Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Slime People (Independent, 1963)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

My partner Charles and I squeezed in a movie before we went to bed, only we quite frankly needn’t have bothered! It was the next in sequence on the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 disc that included the latest Radar Men from the Moon serial episode (number 6, “Hills of Death” — one quickly gets the idea about the writers’ obsessions and the genre conventions from how often the word “Death” appears in serial chapter titles) from Republic and a really horrible movie called The Slime People from independent sources, produced by Joseph F. Robertson and directed by Robert Hutton, who also cast himself in the leading role of Tom Gregory, TV newscaster who allies himself with scientist Prof. Galbraith (Robert Burton) and his two pretty young daughters Lisa (Susan Hart) and Bonnie (Judee Morton) to fight the titular menace, a group of monsters that look sort of like a combination crawfish and lizard — though, since they’re being played by humans (Jock Putnam and Fred Stromsoe) in very bad monster suits, they walk upright and their human faces are all too visible through their monster makeup.

The gimmick is that these monsters came from beneath the earth and lived inside the ground — hence their (alleged) sliminess — and also they have the ability to harden water to the consistency of rock and get it to stay that way at normal, well-above-freezing temperatures (so the writers of this film, Blair Robertson and Vance Skarstedt, thought of something similar to “ice-nine” two years before Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. published Cat’s Cradle!). The film opens with a head-on shot of the monsters emerging from the bowels of the earth — a bit surprising in a film of this genre since we’re used to a slow build-up giving exposition and establishing suspense before we find what the monsters look like, but in this case it’s explained by the fact that another side effect of the Slime People’s attack strategy is to cover everything in dense fog, to the point where through most of this movie we’re looking at a basically grey screen in which vaguely shaped blobs — some human, some slimy — are moving about and doing actions discernible only with great difficulty.

The slime people have supposedly annihilated all of L.A. except for our central characters — the ones mentioned above; Cal Johnson (William Boyce), a U.S. Marine who’s been wandering around the countryside; and Norman Tolliver (Les Tremayne, second-billed), a prize-winning author who resolutely refuses to believe in the slime people — indeed, is planning to write a book about the mass delusion that they exist — until, predictably, they eat him in the course of the film. (It’s a pity to lose him because he’s the only interesting character in the film.) Eventually the slime people start dying for reasons as mysterious as the ones that launched their attack in the first place — all while the human characters are holed up in a TV studio, which is different, to say the least — and Tom and Lisa are paired off, as are Cal and Bonnie. This was one of those films that was so bad — so unutterably dull — that even the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 crew couldn’t work their magic on it; when one of the MST3K robots asked, “Why was this film made?,” that was our question exactly …