With Batman V Superman in theaters (if not in our hearts), I thought it would be interesting to examine the history of films with some variant of “versus” in their titles: films promising an action-packed showdown between mega-powerful antagonists.
The first marquee matchup is usually considered to be the climax of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), but in the 40s they always used “meet” in the titles.
It was a friendlier time.
Not until the Cold War 50s did film titles imply that the battle was the whole point.
Here is a fairly complete list of films with “versus” or “vs.” or “v” in their titles through the early 1970s when they fell out of fashion or morphed into non-genre pictures like Kramer vs. Kramer.
When I started this article I expected to find about half a dozen films, but I found more than twice that, much more if you count all the Godzilla and Gamera films.
Several of these films are duds, but most of them try deliver on the promise of their titles. I’ll comment briefly on each and then rate each from 1-10 on a Bash-o-Meter based on how well they fulfill their promises.
Though the movie is black-and-white, astounding stop-motion effects from the famed Ray Harryhausen make EVTFS one of the best “versus” movies on our list.
Saucers destroy planes, tanks, soldiers, and every famous landmark in Washington. Other weird things happen on the way. I’m giving it an 8 on the Bash-o-Meter. It helped inspire the famous Mars Attacks! trading cards, especially card #5, “Washington in Flames” (1962).
EARTH VS. THE SPIDER (a.k.a. “The Spider,” 1958)
From director Bert I. Gordon (Mr. BIG, who co-created his own effects) comes a giant spider picture with lots of action and spider screen time. The onscreen spider is a real tarantula shot to look huge.
Due to the low-budget effects, the spider accidentally changes size several times.
Mostly it’s the size of a bus. Enjoy the fun 50s teenagers, music, and cars. It should be called “One Small American Town vs. The Spider” but the up-close action is surprisingly intense, so it rates a 7 on the Bash-o-Meter. DDT gets used by the gallon.
THE AZTEC MUMMY VS. THE HUMAN ROBOT (1958)
This Mexican production has other title variants, but I’m using the main American title here. It’s the third of the three original Aztec Mummy movies and its only 64 minutes long.
The “robot” is actually a dead man encased in metal armor. The fight lasts 48 seconds (I timed it). So it’s a mere 4 on the Bash-o-Meter for this one.
KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962)
Here we go. It’s the third in the original Godzilla series, but it’s the film that really got the series going. Historically, it’s the first Godzilla film in color.
Toho secured the rights to King Kong from RKO, though Toho’s Kong is pretty ugly. Somehow, he gets rejuvenated via electricity. Small battles come along the way, leading up to a great climactic duel that goes for a full 10 minutes.
Thanks to skillful direction and monster suit acting, it feels strangely realistic. There is a spirit of fun behind it all, and yet the big duel is tense and powerful. Score it an 8 on the Bash-o-Meter.
MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (1964)
Godzilla remains a bad guy in this fourth film of the original series. The story is weak, and actually the whole film is weaker than its trendsetting predecessor.
But the battles are good, with caterpillar Mothras and full grown Mothras working together to hand Godzilla a legitimate defeat (perhaps the reptile’s only verifiable defeat). Godzilla would become a good guy beginning with his next film. Rating: 7 on the Bash-o-Meter.
BILLY THE KID VERSUS DRACULA (1966)
John Carradine appeared in dozens upon dozens of cheap junky B-flicks in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. He considered BTKVD his very worst. Yet he’s still pretty fun to watch, traipsing around in a top hat and red necktie, widening his eyes like Bela Lugosi when he spots a damsel he’d like to seduce.
The action, however, is pisspot poor. You know how heroes sometimes throw the gun at people after they run out of bullets and it never does anything? Here, the thrown gun does more than the bullets. So it’s good for laughs but only a 3 on the Bash-o-Meter.
GAMERA VS. GAOS (“Return of the Giant Monsters,” 1966)
This is the third Gamera picture and the last decent one until the series restarted in the 90s. If you’re not offended by gore in a children’s film, then you must admit the action is good.
It’s the first appearance of Gaos, who became known as Gamera’s nemesis. Watch how his beams nearly slice off Gamera’s unprotected limbs. Good thing Gamera can regenerate. Plus he’s got that shell.
When the series restarted in 1995, a whole gang of Gaoses attacked Earth. Rating 7 on the Bash-o-Meter. Note: I’m skipping three bad Gamera films with “vs.” in their titles (Guiron, Monster X, and Zigra).
THE WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1964)
Here’s a black-and-white Mexican luchadora picture that’s more interested in the luchadoras fighting each other than fighting the mummy. Maybe it’s just as well since the mummy (who’s more of a zombie) doesn’t do much. I wish it didn’t have “vs.” in the title so I wouldn’t have to include it. Rating 3 on the Bash-o-Meter.
THE NAVY VS. THE NIGHT MONSTERS (1966)
This awful plant monster movie is like a cheap American version of the British Day of the Triffids. Its only selling point is Mamie Van Doren, the busty blonde famous for Untamed Youth.
Walking plants could be scary… but not in this picture since they do almost nothing. The big battle is mostly stock footage of napalm airstrikes in Vietnam. Sad stuff. Rating 3 on the Bash-o-Meter.
DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971)
Having almost no relation to the Universal monsters mentioned in its title, DVF is one of the more notable creations of Al Adamson who made a career out of drive-in exploitation flicks like Blood of Ghastly Horror and Blood of Dracula’s Castle. DVF is likewise a cheap exploitation film but it’s historically important for the final appearances of Lon Chaney Jr. and J. Carroll Naish.
Poor alcoholic Chaney plays a mute retard who receives a blood transfusion that turns him into an axe murderer. Wheelchair-bound Naish fares somewhat better in his role as Frankenstein, who gets help from Dracula in resurrecting the Monster to unleash terror across the world.
The Monster is a guy with a cheap rubber mask. At the end, he fights Dracula in the woods but it’s hard to see what’s happening because of all the shadows.
Dracula wears a ring that shoots disintegrator beams but he doesn’t get to use it on Frankenstein or on the Monster. It rates only 5 on my Bash-o-Meter, but the 70s exploitation atmosphere is the main thing.
And remember: “All illusions look real, or they wouldn’t be illusions, would they?”
THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN (1971)
Paul Naschy (Jacinto Molina) made about a dozen movies from the late 60s into the early 80s starring as the dour werewolf-hero Waldemar Daninsky. The series varies widely in quality, and this picture, the third in the series, is slightly above average.
The Vampire Woman is a seductive European lesbian type. But neither she nor the werewolf does very much, so action content is low. It’s only a 5, maybe a 6, on the Bash-o-Meter.
But atmosphere is good and there are two comely heroines, so go see it anyway for sincere low-budget European horror.
GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH (1971)
I’m going to skip four other Godzilla films with “vs.” in their titles so that we can get right to the best one. It’s also the weirdest, with psychedelic montages, animation, music, and more.
Many people hated it since it feels so different from typical Godzilla films. I was very frightened by Hedorah (the “Smog Monster”) when I saw it as a kid.
The action is unconventional and hard to rate, but I’ll give it a 7 since it’s pretty satisfying. FYI, the other Godzilla films with “vs.” are those where he fights Sea Monster, Gigan, Megalon, and Mechagodzilla.