Thursday, September 28, 2017

You're About to Get "Slime"d...!

For most of my adult life I've loved classic movies. I adored renting them on VHS, watched them with glee in the early days of TNT and American Movie Classics and then became a dogged devotee of Turner Classic Movies. But, even so, I found along the way that I also love old movies that really aren't "classics." They were sort of junky/cheesy when they came out and still are, but I often find them just as entertaining as the "good" ones! Thankfully, TCM devotes the late hours of Saturday night into Sunday to just these sort of rotten, "so bad they're good" flicks so that we can take a look and see what they're all about. Today's featured film, 1968's The Green Slime, is a fascinating hoot.

MGM had com- missioned four made-for-TV sci-fi films from Italian director Antonio Margheriti which, once received, were considered good enough to release as theatrical features. (The first one, Wild, Wild Planet, from 1966 is a particular favorite that is filled to the brim with eye-popping and amusing imagery as well as the divine face of a young Franco Nero among the cast.) The storyline for The Green Slime sprang from this series, but wound up being made in Japan by different hands in the end.

Filmed by an entirely Japanese crew, but starring an all-Caucasian cast (mostly consisting of American military personnel and their wives who were stationed in Japan in the late-1960s), the whole cast is dubbed except for its three headlining stars: Robert Horton, Luciana Paluzzi and Richard Jaeckel. This gives the entire enterprise a unique, surreal type of fell to it. The plot has elements that popped up later in projects as diverse as Meteor, Armageddon, Alien, Space: 1999, City on Fire and even Sigmund and the Sea Monsters!

It begins with a space station ("Gamma 3") populated by uniformed personnel in red, white or blue. On an otherwise routine day, they discover that a considerable asteroid (named Flora) is hurtling on a collision course with Earth! ("That's ah one big, ah spicy meatball-ah!")
Let it be known that I'm inclined to like pretty much ANY movie that features technicians sporting hairstyles such as this one!
Next comes the damnedest opening credits music you are ever likely to hear for a cheesy sci-fi flick! Someone actually wrote a funkalicious, groovy number called "Green Slime," performed by Richard Delvy in kicky, could-only-be-the-'60s fashion. You can listen to it here and see clips from the movie as well.

Realizing that the only way to prevent the planet's destruction is to blow the asteroid up before it reaches its inevitable destination, the best man for the job is summoned. The man turns out to be Robert Horton, a square-jawed commander with hair almost as impenetrable as the asteroid. He heads to Gamma 3 where he will take charge of the mission, but things aren't as simple as that.

Currently com- manding the space station is Horton's former friend, Richard Jaeckel, who was repri- manded by Horton during a previous mission for causing ten men to die in order to save one, who Horton had deemed expendable under the circumstances. Their reunion is pleasant enough, but fraught with underlying tension.
Complicating things further is the fact that the station's doctor, Luciana Paluzzi, was once engaged to Horton, but now is heavily involved with Jaeckel, whose side she took in the prior incident. She doesn't even want to lay eyes on Horton, she's still so incensed over the whole thing.

Off the men go, with Horton in command, but not before Paluzzi is seen looking down at them as they depart on a potentially fatal mission. They ship out on a small rocket (which, thanks to the miniature used as a special effect, resembles something a lady might keep in her nightstand along with a few D batteries!)
The surface of the asteroid is red, with craggy formations and - surprisingly enough - water among its attributes. The six-man team divides into three duos and proceeds to drive around the terrain until finding the right spots to plant detonators.

One of the men, a scientist, notices some gummy looking green stuff (slime!) lurking and undulating on the asteroid's surface. Fascinated by this new life form, he puts it into a large covered vial and collects it for study back at the space station.

However, the stuff has been creeping up onto the wheels of some of the vehicles and just making a general nuisance for the detonation team. They only have so much time to plant the bombs and get out of there, and the window has actually been shortened on them mid-mission! So they abandon their equipment and start to depart, but the scientist is still unaccounted for. In a moment of pique, Horton declares that the specimen cannot come back with them and he shatters the vial. But some of the green slime has clung to the doctor's pants leg...
Barely having escaped the explosion of the asteroid by their own detonators, the crew heads back to Gamma 3. They head into the landing dock and are greeted by cheering technicians and other workers. Thing is, even though much is made of how the six men have to be decontaminated and their clothing and equipment gone over three times, there is NOTHING separating them from the throngs of well-wishers on the balcony above! By the way, there is no truth to the rumor that Neely O'Hara from Valley of the Dolls served a term in space no matter how it looks below:
Horton has torn up his arm during the mission and goes to visit the station's doctor, and his former fiancee, Paluzzi for some much-needed repairs. She has some high-tech treatment for him (which looks something like Final Net hairspray, which he ought to already have used plenty of!) and the two share some romantic tension.

Jaeckel doesn't seem to be too worried that anything between them might be stirring. He, Horton and the rest of the space station crew throw a party to celebrate the destruction of the asteroid. Paluzzi changes from her hospital togs into a sparkly, low-cut number. In fact, all of the females have wonderfully mod leisure-time clothing while the men are stuck in their space-age Phillips 66 gas station-like uniforms!
Check out the fun earrings on this chick who is practically salivating over the opportunity for more champagne during the impromptu gala.
The glee doesn't last for long because suddenly some men break in to announce that something is amiss in the decontamination area. Jaeckel and Co. have to depart from the party and race to see what's wrong, only to find that the technician there has been horribly electrocuted to death!
There's precious little time to recover from that before it's discovered that there is an alien on board! The green slime has rapidly grown into a monster the size of a Japanese child hidden within a rubber suit that is uncomfortably close in looks to that of the characters from Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (even though that show was still five years off, so if anyone stole anything, it was The Kroffts!)
Horton's first instinct is to blast the thing out of existence. The squatty creature with one big red eye, several others beneath, and long tentacles with lobster claws on the ends, can zap its victims with an electric charge. However, the scientist declares that they shouldn't destroy this previously undiscovered life form and Jaeckel agrees.

Unfortunately, this decision results in more death and destruction. The creature also seems to be feeding on any nearby form of electricity and, before long, is wreaking havoc all over the place.
It is also discovered that injuring the creature releases green blood (slime!) that before long regenerates into - you guessed it! - another creature! So since they injured the first one with their weaponry, there are now more of the dangerous critters cropping up and doing their thing.
Jaeckel (in just a fractional moment of some partial, tan beefcake) is injured and has to be seen to by Paluzzi and her magic spray. The tortured love triangle between the three leads is officially in full swing (though in truth Horton and Jaeckel have about the same level of sparks between them as either gent has with Paluzzi!)
A plan is made to lure the creatures into a certain sector of Gamma 3 and contain them. Horton (now sporting a helmet in place of his helmet hair that belies the Japanese influence on the movie's costuming and equipment) and crew begin to use electric light to draw the little beasts to the area they want.
Unfortunately, Paluzzi's hospital becomes infested with them and she, along with her nurses, has to try to evacuate the injured patients before they're zapped to death. While I can't say that Paluzzi is a strong heroine along the lines of, say, Sigourney Weaver's Ripley, she is reasonably plucky and at one point even hurls herself across the bed where one of her patients is lying in order to protect him from an attacking monster.
She also refrains from all sorts of panicked shrieking at every turn the way many females have been portrayed in scenarios such as this. Am I the only one (probably!) who gets a mild Christopher Norris/Karen Black Airport 1975 vibe from this composition wherein Paluzzi is trying to keep the morale up for one of her blonde nurses?
Nothing goes according to plan and before long the monsters have killed several more people and have managed a virtual takeover of the station. Evacuation is really the only option now, but the horrid little slimes have even taken over the outer space vicinity of Gamma 3.
Horton and Jaeckel don spacesuits and, along with several other crewmen (but not Paluzzi, as the misleading poster suggests!) head outside the station to zap away as many of the baddies as they can.
Before the storyline has concluded, there has been plenty of demolition and a certain amount of death, but at last the slimy bastards are vanquished.
Horton spent the early-1950s working in movies such as Bright Road and Men of the Fighting Lady before segueing into television. From 1957 to 1962 he served on the popular western series Wagon Train, later starring in his own brief show A Man Called Shenandoah.

Horton continued to act sporadically on TV as a guest (and for a time on As the World Turns as one of Eileen Fulton's many husbands) along with theatrical and nightclub appearances before retiring in 1989. He passed away in 2016 at ninety-one of natural causes.
Paluzzi is undoubtedly best known for her role as Bond Girl Fiona Volpe in Thunderball, though she'd been working in Italian movies since the mid-50s, moving to American television and features at the dawn of the '60s. A brief marriage to Brett Halsey resulted in a son who is now a movie producer. As the '70s drew to a close, Paluzzi retreated from acting and married a movie-media mogul to whom she is still wed at age eighty. She and her husband worked for many years with at least one charitable foundation.
Jaeckel began working in movies in the late-'40s in war pictures like Battleground and Sands of Iwo Jima before making an impression as Terry Moore's panting boyfriend in Come Back, Little Sheba. An incredibly busy career followed with many movies and the short-lived TV series Frontier Circus with John Derek.

After the illustrious Green Slime, he continued to work in westerns like Chisum and Ulzana's Raid as well as other things such as Sometimes a Great Notion with Paul Newman, which netted him an Oscar nomination (Ben Johnson won for The Last Picture Show.) Towards the end of his career, he made many appearances on Baywatch as a detective. Jaeckel, who'd been married to the same woman for fifty years, died of melanoma in 1997 at age seventy-one.

At a painless 90 minutes, the trio of stars helps to make it a watchable exercise in 1960s sci-fi fun. TCM has rerun it a couple of times, so keep a (big red) eye out for it on their schedule!  Ha ha!