The X from Outer Space (1967)
Uchû daikaijû Girara
In 1967, the Kaiju Boom reached its zenith. The year would see every major studio in Japan release a giant monster movie. Obviously envious of the success Toho and Daiei had with their kaiju flicks, Japan’s other major studios, Shochiku and Nikkatsu, would get into the game, feeding the public’s unending hunger for rubber monsters wrecking cities. A crass genre picture like ‘The X from Outer Space” was uncharacteristic of Shochiku’s output, as the studio was better known for the neo-realist dramas of Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi. This might be why “The X from Outer Space,” known in Japan as “Space Monster Guilala,” manages to be kookier then any other movie in a genre noted for its kookiness.
Seemingly set in the near future, “The X from Outer Space” concerns a manned mission to Mars, with a stop-over to a moon base. Before the crew can reach Mars, the ship is menaced by a glowing UFO and bombarded with small asteroids. The hull damaged, the ship returns to Earth, a bizarre fungal spore growing on the outside of the interstellar vehicle. From this spore grows a giant monster called Guilala. Guilala stomps through Japan, seeking power plants to drain their energy, before reaching, naturally, Tokyo. Once again, a brave squad of scientists and soldiers must figure out a way to stop this monster before it’s too late.
As silly as much of the sci-fi is, nothing is sillier in this movie then its monster. Guilala is, without question, the goofiest looking daikaiju ever put to film, goofier then even Daigoro. Guilala can best be described as a giant, mutating chicken-fungus from beyond Mars. Its body is seemingly reptilian, with the three-toed feet and dragging tail you’d associate with Godzilla. Despite this, Guilala is outfitted with some very un-reptillian features. Raised, wavy lines grow up and down the creature’s arms and legs. Guilala’s head looks like a stereotypical flying saucer was plopped down on top of your usual giant dinosaur. The beak is like a chicken but the rest of the head is metallic, with wings extending out of the sides. My favorite part are the goofy, bopping antenna extending from the top of his head, along with the bizarre, telephone-shaped horn. Oh yeah, and after consuming enough energy, Guilala can turn into a giant, fiery balloon. It says a lot that the most normal thing about Guilala is that he shoots fireballs out of his mouth. His baffling design has made Guilala the ugly puppy of kaiju fandom, beloved strictly because he’s so damn stupid looking.
“The X from Outer Space” wraps up on an appropriately unbelievable note. The scientists discover a mineral improbably named Guilanium. After spraying the monster with this, Guilala sprouts a white foam from his body. Covered in the stuff, the monster then shrinks down into a tiny, glowing yellow orb. The heroes then shoot said orb into space, in hopes that Guilala will never return. For a film as strange as “The X from Outer Space” is, the whole thing is topped off with an unbelievable soft jazz score. That’s right, you get to watch monsters wreck cities to hot sax and trippy trumpets.
After the reasonable success of “Ghoulies,” Charles Band and Empire Pictures decided to make another movie about little monsters making mayhem. That film’s creature designer and puppet master, John Carl Buechler, would make his directorial debut with “Troll.” It’s crazy to think that, two years after “Gremlins,” indie studios were still making low-budget rip-offs of it. I guess the public really wanted that “Gremlins 2” Joe Dante wouldn’t make for a few more years. Though referring to “Troll” as a “Gremlins” rip-off is slightly disingenuous. Aside from a horde of little monsters, the two films don’t have a terrible lot in common. “Troll” is actually a weirder fusion of a family flick and a fantasy movie.
The Potter family moves into a new apartment on the West coast. While father Harry and mother Anne move into their new home, daughter Wendy plays in the complex’s basement. There, she is abducted by a troll from another dimension. The troll assumes Anne’s identity and begins to wreck havoc in the apartment. Slowly, using his magical ring, the evil troll transforms many of the residents into monsters and their room into fantastical realms. Only the young son, Harry Potter Jr., notices that his sister is acting oddly. He befriends an old woman who lives up stairs, who turns out to be an ancient witch with a rivalry with the old troll. After she falls to the troll’s powers, it’s up to Harry to save the world.
the mean-spirited, amoral bastards they were in original mythology. Back in 1986, though, the typical conception of fairies was as day-glo cartoon characters. So it’s cool that “Troll” acknowledges the fae as nasty critters that do not have nice things in plan for humanity. In this mode, “Troll” is sporadically effective. The images of the troll turning his victims into giant pea pods are effectively gooey. One image the film returns to repeatedly is apartments turning into swamp-like, overgrown bogs, full of chattering, slimy creatures. The best moment in “Troll” occurs early on when a character reads “The Fairie Queene,” causing the plethora of monsters in another room to sing an otherworldly chant. I also like how casually the witch up-stairs reveals her identity. She has a mushroom familiar that lives in a pot and reads arcane text. The last act of “Troll” features evil vines and moss crawling out from under doors. A giant plant monsters seems to emerge from the top of the apartment, an underutilized effect. The film doesn’t have much opportunity to explore it but “Troll” does build up a decent mythology.
However, “Troll” is mostly a cheesy eighties flick. This is most evident in the bizarre collection of characters living in the apartment. Sonny Bono, of all people, plays a swinger that lives up-door. Bono being anybody’s idea of a cool dude, especially in 1986, is baffling. His reaction to the little girl turning into a troll is surprisingly nonplussed. That rampaging little girl, who bites people, screams about “rat burgers,” and tosses her toys into the air, is singularly bizarre too. One of the apartment residents is a former military officer and would-be survivalist who gets a close-up encounter with the troll, the movie’s most horrific sequence. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has her film debut here as a struggling actresses. The troll turns her into a partially nude nymph, who teleports through a magical forest, definitely the weirdest scene in the movie.
The secret weapon in “Troll’s” oddball arsenal is its surprisingly excellent cast of character actors. Michael Moriarty doesn’t get a chance to stretch his eccentricities as an actor much, save for one bizarre scene where he dances around to a hard rock cover of “Summer Time Blues.” June Lockhart, otherwise known as the mom from “Lost in Space”and “Lassie,” plays the witch and has a good time biting her way through hammy dialogue. The best performance in the movie belongs to Phil Fondacaro, making his second appearance this Halloween. As the dwarf, and English teacher, that lives in the apartment, he befriends the little girl. While having dinner at their home, he’s the one who reads “The Fairie Queene,” doing so quite well. Later on, when the troll comes for him, he first delivers a surprisingly morose monologue about suffering from illness and coming to terms with his dwarfism as a young boy. He talks about how he'd rather be a fantasy creature then an overly short human. Somewhat bitter-sweetly, the troll then turns him into an actual fantasy creature. It’s a sad and melancholic moment in an otherwise silly movie. Disappointingly, Phil is one of the film’s numerous subplots left unresolved.
a remake for a while now. However, this desire steams less from wanting to explore the ideas of “Troll” more fully and more out of wanting to exploit the movie’s unintentional connection to that other Harry Potter. [6/10]
Maniac at Large
“Maniac at Large” benefits from a strong central performance and a great setting. Taking place in some alternate reality where library are considered important social centers, the episode follows a young librarian named Margaret. The town is currently gripped by reports of a serial killer which is making Margaret very, very nervous. Seemingly everyone around her is contributing to that nervousness. Her boss is a mean-spirited harpy. The security guard at the library is hard drinker that keeps a secret booze stash in the basement. Most prominently, a library patron that refuses to leave is very interested in talking to Margaret about the serial killer’s methods. By the time she’s left in the library by herself, to close up for the night, Margaret is ready to shake apart. And the killer is closer then she realizes.
I can’t think of many horror movies off the top of my head with sequences inside libraries. That should change because, as “Maniac at Large” proves, there a good setting for thrillers. The dusty books, the huge shelves that project eerie shadows, the large clear doors, all add up nicely. John Frankenheimer, who directed some great movies and some not-so-great ones too, contributes some very solid, atmospheric direction. Shadows are used very well. Bill Conti’s music is simple but effective. Blythe Danner’s lead performance is fantastic and she’s great at appearing terrified. Adam Ant, unexpectedly, gives a good performance too, as the creepiest guy in the episode. The twist end is projected a few scenes in advance but proves very satisfying. The final minutes of the episode are actually fairly creepy, wrapping up the plot without putting too fine a point upon it. “Maniac at Large” is a solid mid-tier “Crypt” episode. [7/10]
In an unexpected move, “So Weird” devoted more-or-less an entire episode to a Mackenzie Philips’ concert. The plot is threadbare, mostly focusing on Molly performing on-stage. The drama of the episode comes from Fiona’s insistence that she’s close to uncovering the mystery of her father’s death. Knowing that a similar interest in the paranormal is what led to her husband’s death, Molly is concerned. Concerned enough to end the tour with this very performance, briefly throwing the back-stage into chaos. Otherwise, “Encore” is devoted to giving “So Weird” fans a chance to hear many of the show’s songs in their entirety. There’s the emotional “More Like a River,” a soft ballad obviously about Molly’s grief over loosing her husband. The show’s theme song, “In the Darkness,” is finally played all the way through. We’ve heard “She Sells” so many times over the season while “Another World” might as well be the personal theme for Fiona’s relationship with her father.
Whether or not you enjoy “Encore” will probably depend on how much you enjoy Mackenzie Philips’ singing. Even if some of the lyrics are a bit rough and too on the nose, I’ll admit “So Weird” has won me over in that regard. A lesser show would have made “Encore” essentially a clip show. And there are elements of that here, as flashbacks are shown throughout Molly’s song. However, the episode still builds up an emotional center. Fiona’s nerves are starting to fray because she knows she’s on the edge of something big. Molly, meanwhile, fears for the life of her child, knowing what happened to her husband. Jack, meanwhile, remains skeptical and slightly ignored by her sister’s intense interest. Instead of just being a filler episode, “Encore” becomes a pretty important part of the characters’ emotional development. It’s short on supernatural elements though, save a possibly imaginary appearance from Fi’s dad. [7/10]