The first three entries in Daiei's Gamera franchise are, for the most part, competent enough despite their incomparable cheapness that we can talk about them like they were real movies. I am terribly excited to say that we have come to the point where that's no longer a concern: 1968's Gamera vs. Viras (a dubious Romanisation, but one that has taken on the status of being more or less official) is the exact point at which the series pitches over the cliff into outright "don't give a fuck" territory. And oh, what a glorious place it is to be: later films start to tip into unwatchable bilge, but Gamera vs. Viras has juuuuust enough warped silliness that it's fun-bad and not simply bad-bad.

(Incidentally, the film was one of the two overlooked by distributor Sandy Frank when he picked up five of the first wave of Gamera movies to overdub and distribute on video in the United States in the 1980s; and as such, the film didn't show up on Mystery Science Theater 3000 when that show attacked the Frank releases in 1991. It is, as such, one of the most obscure of the Gamera pictures, and the first one we've reached that I haven't previously seen in any form).

Almost all of that silliness comes from one of two sources: first, this is the movie where the series firmly and fully committed to the frivolous concept that Gamera, a fire-breathing turtle capable of destroying buildings just by touching them, is a "friend to all children" (that iconic, much-mocked phrase makes its first appearance in this movie, in fact). Which means, in turn, that the story takes place almost exclusively at the level of a particularly giddy kids' flick, beginning with the fact that its heroes are literal Boy Scouts. The second thing is that Gamera vs. Viras is the solitary Gamera film with a score composed by Hirose Kenjiro, whose approach to the music is wildly far away from the more or less serious action movie cues previously found in the series. His score is pitched somewhere between jazz and surf rock, and it's quite possibly the most damned peculiar score for any daikaiju eiga I've ever seen, blowing right past the atonal funk that Manabe Riichirō composed for Godzilla vs. Hedora three years later, which had prior to now been my reigning standard-bearer for off-kilter daikaiju eiga music. And not least of his weirdly buoyant, out-of-place compositions is for Gamera's new theme song, a playful march with a boys' chorus shouting their way through an exorbitantly random assortment of thoughts about Gamera, including the fact that he is strong, that his spinning jets can save the day, that he can fight monsters from Mars or Venus, as needed. And that he is strong, a sentiment repeated no fewer than six times, in two bursts.

Hirose's daffy music almost single-handedly raises the energy of the film, making its extreme silliness and bargain-bin effects work seem like they might possibly be part of some greater strategy, and not just the result of Daiei giving up any pretense that these movies were designed to do anything else but put children's asses in seats. Let me be sparkingly clear: Gamera vs. Viras is contemptible shit in many ways. Suggesting that it was made on a shoestring budget doesn't even begin to cover it: after the lengthy effects sequence in the first 15 minutes that showcases what is transparently a plastic submarine of at most a few inches in length being waggled around in an aquarium, we're already compelled to give up the remotest hope for impressive spectacle, and at that point we can't guess that almost 15 minutes of the 81-minute feature will be comprised solely of footage culled from the previous three Gamera vehicles, an obvious bid to provide the movie with a semblance of action that its own plot and ambition are completely incapable of realising. The acting is impossible, with the film's second-largest role being filled by a preteen American boy who is clearly unequipped to take direction in Japanese, and spends most of the movie staring fixedly at whatever his preteen Japanese co-star is watching with far more investment and personality.

And yet, I find its accumulation of idiocies charming. Mostly. The stock footage interludes are murderous, and so is the film's scattershot plot, which throws a bunch of incidents at the screen and prays they form the semblance of a dramatic arc. What we've got is a race of aliens from the star Viras flying into our solar system to take over Earth - the planet most like theirs in the entire universe - but stymied when their vessel, which resembles five plastic bumblebees glued onto a metallic ring, is battered to pieces by Gamera, who zooms right through outer space to stop this invasion. Realising that they cannot conquer the planet with this heroic turtle guarding humanity, the Virasians plot to take Gamera out of the picture by trapping him in an energy dome, reading his memories, and cuing up an uninterrupted 10 minuets and 44 seconds of stock footage of the battle sequences from the earlier films, which is enough to teach them that his weakness his his kindness to the human children of the Earth. But this has nothing to do with their plot to stop him, which is the more straightforward "use a mind-control ray" gambit that had already been trotted out twice in the Godzilla series over at Toho by this point.

While that's been going on, an apparent international Boy Scouts colloquium has been gathered, with the two Boy Scouts we care about being Nakaya Masao (Takatsuka Toru) and Jim Crane (Carl Craig). Masao is an obnoxious, nauseating little perfectionist, who takes over a high-tech sub after the adults showing it to the scouts fuck it up, and while he and Jim are tooling around underwater, they spot Gamera, not yet under mind control. They engage the turtle in a playful underwater race - a playful underwater race, what the actual Christ - which stops when the aliens capture him, and the boys too. Masao and Jim are relatively free to move around the spaceship at first, looking for a way to escape from the aliens who dress like French beatniks and can have their eyes turn to plastic balls that flash in the dark. Eventually, they break the beam controlling Gamera, and the aliens trot out their back-up plan: shedding their human form to reveal themselves as squid-like creatures who can combine to form the giant squid-like creature also called Viras, who does battle with Gamera for a few thoroughly unengaging minutes of the worst-choreographed daikaiju battle in the Gamera franchise to this point.

The chief joy of Gamera vs. Viras is in how it keeps coming up with new stupidities to be darling and fun: everything from Masao's wrist communicator with a comically enormous antenna that he can use to communicate with the outside world during his and Jim's sojourn on the space ship, thus ensuring that there's no danger of this building up to anything but a low-stakes boys' adventure; to every single hilariously bad effect, with several different Gamera models and suits, all of them looking like plastic and none of them looking alike; to the robotic intensity of the non-actors playing Jim's parents; to the lazy incorporation of footage from the original Gamera during the period when the aliens control him and force him to destroy things, that blithely ignores the fact that Gamera was shot in black-and-white, and Gamera vs. Viras is in color.

Director Yuasa Noriaki, making his third Gamera film of seven, does a surprisingly good job of making something out of the limited budget and the small scale of Takahashi Nisan's script, which spends an inordinate amount of time on the spaceship, saving the expense of building too many sets. The results are undoubtedly cramped - the middle chunk of the movie resembles a TV show more than a movie - but Yano Tomohisa's sets are actually pretty creative and colorful in their adherence to late-'60s sci-fi visual tropes, and Yuasa does a fair job of staging the action to keep from emphasising just how rickety and limited the film's resources actually were. He's at a total loss to make the plot seem engaging: it amounts to nothing more than "two boys get kidnapped by aliens, they mess around, they escape, and also a giant turtle is going crazy out in stock footage", and it hardly manages to fill 81 minutes even with that enormous streak of recycled material. Parts of it are, undoubtedly, very boring. And all of it looks like it was made in somebody's backyard. But it's sufficiently manic in the early going to give it some momentum to get through its mid-film slowdown, and the whole of it is so cheerily crappy that one needn't have a lifetime of experience being delighted by completely awful filmmaking to see why it's all more amusing than enervating. Even the annoying little kids aren't as grating as they could be, and though parts of the film are just terrible, there's also some silly bullshit to come along and make it fun again.