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Readers wanted me to review it, honest! 1969's The Green Slime was mostly laughed off movie screens in the summer of 1969. Just a year after 2001: A Space Odyssey audiences were getting picky with their science fiction choices, and this Japanese-made, MGM-released groaner has knuckleheaded writing, by-the-numbers performances and special effects that would be rejected in 1953. Yet scarcity, a goofy theme song and good old fan obstinacy has made it into a coveted cult item. Lovers of Japanese monster pictures can't get enough of actors with plastic guns firing animated "laser" rays that seem to have no effect on anything.
The story takes place in the near future, on the space station Gamma III. Intrepid Commander Jack Rankin (TV star Robert Horton) comes out of retirement to lead a team to blow up the asteroid Flora (?), which is heading straight for Earth. The assignment brings Rankin in conflict with an old rival, Commander Vince Elliott, who screwed up an earlier mission, losing ten men trying to save one. Jack rides roughshod over Vince, which causes more trouble because it's obvious that Jack has the hots for Vince's fianceé, station doctor Lisa Benton (Luciana Paluzzi). In an operation almost identical to Michael Bay's Armageddon, Jack and Vince succeed in eliminating the asteroid threat. But a troublesome scientist inadvertently carries a daub of green slime back from the planetoid's surface, to Gamma III. Before you can say Shiver My Tribbles, the station is overrun with scaly monsters that look like green mailboxes with tentacles and red cyclopean eyes. Just a drop of blood grows dozens of the Gremlin-like chlorophyll creatures. The Green Slime Goobers thrive on energy and electrocute people with their tailing flenta ... flailing tentacles. An effort to isolate them fails when the bitter Vince refuses to follow orders. Will Jack be forced to evacuate Gamma III? Will Vince's head explode from jealousy? Will Lisa stop biting her lip, in that provocative way that drives men mad?
The Green Slime has a direct relationship to a number of Italian films made by Antonio Margheriti a couple of years earlier. The connection was first widely reported by contributors to Video Watchdog Magazine. The "Gamma I" movies actually began in Italy with 1965's I criminali della galassia (Wild, Wild Planet) and its three semi-official sequels. Italians loved science fiction and Margheriti gave them plenty; he'd already done two Italo space pictures earlier in the decade. They all take place on a space station called Gamma I; they had theatrical releases but prints available previously looked as if the films were shot flat for Television. 1 Perhaps taking a cue from the Hardy Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, reviewers have over-praised the series, as if being made by Italians made them superior to equally juvenile American productions.
Walter Manley served as associate producer on the Gamma I's. He produced a European movie or two on his own, but may have started out in 1959 by importing Toei studio's Prince of Space, a serial-like fantasy about a super hero spaceman. Not long after The Snow Devils wrapped, Manley apparently took the concept franchise back to Japan. Most of the Gamma films including The Green Slime were sold to MGM; that connection may have been Manley's contribution.
Filmed entirely at Toei, The Green Slime features no Japanese actors. Audiences weren't fooled for a minute. The film wasn't marketed specifically to kids -- the poster art of a shapely space girl looks a lot like the previous year's Barbarella -- but the day had passed when adults would accept special effects of this quality. Klunky, undetailed spaceships hang from obvious wires, fire and smoke rise UP in the frame and nothing seems to stay in focus very long. Costumes are garish and the color design overall is terrible. Some of the sets are reasonably elaborate but none are particularly attractive. "Automatic" space station doors open and close jerkily, as if the stagehands were having difficulty operating them.
The film's director is Kinji Fukasaku, a prolific maker of crime thrillers who gained international attention when he replaced Akira Kurosawa as the director of the Japanese sequences for Tora! Tora! Tora!. He then did successful work in several genres, notably his Battles without Honor and Humanity / "The Yakuza Papers" series.
Fukasaku blocks out The Green Slime's action competently enough, but the three stars behave as though they had to direct themselves. Horton strikes rugged poses and plays Mr. Tough Guy, while Richard Jaeckel displays Vince's inconsistent emotions on the surface. The experienced Jaeckel would be nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar just two years later, for Sometimes a Great Notion. The guys duke it out for dibs on the leadership of Gamma III, but I'm not sure we'd trust either dauntless commander to drive a school bus. The self-absorbed Jack provokes Vince at every turn, while Vince is incapable of making a coherent decision.
Just a couple of years beyond her peak as a 007 villainess in Thunderball, the beautiful Luciana Paluzzi is almost a total loss. Fukasaku succeeds in making this Italian looker seem almost unattractive, while the script has her fret and worry over trifles and openly encourage Frank's "unwelcome" advances. Paluzzi had been playing funny and clever supporting roles in French, Italian and German films for fifteen years, so it's sad that her career didn't stay at full force a bit longer.
It's easy to fault the language barrier for the film's frequent inanity. Jack Rankin chooses the strangest times to unleash blasts of macho anger, blowing up at people for no discernable reason. Then he'll act as cool as a cucumber as fellow crewmen are dying left and right. The direction also has an odd attitude about time-related jeopardy. Jack will tell his comrades that immediate drastic action is essential, and then everyone will stand still for another minute of discussion. Only have ten minutes to outrun a nuclear bomb? Let's talk about it!
Then of course, there's the classic moment when the ship is accelerating so fast that the pilot can't even move his hand to throw a lever. But Jack can get up from his chair and walk to the controls!
Much of the dialogue in The Green Slime is pace-slowing filler, with people making reports and stating the obvious. When the whole station could blow up, the radio operator hands Jack the microphone with a big, happy smile, clearly not having been told how desperate the situation is supposed to be. We're told that the production obtained its Anglo extras from an American Air Force base.
I saw The Green Slime with an audience in the summer of 1969 and they laughed for a good part of the running time. 2 The silly blob monsters were as funny as the crew's exaggerated reactions to them. The moment when a group of the critters commandeer an electric car got a really big laugh. Every time a spaceship wiggled, somebody would hoot. Had we really been hip, we'd have seen the possibilities in this that producer Jon Davison saw in corny aviation disaster movies. Tightened up a bit, with some overstated music stings, a few "thought monologue" overdubs and slightly more comic reads for the secondary characters, and Slime would be a lot like 1980's Airplane! Manley, or perhaps MGM recognized this when they slapped the overcooked title song -- complete with acid-guitar licks -- onto the main titles. They should have tracked the same music cue into the goofy dance scene as well. 3
Working close in with the three stars is Toho regular American actor Robert Dunham. As a Japanese speaker he may have helped to translate Fukasaku's directions. We keep waiting for someone to call Dunham's Captain Martin a "Diamond G-Man", his foolish nickname in Dogora, the Space Monster.
The Warner Archive Collection DVD-R of The Green Slime is a bright and colorful remastered transfer of this genuine space oddity. The element transferred has some scratches that may have been there when the film was new: the really, really bad traveling matte shots are rendered in their original awfulness. Audio is clear, clear enough for us to marvel that we can hear people walking, but often no specific noises for equipment crashing and walls breaking. Interior walls on Gamma III appear to be constructed of sturdy, reinforced cardboard. No trailer is included (here's the Trailers from Hell link for their copy), but the Warner Archive Collection has seen fit to add a bit of animated green slime to the menu card.
And! -- I've been remiss in not mentioning it, but the WAC discs from the last couple of months now have chapter stops at every main scene change, not just at ten-minute intervals.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Green Slime rates:
1. The sequels: I diafanoidi vengono da Marte (The War of the Planets), Il pianeta errante (Planet on the Prowl aka War Between the Planets) and La morte viene dal pianeta Ayti (The Snow Devils). Wild, Wild Planet and War of the Planets are also available from the Warner Archive Collection, and they're listed as widescreen.
2. More confessions. Unable to get into a showing of Butch Cassidy on a summer evening in 1969 I broke down and took my teenaged date to see the only other show in town, a double bill of The Green Slime and ... Once Upon a Time in The West. I guess that says everything about the low regard for the Leone film at the time. The girl thought West boring and Slime beneath her dignity. In those days, if your date didn't like the movie you took her to, it was YOUR FAULT, as if you had intentionally wasted her time. Well, of course I had.
Bounce ahead two years, and The Green Slime played at a Halloween movie marathon in Ackerman Union at UCLA, one of the last of those shows (I believe the organizer Gary Essert moved on to bigger things, like FILMEX.) The real Wolfman Jack was there to judge a costume contest. I believe they were actually selling beer! Every time the announcer mentioned that The Green Slime was coming up, the crowd gave out a whoop. When the psychedelic theme song came on, half the crowd jumped up and danced, terribly on purpose.
3. About 1978, a film fan acquaintance who worked at a record company apparently hijacked a stack of monster and horror soundtrack recordings from a studio vault and put out a bootleg LP vinyl record. It ripped off music from Japanese Toho movies, the theme from Danger: Diabolik sung in Italian... and... the novelty song from The Green Slime. The bogus LP recording came out on the non-existent "Poo" record label. To put the cops off the scent, blocks of Japanese text, apparently from some random source, served as fake liner notes!
Slime-a-riffic Reader Responses!
I remember seeing this on a double-bill with the other equally bad film being Heaven With A Gun. Being as there was a large teenage audience that night some of us began adding dialogue and comments. Pretty soon more of the audience kicked in and a fun night was had by all. About an even par with Krakatoa East Of Java. We had fun with this film, too. -- Jim Hollis
Hi, I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Lex Barker and his wives.... Anyway, loved the review of The Green Slime. When I was a teenager I lived in Maryland and the local drive-in - the SUPER 50 - had Dusk to Dawn shows several times a year, usually on holiday weekends. Anyway, they alternated between A.I.P. biker movies and horror movies and, no matter what the horror movie line-up was there was always.......The Green Slime!!!!!!! I must have seen it ten times during my high school years. Luckily, the drive-in had a very good concession stand. Again, thanks for your fun, idiosyncratic (I mean that in the best possible way) reviews. Best, -- Willard Carroll
Hi Glenn! You can count me among the guilty who honestly want a copy of this in the original 'Scope, if only so that I can finally toss the composite I'd made for myself from the old Japanese LD (of the shorter 77 minute cut) and a TCM airing. The Japanese cut comes across as being a bit more competent, having had most of the grating soap opera dramatics thoughtfully removed, but it's still a remarkably silly film.
A minor (major?) correction to your review however - all of Margheriti's prior Gamma Quadrilogy films took place on Gamma One. (Note: Correction made.) I'm idiot enough to have seen all of them in both Italian and English (even the awful Snow Devils), so I ought to know. Kindest regards, -- Kevin Pyrtle (wtf.com)
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