Slipped Discs: The X from Outer Space (1968)
Don't blame Guilala if you don't enjoy The X From Outer Space. After all, he's doing the best he can given how preposterously he has been designed. A Godzilla-style body (down to the skin texture) attached to a head that looks like two cymbals crashing, with a chicken beak and goofy glowing eyes added for good measure. To prove he is here, Guilala also sports a trumpet-like device on his forehead that could have dropped off a tower in Whoville. And, yes, the antennae... in what might be a crude attempt to prove that Guilala really did come from outer space, and possibly to differentiate him from all those other kaiju waddling about unhindered about Japan in the 1960s, Guilala comes replete with a pair of unbelievably springy antennae. He is possibly from Mars, after all. Martians have antennae... at least, the ones I drew in school did.
At first glance, you want to laugh at Guilala, but then another feeling rises up: sympathy. Sympathy for the poor guy in the Guilala suit, who seems to be having such a rough time seeing in the outlandish gear, that he has to take two wild swipes at a radio tower with his paw before he roars what has to be a monster version of "Ah, screw this!" and moves on to the next tower, which comes down in a proper rumble as was probably planned for the first one. (Is it amazing they left this bit in the film? I am not so sure...) It must be hard enough to maneuver acrobatically in a hot, sweaty, heavy costume; it has to be even harder to do it practically blind.
But first, in order to laugh at and then cry with Guilala, you have to get to him. In The X From Outer Space, the way you do this is to hop on a nonstop party ride with an international quartet of groovy astronauts, including a female, on their way to Mars, with a slight detour on the moon to down some cocktails. Sure, there's dramatic tension here and there, but it's undermined by a swingin' trip to the Moon Lounge, and the feeling that scientific research is the second or possibly third thing on everybody's mind, especially given the multi-racial love triangle that develops in these scenes. The lounge mood is set from the get-go by the theme music, once you get past the studio logo, that is; the first few notes strike an ominous tone, but then it gets pushed aside as a hip-swingin' space tune kicks in, aided considerably by a telling us how "the universe is our world/the future is our tomorrow/it all belongs to us!" while the credits roll past in a stroll through the constellations. The organ that accompanies this music plays the second largest role next to Guilala in setting the mood of the film, and even in the more dramatic scenes without its intrusion, one can still feel the groove pulsating in one's head. Above all, and whatever the faults of the film, The X from Outer Space is ultimately groovy, baby.
On their flight to Mars, the groove-sters meet up with a flying saucer; apparently their rocket, the AAB-Gamma (also called the "Astro-Boat") has been roofied, because the next thing they know, it's pregnant! And maybe the rocket fuel was used in the martinis, too. OK, actually, some strange object has been left on its tail... Lisa, the blonde hottie scientist -- who always seems to be the only one really concerned with her job, even while locked in alternate stages of girlish giggling and seething jealousy with her Japanese rival for Captain Sato's affections, Michiko -- collects the "egg" and places it in a vacuum container. The problem? Once they return to Earth, the crew steps out for more cocktails, and the thing eats through the container and then the floor. They discover a three-toed indentation, which Sato declares looks "just like a chicken's claw print." With an alien potentially ransacking the countryside, what do the astronauts do? Sato asks if anyone wants to get a nightcap. That's right. a nightcap. The party bus apparently never stops for these guys!
Soon, the alien has eaten vast amounts of energy and grown to the normal size of a kaiju interloper, which, as even the most nominal fan of these types of films can tell you, is freakin' goddamned huge. I am not going to launch into the sordid details involving his klutzily cute stomp-a-thon through the streets of the city, the destruction that ensues, nor of how the scientists stop groovin' just long enough to figure out how to stop Guilala (though it might involve a substance called Guilalalium). I will leave these joys up to you.
But I will ask why this film is not properly on DVD? All but a handful of the Toho kaiju films (Gojira and his lot) have been released, some in their most respectful, excellent forms yet. But no love for Guilala? Where is the Tarantino-like champion of this film? He gets Mighty Peking Man back into the public eye... why not Guilala, perhaps one of the most lovable giant monster films to ever be released, if not the grooviest. An old friend from my high school days recently became reacquainted with me through my Facebook page, where Guilala resides as my profile picture (for those who would correct me without checking, it is Minira on this site, Guilala there). She asked me if I still had a Godzilla complex, and while the answer is most definitely "yes," -- and the Big G is definitely my favorite creature of all time, giant or otherwise -- I didn't have the heart to correct her regarding the pic.
But Guilala has, in the past few weeks, gotten even a bigger profile, via a television commercial. A company called The Ladders (stupid name, yes, I agree) is taking aim at Monster.com's market, and produced an ad with a tiny, rampaging creature which can't get a break in his unfulfilling, monstery job. As you will see in the video below, he discovers what it takes to get ahead in the city-smashing game. And damned if the creature isn't my beloved little Guilala...
Best of all, a sequel-slash-remake of The X from Outer Space was produced in Japan last year, and thankfully, all signs point to it -- called The Monster X Strikes Back/Attack the G8 Summit -- being a largely parodic version of the story. Hopefully, the grooviness of the original will be intact. My own version of a remake would involve Bruce Campbell, Tracy Morgan (as Astronaut Jones) and three dozen Japanese girls in space bikinis, while the 126.96.36.199s play their raucous, '50s-style Woo-Hoo music in zero gravity around a space station/martini bar. My guess is that this version will always exist in my brain, and that there is little hope that the new version is this groovy. But any sign of Guilala's continued cultural existence brings hope that a decent, annotated DVD version is in the works. Go Guilala!