Varan The Unbelievable (1958) gets a bad rap, but I think it is far superior to Toho’s later, juvenile films from the early to mid 70’s. It’s one of my favorite monster films actually. It has everything —a well-designed, interesting and believable reptilian monster (yes, I’m serious!), exotic locales and a monster mythology, a punchy story that moves along and cuts a bit like a serial, an urban landscape attack, decent model work, a terrific and moody score by Akira Ifukube and Ishiro Honda at helm. What’s not to like?
Some folks have complained about the monster, especially the flight sequences comparing Varan to a flying squirrel. I like the monster design and find him at least as interesting as the ridiculous-looking Baragon, with floppy hound-like ears or the hedge-hog like Anguirus. In many ways Varan is a believable monster. He offers no atomic breath. There are no laser-beams or advanced weaponry like the chainsaw appendages of Gigan in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). Ok, Varan does have supersonic flight capability, which is a stretch, but otherwise he is a giant amphibious lizard with spikes and parachute-like webbing or patagium. Varan reminds me of the fascinating real-life lizard Draco, sans the spikes.
Varan does seek high ground to glide….
Varan was Toho’s 6th Kaiju film after Godzilla (1954), the underrated Gigantis The Fire Monster (1955), the rare Yeti film Jû jin yuki otoko (1955) (aka Half-Human), Rodan (1956) and The Mysterians (1957). So, after Godzilla, Anguirus, Rodan and Mogera, Varan is one of the original Kaiju!
Allegedly the film was originally filmed for U.S. television, which would explain some awkward fade to black cuts seen in the Japanese print of the film. Don’t bother watching the American cut starring Myron Healey (1962?) which is just bad. The restored DVD print from Tokyo Shock offers a sharp widescreen print, plus supplemental features including the restored Television Broadcast Version (I have not yet watched), trailers, some special effects background information, and an audio commentary from Kaiju effects maestro Keizô Murase.