This review is of US version the original film that was released in Japan in 1958
After the success of the American version of the Japanese GOJIRA in the U.S., Japan's Toho Studio targeted VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE specifically for U.S. television. When those plans fell through, they finished the film and released in Japan anyway. As with GOJIRA and GODZILLA RAID AGAIN, an American company eventually bought the film and performed a "Raymond Burr" on it - filming new scenes with an American star (western "heavy" Myron Healey), changing the story and essentially creating a new film. I haven't seen the original Japanese film (GIANT MONSTER VARAN), but most accounts give it low marks. However, my educated guess is that it has to be better than this American mish mosh.
In the U.S. version, an American scientist (Healey) is conducting experiments at a Japanese lake, attempting to turn salt water into fresh water. He is surprised to discover that bombarding the lake with his anti-saline chemicals has a tendency to kill fish. He is more surprised to discover that said bombardment disturbs a giant monster who lives in the lake, who then goes on a series of rampages, as disturbed monsters so often do. Eventually, the scientist realizes that the chemical that killed all the fish would probably work if used on the monster in larger doses, and, lo and behold, it does. Then the scientists tells his Japanese wife that they will be heading to southern California to do a similar experiment on a lake there. End of movie, and we can only hope, his marriage.
All the footage of the scientist and his wife was filmed in the U.S., and comprises approximately 75 percent of the film. The monster footage and several scenes of Japanese officials also disturbed about Varan are from the Japanese version. There is little attempt to make us believe it is all the same movie, especially since the leads never once interact with the Japanese cast, and all of the Japanese footage remains undubbed. To paraphrase one astute IMDB contributor, VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE makes you realize what a truly fine job the creators of GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS in a similar situation, combining their new footage into Ishiro Honda's original film. Even though it is bastardized from the original GOJIRA, GODZILLA, KING OF MONSTERS is a decent movie in its own right. The same cannot be said for VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE. The monster footage often seems edited in at random, and the leads spend much of the film, when scientist Healey is not yakking away about his experiments, not having much to do but react to the Japanese footage. Myron Healey may have been well known to western fans, but he is stuck playing one of those idiot characters you just want to smack in the face (his biologically built-in smirk only adds insult to the injury). His stupid experiment kills all the fish, destroying the economy of the peaceful little village. Then the monster, who would have probably remained peaceful and dormant had it not been bombarded by the scientist's exploding chemical bombs, destroys the village itself and goes on to destroy other parts of Japan. And when it's all over, and the monster is vanquished, the scientist has no qualms about moving to California to do the same kind of stupid stuff. As he says in his closing narration, there may be other Varans out there, but who cares, as long as I have my chemical weapons of mass destruction (I'm paraphrasing here).
Unbelievably (no pun intended), all footage of the monster flying - it is a Godzilla-like reptile but with flying squirrel wings - yeah, I'm not kidding - was left on the cutting room floor in the American version. I'm betting it looked silly, but it would have at least brought a little more entertainment value to the film.
Varan, who is actually named Obake (no, I don't know why it has two names either), is the "lost monster" of the Toho Giant Monster films. Not a great lost monster, but a lost monster just the same. Average film fans who may know who or what Rodan, Ghidorah and Mothra were probably have no idea what a Varan, or Obake, is. Maybe it is better that way. Though I am still hoping for that southern California sequel, WO, DUDE! IT'S VARAN II!