Written by: Moriyoshi Ishida, Eibi Motomochi, and Kazui Nihonmatsu
Directed by: Kazui Nihonmatsu
Starring: Eiji Okada, Toshiya Wazaki and Itoko Harada
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Feel the pulsating horror in the world beyond our world!
With The X From Outer Space, one see the horror genre coming full circle, and, by 1967, it likely felt like an outmoded throwback to not one, but two genres. Whereas horror had spent much of the 60s stripping itself down to primal terrors that planted the seeds for a decade that would be defined by Satan and slashers, this genre offering from Japanís Shochiku studio recalls 50s atomic-age paranoia. Perhaps spurred on by the space race or the fact that Shochiku missed out on the trend the first time around, the film trades in The Bomb for cosmic exploration, but the result is largely the same, as our sins of scientific ambition are met with a giant monster that decides to stomp the shit out of them.
The film imagines a not-so-distant future where the Japanese space program is able to explore just beyond the Earth at will. Getting all the way to Mars, however, has been difficult, as all attempts have been thwarted by a UFO that pops up whenever a vessel approaches the Red Planet. The latest attempt will be made by the crew of the AAB Gamma, which ends up encountering the mysterious ship after making a pit stop on the moon. After being pelted with a mysterious substance, the ship returns to Earth with a sample intact, where it sits overnight in a lab before giving birth to the monstrous Guilala, a giant creature that proceeds to stomp its way to Tokyo.
The X From Outer Space isnít alone in its anachronism, particularly its first thirty minutes or so, which feel a lot like fellow space-age throwbacks Planet of the Vampires, Queen of Blood, and The Green Slime, all films that echo the initial 50s batch of cosmic horror. Star Trek is another obvious reference point, particularly from a visual standpoint; this is a bold, colorful, and swinging little space adventure early on, even if the biggest obstacle is one of the crew membersí sickness. How swinging is it? The film has its own theme song, for starters, a silly little opening number that blares with optimism and kitsch. With the distance of 65 years between us and it, thereís an inherent charm to it, of course, but that charm can only carry the somewhat stiff, stodgy proceedings during the setup.
Much of the time here is spent with the crew dicking around and engaging in small talk until one of them falls ill and forces them to dock at the moon, a move that introduces even more cast members. A love triangle subplot also emerges between Captain Sano (Toshiya Wazaki), Lisa (Peggy Neal), and Michiko (Itoko Harada), but it hardly plays a role until the ham-fisted conclusion, where the film suddenly waxes poetically on its loversí plight. Up until that point, itís become a repetitive romp and stomp kaiju flick that doesnít exactly counterbalance the lightness that proceeded it; unlike Godzilla, it never feels particularly horrifying, probably because it mostly consists of Guilala wrecking phony-looking models of virtually empty cities. None of the principal cast is particularly involved during any of this, so the monster is engaged in repetitive sequences that sees him crushing model tanks and airplanes while the AAB Gamma crew figures out how to stop him. Set to a grating, monotonous score, these destruction scenes are initially amusing but grow tiresome after the third time or so.
The star is Guilala himself, all rubbery and phony looking. Heís more insectoid than reptilian, at least from the neck up, and his big gimmick involves an absorption of energy that enables him to plow through the countryside. With his big, saucer eyes, heís immediately less terrifying than Godzilla (and most other kaiju, for that matter) and almost resembles a child whose rampage is nothing more than a big tantrum. And it might well be since Guilala mostly remains a mystery. Apparently, heís the product of the space spores from the UFO floating around Mars, the nature of which is never explained either. All I can say with any certainty is that the craft looks like a hamburger or a pastry depending on the shot. Despite the silliness, Shochiku matched up Guilala with Eiji Okada, one of the worldís finest actors. Heís a long way from Hiroshima, Mon Amour here, though, where heís stuck in a sort of thankless role surrounded by serviceable talent thatís meant to carry the film (which means most of the cast stands around talking about Guilala and how to stop him before finally deciding to do so).
The X From Outer Space expectedly looks and sounds like a studio trying to catch up to the kaiju train and doing its best to ape the Toho style, right down to the colorful scope photography. Shochiku would produce better films during its late 60s stab at horror, but this oneís fun and harmless enough. Itís also proof that everything Criterion releases isnít an elite masterpiece, as the studio has released it as part of its When Horror Came to Shochiku Eclipse Series release, where itís joined by The Living Skeleton, Genocide, and Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell. Per usual, Criterionís presentation is up to snuff, though the transfer is a bit soft at times. The release is a little light on extras, as Chuck Stephensís liner notes provide the only true supplements; however, thatís the calling card of the Eclipse Series, which aims to collect a set of movies in an affordable package. This particular set is pretty worthwhile even if The X From Outer Space isnít the strongest of the bunch; itís a perfectly fine, corny, and altogether perfunctory kaiju film, fit for viewing after youíve raided the Toho vault. Rent it!
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