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The Green Slime

The Green Slime(1969)


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teaser The Green Slime (1969)

Sometimes a movie title doesn't offer a clue as to what it's about but you can't accuse The Green Slime of that. In just three words, you've got the whole movie in a nutshell and if you're a science-fiction or horror fan, you know YOU MUST SEE IT!

Released in 1969, this was the first official co-production between a Japanese crew (director Kinji Fukasaku, cinematographer Yoshikazu Yamasawa, composer Toshiaki Tsushima and others) and a Western cast (Robert Horton, Richard Jaeckel and Luciana Paluzzi) and paved the way for future collaborations between Japan and the U.S. such as the World War II epic, Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), which was co-directed by Fukasaku, Toshio Masuda and Richard Fleischer.

The opening sequence, set on the space station Gamma III, gets right down to business after a bored technician complains that "Nothing exciting ever happens around here." Within seconds monitors begin picking up "a lot of abnormal interference" and the cause is quickly traced to Flora, a massive red asteroid hurling toward earth on a collision course. That leaves a specially selected emergency team headed by Jack Rankin (Robert Horton) less than ten hours to destroy the asteroid before it hits earth. In this regard The Green Slime is a forerunner to the much bigger-budget space epic, Armageddon (1998), but once the team lands on Flora to detonate it with explosives, it veers off into familiar horror/sci-fi territory in the manner of Alien (1979), which owes a small debt to this film and others like it such as It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) and Planet of the Vampires (1965).

On Flora, the team is almost sabotaged in their mission by a green jelly-like substance that quickly adheres to their equipment by sprouting tentacles, covering the surface of everything. They escape unharmed but inadvertently bring back a sample of the goo (it hitches a ride on an astronaut's spacesuit) and it begins to multiply on Gamma III with a vengeance, morphing into humanoid shapes with legs, spasmodic tentacles, and a Cyclops-like eyeball. The special effects makeup is hilarious and the best parts of The Green Slime involve the crew waging war against these clumsy, rubbery invaders who kill with their electrified tentacles (they soak up energy from Gamma III's transformer). In fact, the crew complicate their situation further by trying to kill the aliens with guns and lasers. As a result, the blood spilled from the wounded creatures quickly evolves into new predators.

Designed as an unpretentious fantasy adventure, The Green Slime was a fun Saturday matinee in its day but compared to contemporary films in the same genre, it looks more and more like a parody. "The Green Slime" are clearly actors in monster suits - some of the goofiest you'll ever see - and the dialogue is consistently leaden with such cliched moments as the station's doctor (Ted Gunther) trying to save the slime from destruction: "Don't kill it, it's a magnificent discovery!" It also doesn't help that the film is burdened with a romantic triangle subplot - Gamma III nurse Lisa (Paluzzi) is torn between former boyfriend Jack (Horton) and current beau Vince (Jaeckel) - that continually brings the action to a grinding halt.

On the plus side, the special effects, miniature sets and art direction have an almost childlike innocence about them; the theme song is a catchy psychedelic rock 'n roll number by Richard Delvy (someone needs to release this as a single); the go-go party scene is a nostalgic snapshot of sixties hairstyles and fashions; and Robert Horton and Richard Jaeckel deserve some kind of award for playing their roles absolutely straight without laughing. And for eye candy, we have the fetching Ms. Paluzzi (a former Bond girl in Thunderball, 1965).

Critics are rarely favorable toward genre films like The Green Slime and this was no exception. Saturday Review said, "Looking like a paperback edition of 2001, with papier-mache models of space craft and warty green space monsters that are all too palpably little men in rubberized monkey suits, the whole thing would be laughably naive if caught at a Saturday matinee. The laughter stops, though, when one releases that it comes from once-mighty Metro." The New York Times declared it "green corn" and Cue summed up the film's narrative as "Horror. Holocaust. Hooey." Still, a few reviewers actually enjoyed it such as Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times who called it "one of the funniest made-in-Japan sci-fi monster movies ever" and Ann Guarino of the N.Y. Daily News who actually wrote "a lot of imagination went into the creation of the monsters...the ugly things generate so much suspense that the squeamish and faint-hearted had better skip this one." (Note to Ann, you should also probably avoid Darby O'Gill and the Little People [1959] and The Valley of Gwangi, [1969]).

If nothing else, The Green Slime deserves at least a footnote in the history of the science fiction film simply for the fact that Kinji Fukasaku directed it. American moviegoers probably know him best for Message from Space (1978) which followed in the wake of Star Wars (1977), and for Quentin Tarantino's dedication to him in Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003). One of the most innovative and prolific directors to emerge from Japan's post-World War II cinema, his reputation continues to grow in stature as more of his films reach western audiences thanks to the recent DVD release of such seminal Fukasaku films as the five part yakuza saga, Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1973-74) and the cult sci-fi epic Battle Royale (2000). His earlier work, however, is equally fascinating and explores Japan's cultural and spiritual malaise in the aftermath of Hiroshima and Japan's return to the U.S. From idiosyncratic movies like the film noir-like Black Lizard (1968), starring transvestite actor Akihiro Maruyama, to a downbeat tale of youthful rebellion, If You Were Young: Rage (1970), to the Sam Peckinpah-inspired violence of Sympathy for the Underdog (1971), Fukasaku's empathy for characters living on the margins of society is obvious and so is his interest in exploring apocalyptic culture and survivalist scenarios. In this context, even the anarchic, rampaging monsters of The Green Slime achieve a greater significance in Fukasaku's filmography.

Producer: Walter Manley, Ivan Reiner
Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Screenplay: Tom Rowe, Charles Sinclair, based on a story by Ivan Reiner
Cinematography: Yoshikazu Yamasawa
Editing: Osamu Tanaka
Music: Charles Fox
Special Effects: Akira Watanabe
Cast: Robert Horton (Jack Rankin), Luciana Paluzzi (Lisa Benson), Richard Jaeckel (Vince Elliott), Bud Widom (Jonathan Thompson), Ted Gunther (Dr. Halvorsen), David Yorston (Lt. Curtis), Robert Dunham (Capt. Martin).
C-90m. Letterboxed.

by Jeff Stafford

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