Varan the Unbelievable

VARAN

Varan the Unbelievable is a Japanese rubber-suit monster movie made in 1958. The version I saw was the chopped-up American remake (1962), ala Raymond Burr’s Godzilla. Interestingly the monster’s name seems to be Obaki, not Varan the Unbelievable, but whatever.

Commander James Bradley sets up base at an isolated Japanese island. He wants to do experiments on the isle’s saltwater lake, using a chemical to convert saline to fresh water. Even though everyone in the movie thinks this is a bad idea the tests still go on. At his wife’s urging, the Commander decides not to evacuate the villagers who, you know, live there. The American version portrays the Commander sympathetically; apparently the Commander doesn’t even appear in the Japanese version, which seems to have a different plot.

The villagers believe a monster lives in the lake. In a plot twist everyone sees coming, said monster lurches out of the lake when the chemical sinks in. Varan has spikes running down his back and looks like a cross between Godzilla and Anguirus. Sometimes the Unbelievable One walks on four legs, sometimes on two. He destroys the village and then heads for a larger city – in the American version it’s Oneida – to demolish, because that’s what monsters do.

The Commander and his wife get stuck in a Jeep, and spend the final act of the movie trying to radio the city and tell them about the magic chemical that can kill Varan. Varan attacks the city, but flees when the magic chemical is detonated in his face. The Commander and his wife leave for Southern California, leaving the villagers to rebuild their shattered lives.

The best part of Varan the Unbelievable is Varan, who is freaky-looking. There’s a sequence in the 1958 version where the Unbelievable One flies or glides through the air like an enormous squirrel. That was cut in the American version (even though it appears in the trailer), which is only 67 minutes. Some of the movie’s other cuts don’t make sense (who was the guy driving the truck?), but this version of the movie is a cheapo so it doesn’t really matter.

Bottom-line: I enjoyed Varan the Unbelievable, but it’s for connoisseurs of Japanese monster movies only.

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