Historically speaking, the Toho Master Collection DVD series (blogged about here) wasn't the first time that the Godzilla films of Japan's Toho Studios were given the serious home video treatment in America. A decade earlier, a shelf stomping collection of six Godzilla films was unleashed upon an unsuspecting marketplace by Anchor Bay Entertainment in 1997.
It was in wide-reaching association with home video license holders StarMaker Video, R&G Video, Golden Books and New World Video that Anchor Bay released its very handsomely packaged Godzilla film collection on VHS cassette. The films included in the series were Son of Godzilla (1967), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster (1964), Godzilla 1985 (aka The Return of Godzilla, 1984), Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972), and Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973).
At the tail end of the 1980s, several releases of the aforementioned films had already been made for the home video rental and retail markets by various distributors, including StarMaker. These regularly appeared on shelves at Blockbuster Video and in home entertainment specialty shops like Suncoast. But the presentment quality there often varied greatly. While some of the films came packaged in slipcases that were expertly designed using images lifted from the original Japanese promotional posters or production stills, others boasted amateurishly illustrated images that, while maybe having a kind of "shlock cinema" charm, only poured petrol on the pyre of associations made by people who equated Godzilla films with low quality Japanese movies made for children...and adults of dubious intellect.
The graphic treatment of Godzilla films in the Anchor Bay VHS releases, however, raised the bar to suggest that these imaginative and richly detailed sci-fi films made in Japan––yes, that featured actors in rubber suits, romping around on miniature landscapes––should be taken a bit more seriously. Perhaps to the point of simply seeing Godzilla films for what they were: an enduring global pop culture phenomenon and the longest running film franchise in history.
But there was a sizable profit incentive for Anchor Bay in making this series too. The release of this VHS tape collection hit the domestic marketplace the year before a new Godzilla film by New Line Cinema was scheduled for release in the summer of 1998. Anchor Bay's set was timed perfectly to coincide with the rekindled interest amongst old school Godzilla movie lovers, and the newly sparked interest in the next generation of "Big G" fans.
In light of this timing, the Anchor Bay Godzilla film collection wasn't planned to be anything in the way of a definitive or chronologically sequenced set. But what the collection offered was a thoughtful, although somewhat random sampler, showcasing six of the fourteen Godzilla films made in Japan over a twenty-year span. The period in question streched from 1964––the middle of the Showa era of Godzilla films, which began in 1954––to 1984, the beginning of the Heisei era. And the effort put into this set by Anchor Bay made for an appealing collection that grabbed both the eyes and the retail dollars of home video shoppers.
The fronts of the slipcases in Anchor Bay's Godzilla film collection boasted across the top portions of each "Gojira's" Americanized name, rendered in a style suggestive of the beautiful forms of Japanese brush writing. In the background appeared a recurring motif, comprised of a faded composite of Godzilla's head and torso and snippets of a Tokyo skyline culled from The Return of Godzilla production stills. Superimposed over the composite image on two of the six slipcases were two different images of Godzilla in the foreground, one of which also included Minilla (aka Son of Godzilla) for the film in which this character appeared. And superimposed over the composite on the covers of the other four releases were images of rival monsters Ghidorah, Megalon, Gigan, and Mechagodzilla.
Another motif worth focusing on in the slipcase design was the possibly overlooked phalanx of orange and red flames coming from the open mouth of the Godzilla figure on the cover of the Godzilla 1985 release. The flames were cleverly made to extend outwardly in east and west directions, along the bottoms of all six boxes, binding them together graphically with yet one more unifying design element. Appearing in a white typewriter font at the bottom of each slipcase was the title of each film.
As is standard in slipcase design, the left side of the box prominently featured the title of each respective film. But the right side of the slipcase was reserved for something special. The right side of each box featured a de facto puzzle piece that, when lined up front to back with the other VHS tapes in the series, combined to form an impressive Godzilla 1985 poster-related display.
With the advances in home entertainment since the late 1990s, when the Anchor Bay Godzilla movie collection was made, these films have since been released again in DVD format, all variously issued by different film license holders. But only one of the films included in the Anchor Bay collection, Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster, was also featured in Sony's 2008 Toho Master Collection DVD series. The overall absence of duplication by Sony benefited the owners the older Anchor Bay collection that may prefer still having at least some of their Godzilla flicks in analog format. Especially when, on the shelf to this day, they still make a rather smashing display.