The mad folly of the psychedelic, spectoramic, Futursound-enhanced 1977 Italian version of the Japanese monster movie classic.
In 1977, Godzilla was nearing the end of his long original run of movies, though he was still a classic creature beloved of monster movie fans everywhere and remained a popular merchandising moneymaker, with toys, model kits, a Saturday morning cartoon and Marvel comic either on sale or on the horizon. Yet production company Toho managed to almost destroy their giant lizard’s reputation in a moment of foolhardy licensing that resulted in a film that they would describe as ‘an abomination’, and which now sits in infamy as one of the most outrageous, misguided celluloid follies of all time.
Luigi Cozzi, for those unfamiliar with the name, is an Italian film director noted more for his enthusiasm than his talent – he has become something of a beloved figure amongst Italian genre fans, in large part for being the man behind Profundo Rosso, the Rome-based, Dario Argento-themed store, where he is often on hand to greet international tourists. His career as a filmmaker, however, has been a spotty one – he made the entertainingly trashy space opera Starcrash – a knock-off of Star Wars – and Contamination – a knock-off of Alien; a pair of Hercules films in the early 1980s, the frankly absurd The Black Cat (posited as the conclusion of the Dario Argento Three Mothers trilogy long before Argento made his own ham-fisted Mother of Tears), assorted horror, giallo and exploitation films and a couple of documentaries about Argento. He is not, it must be said, in the top – or even second – tier of Italian horror filmmakers, but he seems like a good-natured sort, and unlike many of his contemporaries, seems to actually love horror and fantasy cinema.
By far Cozzi’s oddest and most absurdly pointless project was a 1977 overhaul of the original Godzilla, which was released on unsuspecting and presumably aghast Italian cinemagoers in the wake of the 1976 King Kong. Giant monsters were expected to be all the rage, and Cozzi thought a re-release of the 1954 film would be a big hit. The fact that new Godzilla films were still being made at the time was neither here nor there.
Cozzi’s original plan was to re-release British Godzilla imitator Gorgo, but the asking-price from the rights holders was too much; ironically, Toho in Japan was much more reasonable, and even agreed to Cozzi reworking the film, once it became clear that cinemas were not very interested in showing an old black and white movie. This wasn’t the first time that the film had been adapted for foreign audiences, of course – the 1954 Gojira became the 1956 Godzilla King of the Monsters for its US release, with new scenes featuring Raymond Burr and directed by Terry Morse spliced in – quite impressively – to make the movie more comfortable for xenophobic American viewers (a practice that was pretty commonplace with Japanese films during the Fifties and Sixties). It was, in fact, this print that Toho supplied to Cozzi, and presumably, they thought that he might come up with something new and exciting – the deal included the proviso that Toho would take ownership of the new negative after the Italian release, seemingly with the hope of further international revivals of this modernised edition.
Cozzi faced two immediate problems – colorising the movie and bringing it up to modern running time requirements – the US cut was eighty minutes long, but Italian distributors insisted on at least a ninety-minute running time. This latter problem was solved with shameless pilfering from other movies – scenes from The Day The Earth Caught Fire, Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and the original movie’s first sequel Godzilla Raids Again/Gigantis the Fire Monster were spliced in to pad things out and change the narrative structure, and to give the film a more contemporary violent feel, the movie opens with documentary footage of Hiroshima victims and destruction. Godzilla was, of course, originally inspired by Japan’s experience of being bombed with nuclear weapons, so this made a certain sense even if it is a rather jolting start to a monster movie. How much permission Cozzi had to use the scenes from other films remains a matter of debate, but Italian copyright laws in the 1970s were notoriously lax.
The colorisation job was given to Armando Valcuada, and he spent three months creating a frame-by-frame gel wash of various colours that is somewhere between traditional tinting and psychedelic liquid lights, with a handful of hues floating around the screen. The result is… interesting. It’s a bit like a bad trip and might well cause headaches – how this ever passed muster as ‘colour’ for those picky theatres is anyone’s guess. Presumably, the film was booked in and showing before anyone realised that they’d been scammed. Just as Al Adamson passed off the tinted stock footage in Horror of the Blood Monsters as some technical leap forward by calling it Spectrum X, so Cozzi hyped this new neon nightmare as being in Spectorama 70, which probably sounded very impressive in advertising.
But Cozzi wasn’t just playing with the visuals. Sensurround was the big gimmick of the 1970s, an attempt to bring action films like Earthquake and Rollercoaster to life by shaking the cinema with low-frequency bass sounds that people would feel more than hear – perfect for making explosions feel all the more realistic. The format was doomed for the same reasons that many gimmicks fail – it involved the installation of special equipment, and most theatres did not see it as value for money. Cozzi, of course, could not afford to licence Sensurround, or even knock-off versions like Megasound or Sound 360, and so invented his own version called Futursound. After all, all that was really needed was a lot of bass. There are no records of how successful the system was, but I can imagine watching this dayglo atrocity while being pummelled with low-frequency bass might have resulted in most audience members feeling very, very ill.
Cozzi used the original film score for most of the new version, but for the opening scenes added a synth-rock score by Magnetic System – a band consisting of Vince Tempera, Franco Bixio and Fabio Frizzi. You might find the score oddly familiar – Frizzi would later rework it in his iconic soundtracks for Lucio Fulci‘s Zombie Flesh Eaters and City of the Living Dead. The Godzilla theme is not quite as good as these classic later versions, but it’s probably the only part of this debacle that has any value. The theme was released as a single on Cinevox, and an original copy will now cost you an arm and a leg.
The only other worthwhile thing to come out of all this was the impressive film poster – an image so striking that it would, a couple of years later, appear on the front cover of the first issue of legendary horror movie magazine Fangoria.
Toho in the 1970s was clearly not as protective of its properties as it is now, but even so, Cozzi’s reconstruction of their movie did not go down well. While the contract allowed Cozzi to essentially do what he liked and release it without having to get prior approval, the company made damn sure that it was never seen anywhere else. You are not even allowed to mention the film in any Toho-approved product – references to it were removed from the blu-ray commentary for the Criterion release of the original 1954 version. Copies have somehow survived online, however – poor quality prints that make the viewing experience even more of a challenge than it already was – and the Cozzi cut is now the stuff of legend, an ambitious but woefully misguided attempt to update a film that had already been compromised and really didn’t need this sort of mugging. But we very much recommend watching it, if only to marvel at the whole ludicrous creation.
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