In Gamera vs. Gyaos, Daiei Film's third film in as many years featuring the fire-breathing, flying, giant tortoise Gamera, the formula of a "Gamera film" was nailed down in its final form, while his most iconic and beloved opponent was introduced. A certain Gyaos by name, because whatever else is true of daikaiju eiga they believe in truth in advertising.

The point being, it is quite and all-round impressive milestone in the franchise, and it's immensely entertaining on top of it. I'm not sure if its for the right reasons or not: Gamera vs. Gyaos is by any meaningful objective standard a terrible, terrible movie, but it's also a huge amount of fun, and not only because its terrible elements are so hilarious. Let us make the obvious comparison: in 1967, when Daiei released this film, the more well-heeled Toho contributed to the more storied Godzilla franchise the execrable Son of Godzilla, while also handling the American co-production King Kong Escapes, a dumb-headed cartoon adaptation that's campy enough for its shortcomings to as a story to really stand out. Next to either of those films, Gamera vs. Gyaos is the clear winner: it's cheap as hell and virtually nothing done by any of its characters could possibly be mistaken for rational human behavior and it includes a subplot so totally, obviously unacceptable for the rest of the movie that I can't even imagine how it was dreamed up in the first place. But unlike Toho's offerings in '67 - unlike most nominally bad daikaiju eiga of any era - its insanity is unrelenting, and for 86 of the most batshit silly minutes that Japanese genre cinema has to offer, it's not boring for even a second.

And just to prove my point, when the movie opens, it's already running at speed. There have been volcanic eruptions across Japan! The latitude and longitude of the first one are given! The most recent one was at Mount Fuji! People had to be evacuated! Every one of those exclamation points is absolutely unmistakable in the original, too. The narrator catching us up on the chaotic goings-on is goddamn ecstatic to be telling us all of this.

All of this activity attracts the giant monster Gamera, to the immense pleasure of Eiichi (Abe Naoyuki), a little boy living in a farming village near Mount Fuji, where his grandfather Kanamura Tatsuemon (Ueda Kichijiro) is leading a protest against the construction team led by Tsutsumi Shiro (Hongo Kojiro). Which, with the eruptions and giant monsters and all, is looking like a pretty doomed project, but Shiro still insists on buying out the farmers for rip-off prices, and Tatsuemon still stonewalls him. But all of this of infinitesimal interest, no matter how much screenwriter Takahashi Nisan insists on returning to it over and over again throughout the movie, never feeling like anything but an abrupt downshift into a completely different film. Far more important is the discovery that Gamera loves lava, and will thus be sticking around Mount Fuji for quite some time, which is convenient, for as we're about to learn, the eruptions have awakened another monster from its millennia-long sleep. We don't see it as anything but a strange green glow in the forest, at first: a green glow that shoots yellow energy beams and destroys a UN research helicopter. The first and second people to actually see the beast are Eiichi and Okabe (Minatsu Shin), a shady news photographer whom the boy catches lurking around the village. Eiichi is the only one who counts, though, given that as soon as it becomes clear that something huge is hiding in the woods, Okabe runs in terror, leaving the unaccompanied child to fend for himself. In punishment for this greediness, the photographer is picked up by the huge soemthing and tossed in its mouth like a handful of popcorn. And this gives us our first good look at the face of the enemy.

Oh, these Gamera antagonists! Between Barugon in the second movie, and now Gyaos (so named by Eiichi, who shapes up to be the film's monster expert, advising scientists and the military on the proper way to deal with the new threat and support Gamera - I'm deadly serious), the films are two-for-two on creatures that are not really at all imaginative, and extravagantly crappy in execution, and precisely because they are both such complete botch jobs, they're hilarious and delightful and infinitely memorable. I'd still give the edge to Barugon, a far more defiantly shabby, weird concept, but Gyaos is a real special beastie, combining the basic shape of a pteranodon (and thus Rodan from Toho's bestiary) with the details of a bat, and a shovel-shaped flat head that resembles nothing so much as a piñata with little angry yellow eyes, and a perfectly triangular mouth that flops open to reveal its nubby teeth. The non-existence of a Gyaos plushie is heartrending to me, and I don't understand how the internet allowed that to happen.

The film's plot from here on resembles a perfect hybrid of Gamera and Gamera vs. Barugon. From the latter film, we have the basic shape of the narrative, in which Gamera and his titular foe square off, with Gamera ending up worse for the wear, and forced to go into hiding to patch up his wounds; after this, the Japanese government and military try their mightiest to defeat the new, far worse creature on their own, but their plans only succeed in slowing it down until a resurgent Gamera comes along to finish the job. From the earlier film, we have the human anchor for all this being a preteen boy who is rescued by Gamera and persists in regarding the giant turtle as his very best friend. And now, at least, he has every reason to: the shift from Gamera-the-destroyer to Gamera-the-unambiguous hero was complete largely by the midway point of the second movie, but without a chipper, rather smug child to prattle on and on about how wonderful Gamera is, it wasn't so violently clear that was the case. But with Eiichi popping up everywhere from disaster areas to top-secret planning sessions to bluntly insist that Gamera won't let harm come to humanity, it becomes extravagantly, unmissably clear.

Eiichi is the film's most present (annoyingly so) character, but the one who makes the most delightful impact is Dr. Murakami (Murakami Fujio), who instantly becomes one of the truly great characters in all daikaiju eiga during his conference where he's asked what, in his opinion as a great scientist, is the nature of Gyaos, and he pleasantly retorts that it's some kind of inexplicable giant monster. He is one of the chief reasons that Gamera vs. Gyaos is a marvelously entertaining bad movie instead of just an irritating one: the most damned deranged things come out of his mouth on a regular basis, and Murakami the actor does a phenomenal job of playing all this with wise sincerity, but without trying to convince us that it's anything but overheated cartoon nonsense. When he is soberly explaining that Gyaos has two throats, and that's why it can't turn its head but can shoot a beam of yellow sound waves, he doesn't talk down to the material. When he suggests that the best way to stop the blood-drinking, sun-fearing monster (Gyaos is baisically a daikaiju vampire) is to use a blood-scented mist to lure it to the top of a rotating hotel and make it dizzy until the sun comes up, he seems to have deeply considered that this makes the most sense out of all possibilities. He is both the conduit and the antidote for all of the film's most aggressively silly impulses, and because of him, Gamera vs. Gyaos finds a perfect mixture of kiddie goofiness and some kind of meaningful stability.

But it is still a giant monster movie, and it naturally enough lives and dies on its giant monsters. For all the remarkably cheesy limitations of Gyaos's construction, the effects work is actually quite good: there are some surprisingly ambitious composite shots that are executed flawlessly, or at least what passed for "flawlessly' in Japan in the latter half of the 1960s. The fight choreography is unexpectedly good as well: the film has a violent streak to it (including a memorably gross moment when Gyaos re-grows its toes after Gamera bites them off), and the fights turn into frenzied brawling that's legitimately exciting, if a little bit mystifyingly cut together. Blood spurts, Gamera flails and tears, and Gyaos is cunningly positioned so that you only notice about half the time that the suit has barely any points of articulation.

It's cheap, and it looks cheap (the attempt to give the Gamera suit more range of expression only serves to highlight how awkwardly stiff and unyielding most of it is), but there's a friendliness to this cheapness that sets it far above the junkier Godzilla films that were just starting to make themselves known at this time. The tone remains madcap and blazingly upbeat throughout, perhaps director Yuasa Noriaki's attempt to united the irreconcilable portions of a a film that wants to be half kids' horror movie, half adult sci-fi adventure. The film that emerges makes no sense and feels more than a little incompetent most of the time, but it has such an irresistible enthusiasm for being thus deranged that it's impossible not to fall in love with it a little bit; soon enough, the Gamera films would commit to being kiddie schlock, and the random, captivating mixture of impulses that make this such a singular film would start to look even more unique.