct father-son relationship here I suppose, in contrast to Disney’s fragmented hierarchy of parent-less uncles, nephews and cousins).

In designing Minira, I suspect that the monster effects team led by Eiji Tsubaraya and Sadamasa Arikawa were probably going for the fool-proof “overload of cute” approach which has achieved such consistent success with Japanese audiences across the decades - but, happily, I’m not sure that they quite succeeded.

Limited movement lends a particularly uncanny aspect to Minira’s moulded, baby-like face, complete with painted on eyeballs, and despite the filmmakers having gone to the trouble of hiring a dwarf actor (professional wrestler ‘Little Man’ Machen) to inhabit his suit, he retains a gawky, adult-proportioned posture which never looks quite right, especially as he stumbles over studio rocks, bawling in an electronically-altered baby voice, reminiscent of Devo’s perpetually disturbing Booji Boy mascot.

He’s a real freak in other words, and naturally this allows us us cynical, grown-up viewers to love him far more than if he were merely some perfect, proto-Pikachu type kawaii monstrosity.

Another significant development which ‘Son of Godzilla’ brings to the franchise is the creation of ‘Monster Island’ – the ecologically unstable tropical archipelago which Godzilla and his pals will be depicted as being confined to in later films, their movements carefully monitored and controlled by the human authorities.

Although the presence of Kumonga the spider suggests that this nameless island was at least slightly monstrous to begin with, its transformation into a full scale kaiju playground seems to have been largely the result of this movie’s human storyline - which for the record is fairly diverting, recalling one of those ‘40s jungle adventure type b-movies in which a bunch of wise-guys hang out in tents in a studio-bound clearing, along with a token dame, an antsy reporter and so forth.

In fact, that’s exactly what happens here, except for the fact that the scientific research team led by Dr Kusumi (Tadao Takashima) have some nice, colourful buildings and advanced laboratory facilities to hang about in as they conduct a series of frankly rather crazy localised terraforming experiments, which seem to involve using some kind of cloud level chemical air-bursts and electro-magnetic pulses to radically alter the island’s climate.

Dr Kusumi speaks grandly of a future in which the problem of over-population can be overcome by fertilising the world’s deserts and so forth, but at this stage at least, his experiments seem reckless and destructive, subjecting the island to intolerable, baking heat (the guys survive indoors with their air-con), and inadvertently causing unforeseen mutations in the local fauna, including the creation of our old friends the giant mantises.

Later on meanwhile, in the film’s oddly touching climax, they decide to blast the place with an icy blizzard, leaving Godzilla and Minira frozen in each other’s arms, no doubt awaiting the next occasion on which Toho will call upon their services to liven up the bank holiday box office.