There are movies that are a little strange. There are movies that are pretty goddamn weird. And then there are movies the very existence of which leave you baffled, which seem by all rights like they shouldn’t exist. If you’re of the right mindset, movies like this can become absolutely fascinating, like little pieces of bizarre cultural esoterica. The 1977 Italian recut of Godzilla, semi-officially dubbed Cozzilla after its creator, is one such piece of cinematic oddness.
A heavily re-cut version of the already recut American release of Ishiro Honda’s seminal film, Cozzilla spent a long time as a heavily-coveted item for Godzilla series fans. The film was never released in North America, but bootleg copies still managed to find their way stateside in very limited numbers. But thanks to the wonders of the internet, Cozzilla is now freely and easily available for anyone to watch.
Cozzilla is the brainchild of Luigi Cozzi, an Italian director who would go on to direct deliriously fun schlockfests like the Lou Ferrigno Hercules movies, Contamination and Starcrash. Perhaps motivated by the recent release of the Jeff Bridges/Jessica Lange King Kong remake, Cozzi sought to release the original Godzilla in Italy. Unfortunately, he could only obtain the rights to the American re-edit, which inserted footage of actor Raymond Burr into the film as a new protagonist for American audiences. Cozzi obtained the rights to the film and could have simply released a dubbed version, but alas no.
Fearing that the film would be too dry and dated for modern audiences, Cozzi hacked the already hacked film to pieces, producing a strange, disjointed and nigh-unwatchable new movie in the process.
The first thing Cozzi did was remove as much of the film’s dialogue and character-driven scenes as he could without harming the structure of the thing in any major way. Raymond Burr’s American reporter Steve Martin is still the protagonist, but he and the rest of the cast now disappear for long stretches of time, occasionally popping up again to gently move the plot along.
To get the runtime back up to an hour and a half, Cozzi then spliced in footage from Godzilla‘s sequel, Godzilla Raids Again, as well as a few shots here and there from The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. He also added newsreel footage depicting the aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the film’s beginning and middle, which is where things start to get weird.
The original Godzilla is, of course, loaded with subtext relating to postwar trauma felt in Japan at the time, as well as renewed anti-nuclear sentiment in the wake of an incident where fallout from an American nuclear test contaminated a fishing boat, along with its catch and crew. But the direct ties to the war and the bombings are left implicit rather than directly stated, which in many regards keeps the film away from anything approaching exploitation territory. The trauma of the war informs it, but never does Gojira directly reference it.
But the Italians have never any problem with exploitation when it comes to movies, so Cozzilla bookends its version of Godzilla’s rampage through Tokyo with post-Hiroshima footage containing shots of real human corpses and blasted landscapes. Tasteless? Yes. Exploitative? Absolutely. But affecting? Also yes. Though the morality of using footage like this is undeniably murky, you can’t deny that it adds a layer of brutality to the post-rampage sequence. Not that that in any way excuses it, mind.
But the use of newsreel footage is only a part of what makes Cozzilla the strange beast that it is. Fearing that a black and white movie wouldn’t play well with audiences, Cozzi had the film colorized using a process dubbed “Spectorama 70”, which involved applying various colored gels over the existing footage.
The end result is that the film looks like it was projected through a Fruit Rollup, taking on an almost psychedelic color palette that shifts from shot to shot and follows no real rhyme or reason. This, combined with the hazy, 10th-generation transfer quality of any version you’re liable to find online makes Cozzilla in many ways unwatchable. Darker scenes, like all of Godzilla’s major rampages, become dark, murky and largely indecipherable.
Finally, a few changes were made to the soundtrack. The sound effects were given a makeover, and new scenes were set to new music, a plinky-plonky synth arrangement that bears a passing resemblance to something Italian synth band Goblin might do. The film’s opening track is actually rather good, and would probably feel right at home in a Lucio Fulci Zombie movie, but when mixed in with Akira Ifukube’s iconic score, it just sounds out of place.
Let’s get something straight here. Unless you’re a hardcore Godzilla fan on a completionist tear, or you’re the kind of person who’s into extreme cinematic oddities, Cozzilla isn’t something you should be too interested in seeking out. As interesting as the film is from a cultural standpoint, any version available right now is most of the way to being unwatchable. Until a better copy is found, if that ever happens, the experience of watching it is a strange and baffling one, punctuated by frequent static, cutouts, and loud exclamations of “what am I looking at?”.
The fact that it’s around and talked about at all these many years later is a testament to the film’s status as a cultural artifact, an early example of remix culture and just how strange things can get when a film with cultural roots as deep as Godzilla’s winds up being run through the lens of another culture’s sensibilities.