Look out! Gamma Gamma Hey! It’s the attack of screaming, arm-waving green goober monsters from a rogue planetoid, here to bring joy to the hearts of bad-movie fans everywhere. Just make sure your partner is agreeably inclined before you make it a date movie — this show has ended many a good relationship, even before the immortal words, “We’ll never make it chief, it’s coming too fast!”
The Green Slime
Warner Archive Collection
1969 / Color / 2:35 widescreen / 90 min. / Gamma sango uchu daisakusen / Street Date October 3, 2017 / available through the WBshop / 21.99
Starring: Robert Horton, Luciana Paluzzi, Richard Jaeckel, Bud Widom, Robert Dunham.
Cinematography: Yoshikazu Yamasawa
Film Editor: Osamu Tanaka
Original Music: Charles Fox, Toshiaki Tsushima
Written by Bill Finger, Ivan Reiner, Tom Rowe, Charles Sinclair
Produced by Walter Manley, Ivan Reiner
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
It’s a summer evening in 1969. Unable to get into a showing of Butch Cassidy 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. That’s how low the status was for the Leone film on first release. The evening was a bust. 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.Two years later, The Green Slime played at a Halloween movie marathon in Ackerman Union at UCLA, one of the last of those shows because its organizer Gary Essert had established FILMEX. The real Wolfman Jack was there to judge a costume contest, and they were actually selling beer on campus! Every time the announcer mentioned that The Green Slime was coming up, the crowd gave out a whoop. When the psychedelic theme song began, half the crowd jumped up and danced, terribly on purpose.
Those are pretty much the positive memories of The Green Slime, a film that, as critics say, wasn’t released . . . it escaped. Yet 48 years later its popularity is such that the studio marketers give it a Blu-ray release. They did the same last year with the opus monsterous picture From Hell it Came. I would have preferred The Cyclops, but who listens to Savant?
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 have been rejected in 1953. Yet lovers of Japanese monster pictures can’t get enough of actors with plastic guns firing animated ‘laser’ rays, the special kind that seem to have no effect on anything.
Picture yourself in the near future, on the space station Gamma III, where all hallways are painted in bright primary colors. 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. Rankin comes in conflict with his old rival, Commander Vince Elliott (Richard Jaeckel), who on an earlier mission lost 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 from the planetoid’s surface back to Gamma III. Before you can say Shiver My Tribbles, the station is overrun with scaly monsters that look like green mailboxes topped by wiggly 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. They electrocute servicemen 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?
Contributors to Video Watchdog Magazine first reported The Green Slime’s direct relationship to a number of Italian films made by Antonio Margheriti a couple of years earlier. The “Gamma I” movies actually began in Italy with 1965’s I criminali della galassia (Wild, Wild Planet) and its three semi-official 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).
Margheriti gave the Italian audience plenty of science fiction; 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 had been shot flat for Television. Perhaps taking a cue from the Hardy Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, reviewers have over-praised the films, 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 and may have gotten his start in 1959 by importing Toei studio’s Prince of Space, a serial-like fantasy about a superhero spaceman. Manley and his partner Ivan Reiner also made Terror Beneath the Sea with Toei in 1066, just as the Gamma I series was starting. Several Anglos of questionable talent co-star with young Sonny Chiba. 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.
The Green Slime was filmed entirely at Toei yet 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.
Director Kinji Fukasaku is 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 series.
The Green Slime’s action is competently blocked 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 Paul Newman’s Sometimes a Great Notion. The dauntless commanders duke it out for leadership of Gamma III but I’m not sure we’d trust either of them 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 superb 007 villainess in Thunderball, the beautiful Luciana Paluzzi is almost a total loss. Fukasaku succeeds in making this Italian looker seem almost unattractive. 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.
Is the language barrier at fault for the film’s frequent inanity? We’re told that the production obtained its Anglo extras from an American Air Force base. When the whole station could blow up, the radio operator hands the microphone to Jack Rankin with a big smile: the actor’s main interest seems to be happiness at getting a bit of a scene to play.
Jack chooses the strangest times to unleash blasts of macho anger, blowing up at people for no discernable reason. Then, when fellow crewmen are dying left and right, he’s cool as a cucumber. The direction also has an odd attitude about time-related jeopardy. Jack will tell his comrades that their survival depends on immediate drastic action, 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!
But nothing tops the classic moment when the ship is accelerating so rapidly that its 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 is pace-slowing filler, with people making reports and stating the obvious. It’s one of those movies where an editor would like to go through and remove things that don’t advance the story, eliminating redundancies and dialogue about things we already know or can see for ourselves. At maybe sixty minutes, The Green Slime might take on a feeling of pace and competence. Director Fukasaku cut a 77-minute version for Japan, which sounds like a great idea.
For all of its inanity, for a certain crowd The Green Slime qualifies as a great party picture. The audiences I remember long ago certainly laughed their heads off. . . but I can’t say that they were laughing with the picture. The silly blob monsters are funny and the crew’s exaggerated reactions funnier. 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 spoof possibilities in this that producer Jon Davison saw in corny aviation disaster movies. Add 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, too.
Kaiju fans will immediately spot Toho regular Robert Dunham. As a Japanese speaker the American actor may have helped to translate Fukasaku’s directions. We keep waiting for someone to call Dunham’s Captain Martin a ‘Diamond G-Man,’ the foolish nickname given his character in the otherwise interesting Dogora, the Space Monster. King Kong Escapes star Linda Miller also appears in a bit part as one of Lisa’s nurses.
The Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray of The Green Slime gives us this Toei-MGM opus in incredibly good quality. The few flaws we see were likely in place when the film was new: the really, really bad traveling matte shots are rendered in their original awfulness. The crystal clear audio allows us to marvel that we can hear people’s footsteps, but often no specific noises for equipment crashing and walls breaking. Interior walls on Gamma III appear to be constructed of sturdy, reinforced cardboard. It’s amazing how thin the film’s mix is; would it really been a budget-buster to do some more foley and make the movie feel more alive? Not helping is the feeble musical score. Whenever a good suspense cue is called for, we get some goofy plinky-plunky sounds, or nothing.
Gary Teetzel contributed to these remarks, and Kaiju experts Kevin Pyrtle, Jason Varney and Stuart Galbraith IV gave me a big assist on the first version of this review.
One more Slimy anecdote: about 1978, a film fan acquaintance (who shall go unnamed) that worked at a studio-related 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 acid rock theme 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!
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Final product for this review was provided free by The Warner Archive Collection.
The Green Slime Blu-ray rates:
Movie: only Fair, but Good +plus for Camp Comedy value
Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 1, 2017
Text © Copyright 2017 Glenn Erickson