Kaiju, Cocktails and Catastrophe: The X From Outer Space (1967)

X FROM OUTER SPACE, THE (1967)

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“The monster is now on a rampage, headed for Tokyo.”

That line comes from a scene that lies at the heart of a movie I love, The X from Outer Space (1967). It belongs in the tradition of the Japanese Kaiju films, monster movies that enjoyed a golden period in the 1950s and 1960s, starting with the birth of Gojira (Godzilla) in 1954. There is a stylishness and wit to them that is often overlooked while everyone pokes fun at the man in the rubber monster suit. But just because the monster suits weren’t up to today’s standards of technologically advanced costume design, doesn’t mean the films weren’t well made in their own right. The X from Outer Space stands out as a favorite for several reasons, not the least of which is that for much of the movie, with its stylish astronauts in sharp suits and jumper dresses, it’s a late 1960s happening in space, and to mine a quote, it freaks me out!

The X From Outer Space begins with astronauts being briefed on a mission to Mars. All previous missions have failed. Each mission reached a point just outside of Martian space where all radio contact failed and the ships disappeared. What happened? Well, the scientists in the movie believe it must be the work of UFOs sighted before each disappearance. A new crew is prepared for the spaceship “AAB Gamma” to discover the origin of the UFOs and their purpose. The crew consists of three men and one woman. Two of the men are the doctor and the comic relief (of course), while the captain (Shun’ya Wazaki) and lead scientist (Peggy Neal) are, naturally, devastatingly handsome and stylishly beautiful.

Only minutes after takeoff, they encounter one of the UFOs which tracks them but does no real harm. The doctor, however, gets sick and they must stop off at the space station on the moon to get him treatment. The captain’s lover just happens to be stationed on the moon and, once they’ve landed, everyone changes into smart clothes and enjoys dancing and cocktails in the lounge. It may be the moon but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time in awesomely mod surroundings. When they head back out, with a new doctor in tow, they encounter the UFO again and this time it fires spores at them that attach to their ship. When they take a sample spore back to earth, something within it escapes, grows over 100 feet tall, and terrorizes Japan. They name it Guilala. All of this leads us to the line at the start of this piece.

It’s almost exactly at the halfway point and has an unintentional humor to it. A group of politicians, generals and scientists, including those from the “AAB Gamma”, are gathered around a table calmly discussing options and casting doubt on whether they can even stop it. While doing this, the film quickly cuts to townspeople being terrorized by Guilala, with no military in sight. Then back to the calm discussion around the table. Those folks in the town will just have to be terrorized a little while longer until they can figure out what they want to do.

What’s interesting to me about the Kaiju films of the 1950s and 1960s is that I never watched them as a kid and thought any of it looked stupid or fake. Just the opposite in fact. I thought they looked so cool. Hell, Ultraman (1966-1967) was one of my favorite shows growing up. In the days before Star Wars (1977), we kids watched movies and shows like that and never once thought, “Man, these special effects blow.” We talked about how cool they were and wanted to see as much as we could. Why? Because they worked, and still do.

X FROM OUTER SPACE, THE (1967)

I rewatched The X From Outer Space a couple of times in the last week before writing this and its style impressed me as much as it ever did. Yes, I know it’s a “cult classic” and people love to watch movies like it and laugh and, yes, I understand there is a lot of silly dialogue and plot developments in the movie. Its incidental music between dramatic scenes is oddly jazzy with a Bossa Nova flair that seems both out of place and curiously spot on. And there is bad dubbing, even in the Japanese language version in which the non-Japanese actors, like Peggy Neal, are dubbed into Japanese. Finally, there is a virtual obsession in the movie with saying “AAB Gamma.” It is uttered by so many people, so many times, that a drinking game based on it would require more alcohol than a human being could safely consume. And all of this is, of course, a part of its charm.

But The X From Outer Space is more than just a collection of quirky, silly bits of monster movie fun. It’s also a splendidly efficient sci-fi film that rarely contains a moment that isn’t about moving the plot along. And the design is spectacular. The spaceship, which emerges from the rocket cone that propels it into space, is sleek and beautiful, while the alien ship is blurred, mysterious and mercurial. The miniatures, despite being quite obviously miniatures, are terrific as well, with many a great shot of Guilala hammering them down and knocking jets out of the sky. It also contains a plot point that would be used in a much bigger film twelve years later. When Guilala leaves its spore in the lab, its naturally produced acid burns through the table, then the floor and right through to the ground underneath. Sound familiar? It should, if you’ve ever seen Alien (1979). Hell, even the shots of the burned out hole in the floor looks a lot like the shot in Alien, leading me to believe it was an intentional homage on Ridley Scott’s part.

Written and directed by Kazui Nihonmatsu, who co-wrote it with Eibi Motomochi and Moriyoshi Ishida, The X From Outer Space is not a masterpiece nor is it intended to be but it is more, I believe, than the Sight and Sound take that “X fits comfortably into one’s stoned best-bad-movie rental evening.” I find such dismissals rather depressing to be honest because even a movie with cheap looking effects and silly plotting can have good design, cinematography, editing and style. I can certainly appreciate the fun people have with monster movies like this but, honestly, I can also enjoy The X From Outer Space on its own terms.

Greg Ferrara

2 Responses Kaiju, Cocktails and Catastrophe: The X From Outer Space (1967)
Posted By Gamera2000 : May 5, 2017 2:47 am

One of my favorites as a kid, it used to play in regular circulation with other Kaiju films on the local UHF station channel 30 (which also showed Ultraman).

It was the only Kaiju produced by Shociku, and as such had a somewhat lower budget feel to it compared to Toho’s films. That being said, it always had a fond place in my heart for it’s jazzy score (unique among Kaiju), it’s almost pop art feel, it’s relentless use of AAB Gamma, and the design of Guilala. I always thought of a raviola with the body of a chicken.

It is also pretty obvious there are other fans of this movie. There was an ad that featured a city overrun by tiny Guilala’s that scare no one until the big version shows up.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : May 5, 2017 2:24 pm

Gamera2000, glad to find another fan. That jazzy score is absolutely signature for this movie. Like I said, it somehow doesn’t fit at all and works perfectly all at the same time. And it makes me happy every time I hear someone say “AAB Gamma”. There’s a point, about halfway through, where they don’t say it, and then it ramps up again for the last third.

I didn’t know about the ad, I have to look that up.

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