Saturday, January 10, 2009

X Marks The Spot: The X From Outer Space(1967)

I can remember, with great fondness, watching many AIP distributed English dubbed Gamera films on television as a kid, circa 1970 and 1971. I'd already seen Destroy All Monsters(1968) at the Rialto Theater with my father[double billed with Toei's The Green Slime(1968)] so watching these Gamera films was the first time I'd seen a kaiju not named Godzilla. Of course it wouldn't be my last. Some time later I watched another AIP movie, shown at some ungodly AM hour, and featuring a monster completely different from either Gamera or Godzilla. I'm referring to The X From Outer Space(it's Japanese title "Uchu Daikaiju Girara"), a movie released in Japanese theaters in March, 1967 by Shochiku Kinema Kenkyu, or Shochiku.
Shochiku, a movie and production studio that began making films in 1921, had previously produced only drama, crime drama and film noir cinema. To cash in on the "kaiju" craze of the year 1967, when every major Japanese film studio was releasing a kaiju film, Shochiku turned to director Kazui Nihonmatsu to helm what would be their first foray into giant monster movies.
The X From Outer Space is not generally regarded as a quality kaiju film. Despite being lampooned by critics and kaiju fandom, as well as those casual and more die hard movie fans, this movie has developed something of a cult following.

The film's story: a team of four astronauts are sent to the planet Mars to investigate alleged UFO activity. Enroute to the red planet they encounter a cluster of mysterious spores, which attach to the hull of their spacecraft, called the "AAB Gamma". The group return to Earth. The problem: the spores tag along, attached to the hull of the AAB Gamma. One of the spores is examined by scientists. When the spore sample vanishes those tasked with studying it are, not surprisingly, concerned about its whereabouts. Their concerns and fears are realized when the spore(off screen) mutates and enlarges into a giant monster, which eventually erupts out of a hillside, and not in the best of moods.
From this point the giant monster, quickly dubbed "Guilala", goes on a rampage of destruction, both urban and countryside. Obviously the scientists, astronauts and various military personnel all forum together in order to devise a plan to stop the creature. (no other spoilers)

What I liked:
1. credit Shochiku and director Nihonmatsu for sticking to a 2:35.1 widescreen aspect ratio and a 90 minute run time. Considering the overall content of this film, anything longer than ninety minutes might cause many casual film fans watching this movie to exhibit various signs of physical duress, including, and not necessarily limited to, sweaty palms, foaming at the mouth, nausea and/or dizziness.

2. Peggy Neal, who played "Lisa". Again, I just liked looking at this very lovely blonde.

3. the score: quirky but enjoyable, if you like 60's psychedelia.

4. the rendering of the AAB Gamma: a cool looking space ship!

5. the miniatures used to render the moon base: fairly decent

6. the "shower" scene where Lisa and Michiko(played by Itoko Harada) wash themselves in adjacent shower stalls. *clears throat"*

What I didn't like:
1. the rendering of Guilala: I've seen this monster most commonly described as a "giant space chicken". An apt description, unfortunately.

2. the monster's roar: the only way I can describe it: a kid with a severe case of whooping cough, or perhaps a domestic house cat with laryngitis. Watch the movie and come to your own conclusion.

3. the miniatures used during Guilala's city rampage are among the worst I have ever seen. The effects used to render Guilala's oral fireballs are also sub par. Adding to the miserable overall effects, many matte shots are simply awful.

Overall: I recommend this movie only to those who are die hard kaiju movie fans like myself. Those older, like me, and who grew up on AIP monster movies would also appreciate The X From Outer Space(1967). For those of you who dislike the 60's Gamera films, and other older kaiju films like Nikkatsu's Gappa(1967))(aka "Monster From A Prehistoric Planet"), I'm not confident you would like Shochiku's sole(to date) kaiju film.

As has been posted, Shochiku is planning an updated version of this film, something I will definitely want to get after it's released to DVD.

The X from Outer Space(1967) is available on Region 2 DVD, including English subtitles. It was one of the first R2 discs I ever bought. It can also be had at various internet DVD-R vendor sites, usually Region 0 and in it's original aspect ratio and with English subtitles. Personally, I'd recommend buying the stellar Region 2 DVD of this movie, which is for sale at CD Japan.

Beginning about eighteen months ago this film has started airing, from time to time, on Turner Classic Movies, in widescreen and English dubbed.

The film's trailer: