Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Random Movie Report #89: The Green Slime

DVD cover and Amazon link
Having a DVR has in some ways really thrown me back to my old days as a sci-fi fan who sorta knew how to program the VCR. I would scour the TV listings for old monster movies, usually playing late at night, set the timer and hope for the best. One holy grail that eluded me for a while was The Green Slime, scheduled to air on TNT one afternoon in the event that a World Cup game finished on time, so of course it never did. For months, possibly years, I looked for it to crop up again, finally getting a 3 A.M. airing. Years later, the film never popped up on mass release DVD, but eventually made its way to the Warner Archives print-on-demand program, and has shown up on the TCM Underground, allowing me to discover it again.

Kind of a lofty status for what is, to be honest, a pretty bad movie. The Green Slime is a historical curiosity, a pre-Alien monsters-in-space movie with cute blobby aliens, swinging mod space women, and a funky rock theme song. It’s cheesy and has problems beyond that, and I like to think I recognized them even as a youngin’. However, it’s so odd and fun that I still enjoy it, big though the stumbling blocks may be.

In the near-ish future (Next Sunday A.D.), an asteroid is suddenly detected on a collision course with Earth. Two-fisted, ginger-haired Commander Rankin (Robert Horton) is sent to space station Gamma III to head a mission to blow the thing up, and as if to prove that the makers of Armageddon were just wasting our time, they manage to do so in the first 20 minutes of the movie. However, the asteroid was covered in a strange green sludge, some of which rubs off on one of the crew’s space gear. Energy from the station’s decontamination process causes it to grow, turning into a one-eyed green monster that feeds off energy and can electrocute people with its tentacles. When the creature is wounded, its blood turns into more of the monsters, and soon the station is overrun. Rankin, distracted briefly by his contempt for the “soft” station leader Commander Elliott (Richard Jaeckel) and his love for the sexy Dr. Lisa Benson (Luciana Paluzzi), must find a way to destroy the creatures and prevent their reaching Earth.

The film’s major flaw is easy to identify; Rankin is a dick. Not just kind of a dick, but really an unpleasant and egotistical embodiment of all that was wrong with old school machismo. Some of his criticisms of Elliott make sense, but he takes it way too far, makes no real effort to get along or show respect to a man whom he does not technically outrank, and keeps insisting that Lisa still loves him despite being engaged to Elliott. What was supposed to be a love triangle just comes off as a guy too full of himself to understand why anyone would reject him for anyone else. The writers (one of whom was Bill Finger, Batman’s uncredited co-creator) really seem to want to make a point about the necessity of leaders who make hard choices and don’t try to be nice, but they completely miss the mark.

Fortunately, this is a monster movie, and the monsters are effective in a way that the filmmakers probably didn’t anticipate. The Green Slime are, frankly, adorable. They’re a neat old school design with cyclopean eyes and flailing tentacles, and they make a wonderful ululating sound that makes them seem more like curious, electric children than evil aliens. The movie doesn’t skimp on the critters once they start showing up, and there’s a nice feeling of increasing chaos as they take over the station.

Another nice thing about this movie is how very Sixties it is. How Sixties is it? Well, Dr. Lisa spends most the entire movie in a variety of space-age minidresses, there’s a booze-heavy party scene with the nurses acting like office secretaries, and there’s the theme song. The lyrics are gloriously stupid, but it’s so damn catchy. I’ve been looking for an MP3. The visuals are appealing and colorful, and while the special effects of this American/Japanese co-production aren’t great, they get the job done.

Basically The Green Slime is a battle between some very entertaining monster action and an almost offensively tone-deaf human story. The results are not what one would call, from an aesthetic standpoint, good- you have to suffer through the dull macho bullshit to get to the fun action, and as a result you really start to root for the creatures more than usual. They don’t get bogged down in the chain of command or ancient love triangles, and they don’t waste the viewer’s time. For some they will make the movie worth watching, and the whole shebang also inspired the excellent boardgame Awful Green Things from Outer Space, so there’s that. Purely a guilty pleasure, but one I’m probably going to revisit more than I should.

Story by Ivan Reiner
Screenplay by Bill Finger, Tom Rowe, and Charles Sinclair
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku

Grade: C+

And now, let's rock out!

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