In many ways, The Green Slime (1968) is a straightforward sci-fi action flick that pits two similar men against each other in a familiar only-one-can-survive situation. Most people online and on the IMDb give this film such horrible ratings, which dismays me because… well, I guess because I don’t know what else they were expecting when they popped this in the player. Everyone seems to consider it a complete bomb that only people who like shit will want to watch.
I wonder if its reputation is a bit skewed because of what I call the “MST3K Factor”. TGS was a featured movie on the promo tape that the fine folks at MST3K first shopped around to cable channels back in the late 1980s, and a lot of online reviews essentially say, “No wonder MST3K riffed this piece of crap.” But movies that were on MST3K get much poorer reviews than really crappy movies that were never on the show. For instance, compare the 1.6 rating on the IMDb for “Racket Girls” (1951) to the other two films in the series, “The Devil’s Sleep” at 3.6 and “Dance Hall Racket” at 3.1. Trust me, “Racket Girls” is not worse than the other two films, but it was on MST3K, so more people review it and rate it down.
It’s not that TGS doesn’t have cheese. Oh, it’s full of cheese. Cheese and camp and stilted dialogue and little kids in green rubber suits. Anyone who has seen Gamera or Godzilla films or the Ultraman series will be familiar with monsters in rubber suits. In TGS, Japanese cinematic sci-fi sensibility is combined with classic U.S. 1950s creature feature themes, plus model sets and ships that rival “Thunderbirds” for sheer awesomeness.
The Green Slime was intended as a kids’ movie, and was released as part of a seasonal childrens’ film matinee series in Japan, with the love triangle subplot edited out. In the U.S., it was marketed to kids and received a G rating. That’s partly why the film is straightforward, as I mentioned earlier. It doesn’t try to be some kind of Cold War parable or riff on international relations. What it does do is use a basic sci-fi extraterrestrial threat to explore personal philosophies in a way that is a little more subtle than usual in a film of this era and genre.
The quality of the Warner Archive DVD is superior to anything else you’re going to find out there, unless the TCM showing in a few days ends up being in widescreen, but the last two times it has been on TCM it has been in pan and scan. I had a cruddy VHS copy for years but received a much nicer copy courtesy of W.B. Kelso, and the VHS is not bad even though it’s pan and scan. That said, you can’t really beat seeing the Warner Archive DVD release in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with excellent color and very few picture problems or sound crackling. The disk is bare bones with no extras, not even chapter selections, so the current $19.95 price tag seems a bit much, but let’s be completely honest: With Warner Archives disks, you’re paying to get a good copy without resorting to bootlegs or extortionate prices for an old grungy VHS rental.
“But the plot, Stacia,” you ask. “What about the plot?” Let me tell you about the plot. Robert Horton is Commander Jack Rankin, an astronaut about to retire from the service but waylaid by a last-minute mission to destroy an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. Rankin is sent to Commander Vince Elliott’s space base, where a small party will fly to the asteroid to plant explosives in an attempt to destroy it before it reaches Earth. Problems ensue because Rankin and Elliott (Richard Jaeckel) are former best friends, now enemies, not just because of their shared love for Dr. Lisa Benson (Luciana Paluzzi) but because of a difference in military philosophy. Rankin is rude and demanding, expecting people to just blithely sacrifice their colleagues rather than risk losing more soldiers to rescue them. Elliott, on the other hand, believes that soldiers should be rescued if possible; however, in the past he misjudged a rescue attempt and lost 10 soldiers while trying to rescue just one. Rankin brings this up constantly, bullies and berates Elliott, telling him at one point, “You make too many mistakes! You’re not right for command!”
On the asteroid, while everyone else is trying to blow the asteroid up to save Earth, the scientist wanders about and finds a peculiar green slime. This scene is a great one to illustrate just how much this movie was geared toward kids. The scientist finds one slime and grabs it, only to drop it and scamper to another slime that looks even better. Then he finds a better slime! He’s so excited! He runs with the container of slime outstretched in front of him, all the world like a child showing something really neat to his dad, but Rankin smashes the slime sample to the ground and scolds the scientist. It’s the action of a stern, distant father quashing the excitement of a young boy. I find that endlessly charming, personally, especially in a film that’s aimed at kids but designed to appeal to the adults, too.
It’s no accident that this scene is the one where we learn Rankin isn’t the perfect hero he thinks he is. When Rankin flips out and smashes the container, he splashes some of the slime on an astronaut’s uniform. Oops. They unknowingly bring back this slime to the ship, which grows when exposed to energy, and of course Rankin, not knowing the slime is there, orders the uniforms decontaminated three times. Three bursts of energy! Also oops. The slime grows, kills people, then turns into children in green one-eyed rubber costumes with tentacles for arms. You know, the usual.
There are a lot of enjoyable surprises in this film. Much is made online of Luciana Paluzzi playing a sexy doctor who has no redeeming value, but note that all the women are sexy in this film. They are heavily coifed, poufed and teased, with false eyelashes and miniskirts, and in the era of “Star Trek”, it’s not in the least unexpected. Paluzzi’s doctor is never weak, stupid, or a bimbo though, so I think reviewers who say otherwise may be engaging in a few preconceived notions.
I really enjoy the cinematography in the film, because it’s not afraid to show action occurring in groups of soldiers/astronauts rather than focus so much on close-ups of the stars, and much of what you see is in long shots and without fast edits to mimic action where there is none. Sometimes, the shot is pulled back so far that it almost looks like something you’d see in a “Making Of” short feature of the era, and I actually liked that effect. It’s coupled, however, with the proverbial Unnecessary Zoom ™ when the slime show up, and it’s impossible to watch these zooms without giggling and humming the “Batman” theme.
And there are unintentional laughs. Lots of them. Strings that hold the slime tentacles up are very visible, walls and doors shake when touched or moved, and the slime surrounding the base are represented by tiny green dobs of clay dabbed onto the model of the base. The soldiers drive around in assault carts that have seats of varying heights — I have dubbed it “the Hierarchymobile” — and at one point the slime creatures grab a cart and are briefly seen driving away with it. HA!
Look, I know it’s not the best film in the world, but I do not think it deserves universal panning. Give it a chance. Forget it was on MST3K, forget that everyone else says it’s utter crap, just sit back and enjoy the fun.