September 16, 2006

THE X FROM OUTER SPACE (1967) Kaiju of the week

(Japan, 1967, Uchu daikaiju Girara)

"Guilala is heading straight for Tokyo!"

If you’ve ever heard of a monster movie featuring a giant space chicken – this is it… but it’s not a chicken. Guilala (or Girara) may have a beak, but that’s the only chickeny thing about it. The plot is more of a riff on The Blob or The Quatermass Xperiment – some gooey stuff from outer space is brought back to earth and becomes a monster…

I've just reread Stuart Galbraith IV's wonderful Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo, which contextualises monster movies within the Japanese film industry through extensive interviews with the people who made and starred in them. In the late sixties, every rivalling Japanese film studio tried to muscle in on the success of Toho’s Godzilla series. Daiei Studio had Gamera and Shochiku came up with Guilala, exported to the US as The X From Outer Space.

For years, this film has been badly served by the American video release, dubbed into English on a cramped pan-and-scan VHS, when the film was originally framed 2.35.

On a trip to Mars, spaceship AAB Gamma meets a UFO that freezes their controls and plants some cosmic goo on their hull. On their return to Earth, the goo escapes and heads straight for Tokyo (surprise, surprise). How can they stop it?

The story is a sort of hybrid between Godzilla and The Green Slime, but shows a little originality towards the climax, when the scientists try and lure Guilala away from the city by loading a nuclear power source onto the back of a jeep (but please don’t try that at home). There’s not many car chases like that one.

The monster suit’s not bad, the effects aren’t totally bad, the acting’s not bad. The film is silly retro fun for monster fans.

This sixties view of space travel portrays it as an easy job with an endless round of dancing and drinking. Problem on the trip to Mars? Hey – let’s stop off at the Moonbase, let’s dance! The monster’s escaped? Let’s hit a bar! Light on drama, the requisite love triangle is devoid of sparks and the earnest cast aren’t given much to do except run around. The attempts at convincing techno-babble are hilariously awful.

Trivia fans will spot that the launch sequence of AAB Gamma includes a steal from You Only Live Twice, with a launch vehicle that releases the ship from a nose cone that opens like a flower. There’s also a scene where Guilala’s goo eats through the floor of the research base – very Alien.

The design work is a little bizarre – AAB Gamma doesn’t look like it could fly in Earth’s atmosphere or space, the offending UFO looks like an internally lit homebaked lemon meringue pie, and Guilala has lumpy arms, big floppy feet and deelybopper antenna.

A serious drawback to your enjoyment could be the awful, repetitive, jaunty music that also undermines the few dramatic moments.

The modelwork is OK, particularly the impressive rocket base and the Moonbase, but the toy tanks and planes look way too small to have ever convinced anyone – how’s your suspension of disbelief? Guilala is full of tricks and looks better in his night-time attacks, when his glowing eyes and fireballs look much more effective.

The Japanese and US edits of the film are roughly the same, but I’d urge you to track down a widescreen version.
This Japanese DVD (pictured above) also has an optional English audio track on it, but no subtitles. The English dub was made for the original movie release, and half the cast are talking English anyway, so it's not blasphemy to not watch it in Japanese!

As a last resort, there’s always the US VHS (pictured), but you can rarely see what’s going on. Both the VHS and DVD are out of print, so good hunting!

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  1. AMAZON has this on DVD Cheap!!! Under $20.00!!!

  2. Hmm. The only official release I know of in the US is in the forthcoming Criterion boxset...

  3. This was released by the Criterion Collection in a Eclipse Series boxset.

  4. Also available on Hulu Plus now.