This particular essay wasn’t part of Podcasters Assembled, but another podcast called Record All Monsters hosted by Robert Kelly who participated in the fourth season. Taking note that I clearly had an affinity for the characters as he did, he asked me to participate in a special episode of his podcast talking about our introduction to the King of Monsters. If you’re a fan of all things kaiju, give it a listen some time.
Like most of us, my love for kaiju movies stems back to my childhood. And while I am always looking for the most pure, pristine version of these films for my collection today, as a child, I was lucky to discover a new one I had never seen before. At the age I learned about Godzilla, the character had been featured in sixteen films. While Kong had been featured in some way in at least five, I probably only knew of two initially. Meanwhile, this doesn’t even get into films like Rodan, Mothra, Varan, Space Amoeba, and so many more that featured characters that I would be eager to learn about over the years.
I often struggle to remember what Godzilla film I saw first. Considering the timing of it all, I’m mostly confident it was Godzilla 1985. I have a deep fondness for the film and I have to believe it stems from being the first. Godzilla vs. Megalon has to be a close second. I know that I had a copy of it on VHS which was the first and only one I had for a long time. One of my cousins also had a copy but his was in a different slipcase which made it different enough to fascinate me for some reason.
That same cousin was how I first saw Godzilla vs. Gigan and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. I really dug the VHS cases of these films. If I’m not mistaken, these were reissued by New World Video with amazing cover art, both touting the message “All new! Never before seen on video!” There was one oddity though. For some reason, Nami, the Azumi Royal Family Princess who awakened King Caesar in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, was featured on the cover art of Godzilla vs. Gigan… twice. As in they took two different stills of her in different outfits and placed them side by side like they were the Shobijin from Mothra. It’s much stranger to me today than it was back then. In fact, I could have sworn there was at least one picture of her on the Mechagodzilla cover.
King Kong vs. Godzilla was probably the next one I stumbled upon while thumbing through tapes at a Kmart. I had to have been aware of King Kong because seeing the two of them together blew my mind. I know I had seen the original King Kong from 1933 first, followed by King Kong Lives not long after. I saw the 1976 version of King Kong after those two on TV, thoroughly confused why Kong’s roar was different than it was in Lives. Anyway, I had a copy of King Kong Lives on VHS, however it had been recorded by a family member off of a cable network like HBO. And the audio was quiet so you had to turn the TV up a bit to hear it properly. I kind of miss my old bootleg VHS collection…
While I was fairly loyal to my local video store, they didn’t really carry any old Godzilla films. Because of that, I was unaware how many existed. One day, we went to another video store one town over. A little bit bigger with a more expanded collection of films. Lo and behold in the sci-fi section sat Godzilla vs. Monster Zero. I was familiar with Ghidorah since he was in Godzilla vs. Gigan, but I had only seen a glimpse of Rodan in Godzilla vs. Megalon. So this was not only a new Godzilla movie but one with a monster I really haven’t seen before.
One weekend I went to a different video store in the same town with a friend of mine. We were looking for sleepover videos and I stumbled upon a title unknown to me: Son of Godzilla. I was immediately intrigued. HE HAD A SON?! HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?! This was probably one of the first films to make me question the series a bit. As a youngster, I didn’t quite have an appreciation for it like I do today. I didn’t despise it. Just confused by it all. Especially the donkey cries of Manilla. Imagine how confused I became once I saw Godzilla’s Revenge, also seen thanks to the aforementioned cousin.
Equally confusing to me was Godzilla Raids Again since the print I watched labeled the film Gigantis the Fire Monster. I had no idea how distribution rights worked at the time, so I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be a Godzilla film or not. I mean, it LOOKED like Godzilla but most of the film he sounded like Anguirus which confused me more. But the Video Treasures cover art showed both Godzilla and Anguirus so it HAD to be right? US Distributors added more confusion into the mix with the additional titles, making me think I had discovered a new Godzilla film only to learn its one I had seen before. Titles like Godzilla on Monster Island, Godzilla vs. the Thing, and Godzilla vs. the Cosmic Monster were just a few to mislead me.
The only other film I’m pretty sure I saw around this time was Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, also released by Video Treasures. It’s cover art wasn’t as cool and it was the first time I noticed reused scenes since I first saw Godzilla fight Ebriah and the Giant Condor in Godzilla’s Revenge. Years later, when the TNT network began airing their Monstervision marathons, I saw a few familiar films being aired but it was my first opportunity to watch the original Godzilla. I didn’t appreciate it like I do today. Mainly because it was the original Japanese version and it was in black & white and whatever other excuse a teen like me could make.
Growing up in a time that was pre-internet, I had no idea how many films existed. Let alone that more were being made. The first time that I had some indication that other films existed was the NES game, Godzilla: Monster of Monsters. That game included a bevy of Toho kaiju I had never seen or heard of and would never discover their movies until I was grown. The SNES game Super Godzilla featured Battra and Mecha-King Ghidorah and the instruction booklet featured actual pictures from the movies, confirming these films existed which excited me. I would scour the video stores for them, not knowing the reasons I couldn’t find them.
My cousin and I did luck out eventually and found Godzilla vs. Biollante which had been released on home video in 1992. I think the only reason we even found it was because it was a Blockbuster Video. But it was so cool to see a new Godzilla film.
In 1998, with the release of Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla imminent, distributors decided to capitalize on it and fans like me were rewarded. While I did have one or two Godzilla films on VHS at the time, it was at this point that my collection grew significantly. Anchor Bay released a set of six with Godzilla vs. Megalon, Gigan, Mechagodzilla, Son of Godzilla, Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster which I had never seen and my absolute favorite Godzilla 1985. Now I had a copy to call my own that I still have to this day. Mainly because you can’t find it anywhere. That set BTW was really cool because when you displayed the cases together, it created the cover art to Godzilla 1985. Obviously, I bought a shelf for this.
Sony also jumped in and released never before seen Godzilla films from the 90s, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, Mothra, Space Godzilla and Destoroyah. If my memory serves me correctly, it was a full year later before we got the release of Godzilla vs. Mechgodzilla II. Not sure why that was. I knew something was missing when I first saw Little Godzilla. My VHS collection quickly grew as I nabbed every Godzilla film that was being reissued. That was until DVD took hold, then the transition began.
I’ll always have fond memories of my VHS days. I believe my generation will be the last to truly discover films blindly. You looked at the case and if the cover art was cool, you hoped the movie was too. I love that I was able to discover Godzilla in this way. I was never overloaded with it. There was a thrill to discovering an all-new adventure and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.