Written By Zak Attack
A dramatic journey through the dreck we all know and love.
Why Did I Watch This?
In anticipation of last weekend’s Godzilla opening, I figured I’d watch some more offbeat Godzilla-like movies. This included the classic Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episode featuring Gamera as well as a strange rubber monster movie called The X from Outer Space. I’d seen the former previously and heard good things about the latter… adjectives like “weird” and “ridiculous” were thrown around a lot when I was researching whether to buy it.
How Did I Watch It?
I will admit I kind of cheated on this one. You may be used to reading this feature as an exploration of mostly bad B-movies, but The X from Outer Space is actually from the Criterion Collection. More specifically, this was part of Series 37 in the Eclipse series for forgotten movies.
I watched this alone on a Sunday night.
What Did I Watch?
Apparently I watched a love story.
The film is basically about a space biologist (Peggy Neal) who falls in love with the captain (Toshiya Wazaki) on a perilous mission to Mars. Unfortunately, he has some history with another woman (Itoko Harada) on the moon base that acts as their pit stop. Sparks fly in this doomed love triangle, especially when the giant rubber monster starts knocking over buildings.
As is the case with most of the Japanese kaiju films of the 60’s, The X from Outer Space starts out with a quaint scientific pursuit. The aforementioned Mars voyage keeps getting foiled as the spaceships approach orbit. Everyone seems to think it is some malicious intelligent life that is sabotaging the expeditions, since each failure has gone down the exact same way at the exact same point during the trip. It’s not clear how many astronauts have been killed in the cold and uncaring vacuum of space, but the powers at be seem to think the only solution is to try one last mission without any alteration to the plan that has already failed multiple times.
After a brief reprieve on the moon base (where the wheels on that all-important love triangle get a-rollin’), their ship is followed by a glowing object that the astronauts seem to think looks suspiciously like “a half-cooked omelette”. Then the ship enters a vicious asteroid field that breaches the hull and ends up covering the the ship in debris made up of irregularly-shaped white rocks. With all the excitement, however, they wasted all their fuel and are unable to make it to Mars.
Partially because of the disappointment of failing the mission and partially out of genuine scientific curiosity, the astronauts harvest one of the radioactive crack rocks and take it back to Earth for study. Little do they know that the rock is actually a spore. That is, until, it turns into a chicken-like beast and escapes. Over time this fire-breathing space-chicken/dinosaur grows to enormous heights and starts to methodically and predictably destroy Japan. Of course, the fact that the monster is a giant chicken is one of the major draws to The X from Outer Space.
The government releases information about the monster on the news and proceed to shoot it repeatedly as it heads towards Tokyo, leaving destruction in its wake. As the monster eats nuclear fuel across the countryside (and even, at one point, turns into a glowing orb and travels through the atmosphere), our scientist protagonists work on a solution to stopping the beast. Eventually, they arrive at blasting Guilala (the nom de plume of our giant and aggressive antagonist) with the crack rock substance (labeled: “guilalalium”). Frustratingly enough, they have to go back into space to synthesize it because it was originally “formed in a vacuum”. In fact, the vacuum of space is often referenced as some sort of science-magic similar to how radioactivity or electromagnetic waves are used in hack sci-fi scripts. Except at least the junk science behind all the radioactive horror tales makes a little bit of sense.
Regardless, the monster is defeated and everyone lives happily ever after! Except for Lisa the space biologist, who doesn’t get her man.
The swinging 60’s soundtrack may be totally inappropriate to the action on-screen, but it is also absolutely amazing. The rockin’ drumbeat, mariachi-inspired trumpets, and ultralounge harpsichord sounds so silly when juxtaposed with a spaceship careening through the galaxy or a guy in a rubber suit getting shot by laser tanks that I couldn’t help but keep laughing throughout.
The silliness of the script and execution also provides some unintentional hilarity. It’s not just that the monster looks like a chicken and the romantic drama keeps rearing its ugly head through the film that makes things ludicrous. Whoever acted in the monster suit is simply the exact opposite of menacing. He flails around like someone awkwardly learning the choreography to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and it’s a campy wonder to behold.
The treatment of women in this movie leaves a bit to be desired. Lisa is constantly being yelled at or told how she doesn’t know what’s going on (is it because she is one of the only blondes to be in Japanese cinema at the time?) Additionally, her romantic rival Michiko acts like a jealous schoolgirl during the entire proceedings. She doesn’t quite sabotage anything, but her emotions get the best of her quite a bit, like one of the 10-15 times she gives Lisa the evil eye or when she’s derelict in her moon base duties because her ex-boyfriend is back in town. I’m not asking a lot of a creature feature from the 60’s, but it definitely stood out.
I may have cited the overall silliness as a highlight that should be enjoyed with a healthy spoonful of irony, but to be honest it wasn’t quite goofy enough. The bizarre monster I was promised isn’t even the strangest kaiju I’ve ever seen, nor is the plot off-kilter enough to be exceptionally interesting. Ultimately, the movie just wasn’t dynamic enough for it to go by at a pace quicker than that of a snail (Are there any snail-based kaijus? Someone should get on that.)
Like most entries from the genre, there’s little tension in how the humans are going to triumph or what kind of damage is going to be done. In fact, death tolls and on-the-ground views of the rampage are few and far between. Of course, outside of the original Gojira, these types of movies tend to live or die by the imaginative fights between multiple kaijus. This is a Guilala-only show and suffers as a result.
Was It Worth Watching?
Whether you enjoy this really depends on your tolerance for rubber suit kaiju flicks. As mentioned, I was alone. So some friends to riff on the oddness of the movie might help it go down easier. But, on its own merits, The X from Outer Space doesn’t particularly stand out as an especially interesting entry into the genre. I guess I would say “Yes, it was worth watching” since the experience was a net positive… but that doesn’t mean I’d recommend it to anyone.
The movie doesn’t quite have any tangible stakes and as a result it’s easy to find one’s self distracted and disinterested throughout. In 2008, someone made a sequel called The Monster X Strikes Back/Attack the G8 Summit. That one is more of a straight-up absurdist comedy with a soft edge of political satire. Even though making it a comedy would have resulted in a very different type of movie, the original would have benefited from a similarly lighter touch.
Oh, also, I did some googling and it looks like snail-like kaiju were used in multiple episodes of Ultraman, so that’s nice.
Zak has been an avid movie fan since his mom made him cover his eyes before the “icicle stabbing” when they rented Die Hard 2 in 2nd grade. As a consolation, in 6th grade he got straight A’s so she gave him the entire Die Hard trilogy on VHS. The rest is history.
All images courtesy of Shochiku Kinema