The Underbelly: Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds
October 01, 2018

The Underbelly #1
Legend of Dinosaurs & Monster Birds
1977
Director: Junji Kurata
Premise: Bizarre climate conditions resurrect a petrified Plesiosaurus and a Rhamphorhynchus, who then munch Lake Sai's and Mt. Fuji's visitors. Meanwhile, a boring hero seeks to... What? Clear his disgraced father? Strike it rich with a monumental scientific breakthrough? See a prehistoric creature with his own eyes? Pick a motivation, dude.


SPOILERS ABOUND: I know this is an old flick, but at there's always that one reader who gripes about giveaways for obsolete flicks.


From appteizer to dessert, one town becomes a monster meal.

The US tagline would have you believe that Legend is an intense monster movie, decked out with plenty of Plesiosaur-eating-man action. Various online sources might lead you to believe it's an intriguing exploitation movie, complete with a scene where the aforementioned lake monster barfs on a soon-to-be-victim. Trailers even build up the inevitable brawl between the Plesio and his adversary, a Rhamphorhynchus, as if it's the battle of the century. Don't believe a word of it.

It pains me to say that, too. Legend was a big part of my childhood, especially with two scenes that scared the living crap out of me. One scene uses sound and choice visuals. A young couple take a pedalo out on the lake. We see a shot of them splashing and laughing, followed by an underwater shot looking upward. The pedalo passes the camera, followed by a huge mass. The camera moves away from the couple to focus on the shore. We hear sudden screams, cut off by a loud WOOSH, and then deafening silence.

Later on, the girl who gets puked on falls off her bike in the middle of the night and lands in a blood puddle. The source of the liquid is a headless horse sitting in the middle of the road. One of her friends takes her home and returns to the location to find the horse, only to discover it's missing. Slow, atmospheric synth music plays while our dude looks for the beast, only to find it dragged up a tree. *cue creepy music that scared a ten-year-old Joe*

But aside from all that? Sure, there's a rather creepy scene where the Plesiosaur bursts into a cabin (OH YEAH!) to eat a camp counselor, and another graphic moment where the protagonist finds his missing friend at a cave's entrance.... and a few feet away from that.... and a few feet away from that.... and a few feet away from that...

However, Legend isn't anything more than a dated spectacle. It was Toei's biggest budgeted movie at the time of its release, and was intended to be nothing but a blockbuster and a cash-in on of Jaws. It's a movie that was probably cool as hell in 1977, but just looks silly by today's standards. That, and its middle section is slow, tedious and talkie. It tries to wax philosophical when it reveals the protagonist's motive. The movie leads you to believe that he's interested in clearing his father's name, since he was a disgraced scientist who claimed a Plesiosaur lived in Lake Sai. However, our hero actually claims he just wants to see the Plesiosaurus, saying something like, "We'll just be two animals, meeting each other." O... kay?

I get it, though. The movie is trying to say that humans are animals that forgot they were animals, and that we are truly at nature's mercy. A lot of the film supports that message, what with the reptiles overcoming human technology so they can eat humans. In the end, the creatures themselves fall victim to nature, as the mountain erupts and fissures claim both of them.

No message, though, excuses that dull middle, or the ill-fitting cool jazz that plays throughout the film, or the horrible monster fight at the end, which consists of little more than two rubber props bumping into each other until one loses an eye. It's also worth mentioning that neither of these beasts were actually dinosaurs. Plesiosaurs are an order separate from the dinosaur clade, and Rhamphorhynchus is a Pterosaur (which is a completely separate clade altogether).

Oh, and Rhamphorynchus wasn't nearly big enough to eat a human, as most specimens were scarcely bigger than hawks or eagles.

And Plesiosaurus (this is the *distinct* name given by the movie) was only about the size of a shark, and probably didn't dwell in fresh water. Look:



I mean, yeah, there were some huge Plesiosaurs out there, like Mauisaurus, but Plesiosaurus wasn't one of them.

And... Okay, the movie isn't good, I think you get it now. But you know what? It's still kind of a fun, bad B-movie at times, and I wouldn't grudge you for watching it. I still do myself, on occasion. There's an unrated DVD available, which keeps all the nasty bits eschewed by the PG-rated VHS. I still skip the middle section, though...

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