Known in the United States as Destroy All Planets and in Japan as Gamera vs. Space Monster Viras, Gamera vs. Viras made its debut in 1968. Once again helmed by Noriaki Yuasa, this movie is often pointed out as the decline of the Gamera franchise. The movie’s faults include a hackneyed plotline, a boring adversary in Viras, and that bane of all kaiju movies—previously filmed footage.
Gamera vs. Viras is basically an alien invasion flick. Why the aliens are invading is never made clear, but they are set on destroying Earth’s humanity. The movie begins with an alien spaceship (nice bee-like design) coming toward Earth. Gamera happens to be going for a space spin, and when she spots the craft, she attacks it, destroying it relatively quickly, but not before the alien leader summons a second craft.
The second craft arrives, and its alien leader is more furtive. Realizing that Gamera is the defender of the Earth, the alien leader elects to implant a mind-control device on the back of Gamera’s head. But before it can launch this diabolical plan, the aliens must first find Gamera’s weakness. After watching more than 20 minutes of previous battles with Barugon and Gyaos, the aliens finally find it: Gamera’s weakness is her love of human children!
While the aliens conduct their research, a Boy Scout troop is busy visiting an aquarium, where nearby scientists are working on a small yellow submarine. Two of the scouts who have a penchant for troublemaking sneak away from the troop and sneak aboard the submarine, where they tamper with their controls. The two kids, Masao (Japanese) and Jim (American) then convince their troop leader and the head scientist that they can repair the sub. The men let the boys take out the sub, and they have some fun racing with Gamera, who is underwater.
However, things take a dark turn when the aliens trap Gamera with a “super-catch ray” and later abduct the boys aboard their spaceship. Using the boys as hostages, the aliens force Gamera to submit so that they can implant a mind-control device. Once done, the aliens force Gamera to attack Earth structures, beginning with a dam (stock footage from the original Gamera film).
While aboard the alien craft, Masao and Jim learn that they can have anything they want merely by thinking about it, so long as what they think about causes no harm to the ship or its alien occupants. The aliens appear human (they have a Matrix-like look and dress years before the movie was even conceived), with strange-looking eyes, but they leave the kids alone. Masao and Jim run into a strange, squid-like alien, which they believe has been caged much like them.
It turns out that the squid-like alien is really the alien leader Viras. Using their ingenuity for carrying out pranks, the boys trick the craft’s computer system into destroying the mind-control device on Gamera and to transport them back to the Earth. Now free of the mind-control device and aware that the two kids are safe, Gamera goes after the spacecraft, destroying it. However, Viras has a backup plan—it absorbs the human-looking aliens, but not before cutting their heads off so that the small Viras-like creatures can emerge and merge with it. Now giant-size, Viras takes on Gamera for one final fight.
Gamera vs. Viras is a pretty good Gamera adventure at its core, but its reliance on stock footage really makes it a chore to sit through. Viras is not one of the better adversaries to battle Gamera, principally because the creature has no special abilities. However, Viras is not just a monster—it is a thinking, reasoning being from another planet.
Although kids in Gamera films can be downright annoying, the two leads in Gamera vs. Viras are actually quite tolerable. Although the script calls for them to be troublemakers, Masao and Jim are actually close friends and quite intelligent. Their one character flaw is their constant yelling of “Gamera” and actually giving the giant turtle instructions on how to fight Viras.
The final battle sequence is not terribly exciting, but it does offer one of the most violent wounds in the kaiju genre. During the battle, Viras puts together its trio of tentacles protruding from its head to form a spear. Viras then impales Gamera’s stomach with this spear-like appendage. First-time viewers will wonder how Gamera can recover from such a devastating wound, but she does. It’s also enjoyable to watch just how Gamera overcomes this squid-like monster.
I recommend Gamera vs. Viras to hardcore kaiju fans and to keen watchers of B-movies. Those who have watched previous entries in the Gamera franchise will enjoy the new footage, but the previous footage—and there’s a lot of it—makes this film hard to enjoy.
The original Japanese version of Gamera vs. Viras is available on the recently released Gamera Legacy Collection. This bare-bone collection offers 11 Gamera movies but no commentaries or extras. Gamera vs. Viras in this collection is in its original Japanese with English subtitles.