Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Slimed in Space: THE GREEN SLIME

There’s a moment in The Green Slime, a 1969 B-movie of fascinatingly eclectic provenance (more on that later), when our heroes, a group of scientists and space explorers, run into a bunch of flailing monsters at the other end of a corridor on an orbiting space station. We see the goofy green space beasts, with their cold, unblinking eyes, bubbly skin, and velvety tentacles that are so obviously costumes – well-created costumes, but obviously created costumes nonetheless. Then we get the reverse shot of our shocked and determined human heroes. The shot pushes in with a forceful oomph that was entirely unexpected and made me perk up a bit. To look at them, these cheesy monsters are so the opposite of frightening and yet this little jolt of filmmaking energy still managed to give my heartbeat a little jump.

That little zoom is just one moment indicative of the larger picture. This silly movie – and, oh boy, is it a silly movie – is so well made, with such unexpected energy and commitment, that it’s hard not to get kind of won over by the whole thing. I knew I was in for a treat when the opening scenes of an asteroid heading for earth and the men and women out to stop it, determined people furiously dialing knobs in a massive blinking control room that looked like a cross between NASA headquarters and a cast-off Star Trek set, fades into a neat-o guitar lick and the sweet, sweet sounds of late-60s rock blasts us into the opening credits. It's a theme song titled, naturally, “Green Slime.” It’s halfway between hokey and awesome, and I definitely have listened to it several times in the days since I first watched the movie. And it was written by Charles Fox, a man who would later write the theme song for the Wonder Woman TV show and Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song.”

That’s just the first of many strange bedfellows in this movie’s creation. The script was credited to Ivan Reiner, Bill Finger (a DC comics writer), Tom Rowe, and Charles Sinclair (who wrote for Adam West’s Batman). The whole thing was bankrolled by MGM, but the producers, having had success making similar genre schlock, trusted the making of Green Slime to Japan’s Toei Company. The all-American cast (plus the Italian leading lady) flew out to Japan where the production was directed by young local filmmaker Kinji Fukasaku. (He went on to direct the Japanese-language half of 1970’s Pearl Harbor docudrama Tora! Tora! Tora! and 2000’s Battle Royale, a violent contemporary cult classic). So you can see that it’s a fascinatingly odd collection of talent concocting this movie. No wonder the results are so compellingly strange.

The plot of the movie involves the aforementioned space station’s crew successfully saving Earth from the certain doom of asteroid collision only to find themselves infiltrated by a green slime that eventually becomes the goofy green monsters I was telling you about. (The original, beautifully pulpy, posters screamed, “The Green Slime are coming!”) The whole thing is brightly lit and goofily performed. The cast, definitely not a big star among them, includes veteran TV actor Robert Horton, B-movie veteran Richard Jaeckel, and Luciana Paluzzi, a former Bond girl in a time when that was still a small club. They give performances that gain a kind of stiff pulp poetry at times. (Consider the following exchange. Analyst: “It’s coming too fast!” General: “We’ll just have to move faster!”) Other times the film is swallowed up by awkward staging and disjointed line readings filled with the kind of weird pauses that scream to be filled in by Tom Servo. (That’s exactly what happens in Mystery Science Theater 3000’s rare pilot episode.)

Just ten years later Ridley Scott would bring us Alien, another movie about an outer space crew battling a slimy monster through the halls of their ship. It’s an all-time masterpiece of sci-fi horror, justifiably iconic. I wouldn’t make the same argument for The Green Slime, which is not, strictly speaking, a good movie. But what does that even mean, really? It’s no Alien, but it’s still a mostly watchable movie that’s worth laughing at and with, an enjoyable jolt of B-movie pleasure that’s entirely earned by energetic low-budget filmmaking. Its DNA can certainly be found, intentionally or not (probably not), in Alien and beyond (like in Event Horizon or Armageddon). It’s at or near the pinnacle of cheapo effects, like a discounted 50’s monster movie injected with borrowed cool 60’s style. (The Blob…. In Space! And also with go-go dancers.) Given it’s timing, coming after that initial wave of post-WWII monster flicks both here and abroad, I do wonder if Fukasaku was having a bit of a knowing goof with this particular picture. He’s clearly a talented filmmaker and it shows here and elsewhere. Maybe he was being a jokey subcontractor for MGM, tweaking the genre from within. Either way he ended up with a film of some minor notability, if only for its layers of oddness and liveliness.

The Green Slime is available on DVD through Warner Archive.

This post is a part of The Camp & Cult Blogathon running through September 28 under the watchful eyes of She Blogged By Night. 

1 comment:

  1. The Blob…. In Space! And also with go-go dancers.

    Haha yes, perfect. Just perfect.

    I love The Green Slime, I am an unabashed, unapologetic fan. It's such a kid's movie in its way, with the scientist a stand-in for a child and Robert Horton the stern dad. The dialogue is amazing ("You make too many mistakes! You're not fit for command!") and the love triangle is hilarious.

    My favorite moment is when the slime creatures get hold of one of those multi-tiered golf carts (I call them Hierarchy-Mobiles) and drive off. It's a brief shot, but it is hysterical.