Retro Review: The Green Slime (1968)
Although the steaming pile of electrified goo that is The Green Slime never coalesces into anything resembling a good movie, it nevertheless demands attention for two reasons having little to do with the usual “so bad it’s good” assessment. First, despite being a Japanese-American co-production financed by MGM, this strange ’60s sci-fi oddity manages the neat trick of feeling like a low-budget Italian film from start to finish. Second, the nominal hero is one of cinema’s most colossal assholes, and we are supposed to admire him not in spite of it but because of it.
Before explaining more about this below, we should mention an almost-third reason for seeing The Green Slime: the campy rock theme song is essential listening; fortunately, one need not sit through the whole film to enjoy it, since it appears behind the opening titles – and is also available for free on YouTube, which is why you can click on the video at the top of this page right now, but only if your eardrums are ready to savor lyrics like “You’ll believe it when you find…something screaming cross your mind – Green Slime!”
First, a little history lesson: The Green Slime is a sort of unofficial followup to a quartet of films made in Italy for MGM. Set aboard a space station named Gamma One, the series was successful enough that producers Ivan Reiner and Walter Manley wanted to milk it one more time and came up with the story for what would become The Green Slime, set aboard the renamed Gamma Three. For reasons not entirely clear, the film wound up being shot not in Italy but at Toei Studios in Japan (perhaps because Manley had connections there, having imported dubbed versions of the Japanese “Super Giant” films – known in the U.S. as Starman). The crew was almost entirely Japanese; the cast was entirely Caucasian, the male leads American, and yet the film still feels Italian, partly due to the production design and costumes, not to mention the presence of Bond girl Luciano Paluzzi, but mostly due to the emphatic melodrama of the screenplay, in which no over-obvious line of flatly delivered, post-synched dialogue goes unspoken for fear that the audience might miss a trivial point that is being treated like a major development.
Anyway, things get off to a rocky start when scientists at UNSC (which I think stands for United Nations Space Center) discover an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. They are startled to find that the approaching threat is only ten hours from impact. Even more startled is the audience, who thought they were paying to see a film about an alien infestation on a space station, not a remake of Warning from Space and/or Gorath.
Time is clearly of the essence, so the UNSC decides to waste precious hours flying Commander Jack Rank (Robert Horton) from Earth to Gamma Three, where he takes control of the space station from Commander Vince Elliott (Richard Jaeckel). Since the planned mission is straight-forward – fly from Gamma Three to the asteroid, plant some explosives, and blow the fucker up – it’s not clear what expertise qualifies Rank to take over or why it was worth the time to get him to Gamma Three when it would have been quicker to have Elliott immediately launch the mission. Oh well, at least this creates dramatic tension between the two commanders, who (the dialogue explains lest we’re too dumb to figure it out) used to be best friends before they had a falling out over Paluzzi’s smoking hot lady-doctor-love-interest.
Rank turns out to be a pile of excrement disguised as a square-jawed hero. First seen admiring a photo of himself and some friends from the good old days, his expression shows less nostalgic affection than smug self-satisfaction. He is quick to issue orders that will get people killed in the name of the greater good, and he derides Elliott for being too weak to give or follow such orders himself (at one point he threatens to shoot Elliott for taking a risk to save someone’s life). He arrogantly contradicts Dr. Benzon (Paluzzi)’s protestations that she is in love with Elliott (“You’re lying – you still love me!”). And, although the film does its best to overlook this, his “shut up and do what I say!” approach to command is ultimately responsible for the disaster that befalls Gamma Three.
About now, you may be wondering how the titular Green Slime fits into this tale. Well, after twenty-four minutes of screen time, the gelatinous substance (sort of like a green version of The Blob, sometimes even filmed with similar reverse-motion effects) turns up on the surface of the asteroid. When one of the mission team members attempts to bring back a sample (safely contained in an airtight glass chamber), Rank refuses and smashes the container on the rocks, which splashes slime onto one of the space suits. When the crew returns to the space station, the small green dab survives the decontamination process because the substance actually feeds off energy, including the energy meant to destroy contaminants. Had Rank not broken the container in which the slime was sealed, this would not have happened. Literally every death that follows can be laid directly at his feet.
The creepy-looking slime soon morphs into silly-looking rubber-suited monsters. In the grand tradition of science fiction cinema, the scientist on board Gamma Three wants to capture them, but Rank wants to kill them. When Elliott follows the scientist’s advice, Rank blames him for the subsequent loss of life – even though it is immediately clear that trying to kill the monsters would not have worked: because they absorb energy, they are virtually impervious to the station’s laser rifles: shooting merely makes them bleed a few drops of slime, which then grow into more monsters.
At this point, one-third into the ninety-minute running time, The Green Slime finally focuses on its titular menace, switching from a precursor to Armageddon into a precursor to Alien, with the characters trying to contain a threat they cannot kill outright for fear of shedding its blood. There are some halfway decent suspense scenes as Rank and Elliott attempt to lure the monsters into an isolated area of Gamma Three by cutting power in certain sections of the space station and using other energy sources as bait. Unfortunately, the space station’s geography is so poorly presented that we’re never sure exactly where the characters are or why things go wrong (at one point, the monsters stumble upon some patients who have supposedly been moved from sick bay to a safe area; this laughable lapse in planning is apparently included to provide Rank a chance to effect a heroic rescue).
Obnoxious protagonist aside, The Green Slime has a lot going for it – but all in the wrong direction. Considering the narrative’s opening time-lock (10 hours till asteroid impact), the first act moves painfully slowly. The audio quality is terrible; though the English-speaking actors supply their own voices, they sound every bit as post-synched as the dubbing in the Japanese-language version. The supporting cast is mostly made up of Caucasian amateurs available in Japan, chosen for ethnicity rather than talent. The film affects the cool swinging vibe of space age bachelor pad lounge music, which is campy fun but also silly. Although the Earth-bound miniature shots of rockets lifting off from launching pads (created by Yukio Manoda and Akira Watanabe, who had worked on Toho’s Godzilla films) are not too bad, the outer space scenes are marred by poor composite work and wobbly special effects, especially when the burning space station begins spinning like a top. (It is interesting to note that MGM released this film the same year they released 2001: A Space Odyssey; the gulf between the two films is wide as the cosmos.)
Put all of that aside. What’s fascinating about The Green Slime is the way it expects us to regard Rank’s obnoxious “respect my authoritah” attitude as the admirable trademark of a heroic man who succeeds where others fail, even though he never does anything particularly heroic or even clever (“This places looks as good as any,” he casually remarks when determining where to plant the explosives to destroy the asteroid – a decision that, with the fate of the world on the line, probably deserves a little more thought).
It is perhaps best to read The Green Slime as a time capsule from an era when the perceived righteousness of alpha-male heroes (a la John Wayne) went unquestioned, no matter how disastrous the consequences. Rank never faces a true reckoning for his mistakes. The closest he comes is when Elliott saves Rank’s life by disobeying an order, getting himself killed in the process; moved to reconsider his assessment of Elliott, Rank recommends a posthumous citation for bravery. However, we cannot help feeling that the better man died in order to save someone not worth the sacrifice, and the thought that this clears the way for Rank to renew his interest in Dr. Benson is creepy as hell – far creepier than the Green Slime itself.
- Note: The Green Slime screens Saturday and Sunday at the New Beverly Cinema.
The Green Slime rating
In spite of everything, this bizarre sci-fi oddity demands attention for its space age bachelor bad vibe, outrageous theme song, strange hybrid nature, and for presenting one of the most obnoxious heroes in the history of cinema.
The Green Slime (1968, MGM, Toei). Directed by Kinji Fukasaku. Written by Bill Finger, Tom Rowe, Charles Sinclair from a story by Ivan Reiner. Cast: Robert Horton, Luciana Paluzzi, Richard Jaeckel, Bud Widom, Ted Gunther. 90 mins.