Wednesday, July 21, 2010

“Gee whiz, as long as you’re sitting here, I don't even want to think about slime people!”

Now stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A city becomes enveloped by a thick fog out of which come strange monsters who kill people and the heroes are a small group of survivors from different walks of life who are desperately trying to keep on living.

No, it’s not The Mist! It’s a film made 44 years before that drab disappointment bored me to insane laughter. It’s 1963’s own boring wall of gray, The Slime People.

So our hero, a sports reporter, is flying his single prop plane into Los Angeles and almost crashes when he passes through a thick fog. Landing, he finds the airfield completely empty and wonders what the hell is going on when a station wagon pulls up. Inside are a scientist and his two nubile daughters (because scientists always have nubile daughters in these kinds of films). Mr. Scientist has been trying to figure out what’s been going on with the fog that pops up at night and through the miracle of an expository newsreel the heroes find, the audience learns with them as apparently some kind of seismic whatever has pissed off a race of subterranean Slime People (DUN DUN DUN!) who have invaded LA, slaughtered thousands and erected some kind of solid fog wall around the city that is keeping the US Military out. So now it’s up to our plucky survivors to figure out a way to tear down that wall before the Slime People somehow manage to lower the dew point in LA permanently so they can live on the surface in a foggy, slimy paradise. If any of this sounds exciting, get ready for disappointment.

Tom Gregory: Robert Hutton is our Hero and a Sportscaster by trade. Now, to the movie’s credit, they actually kind of have him do something that ties in to his trade at one point. One night, the survivors are in a TV studio and he tries to broadcast a warning using a TV camera. Of course it doesn’t work, but at least they pretended to have his backstory be relevant in the main action. Other than that, he’s the main character and for some reason becomes the leader of the group.

Professor Galbraith: Robert Burton is the older man of Science who spends the movie trying to figure out a way to break down the wall (I’m only sparing you the trouble of watching this by telling you it’s table salt).

Lisa Galbraith: Susan Hart is the older, brunette daughter and aside from being the main driver of the crew, she and Tom Gregory develop a thing, because this is exactly the kind of movie to shoehorn in an obligatory romance subplot or two.

Bonnie Galbraith: Judee Morton plays the younger blonde sister and speaking of obligatory romance subplots: she and the young marine start up a thing too, though to be fair, that romance makes a little more sense since they’re both very young and hormonal. Late in the movie, Bonnie ends up getting kidnapped by the slime people, apparently as a lure to the other humans, but this makes no sense in the context of the rest of the story since our would-be Monster-Americans have been on a take no prisoners kick.

Cal Johnson: William Boyce plays a young Marine who is one of (if not only) the few military survivors in LA. He’s useful since he’s got some guns, but he’s also something of a habitual coward, so I guess that makes him a glass badass.

Norman Tolliver: Les Tremayne plays an eccentric, reclusive writer who is first seen carrying a goat around. ‘Cause he’s eccentric and wacky. He’s a latecomer to the group and adds absolutely NOTHING aside from a warm body for the slime people to kill to give the other characters the semblance of emotional response to it. Although, to his credit, he hams it up big for the brief time he’s around.

The Slime People: Apparently over half of the movie’s budget went toward the design and manufacture of the Slime People costumes, and you know what? For a 1960’s low budgeter, they’re pretty decent. Described as having scales and a covering of slime (hence the name) they are able to effectively conquer LA despite their primary weapons being spears. That makes them pretty badass relatively speaking. Unfortunately, the fog accompanies them whenever they’re on screen, so you will never, EVER get a good look at them.

Best picture I could find.
Robert Hutton directed as well (and this was the actor’s only directorial effort). Now, the movie’s bad, no doubt about it, but let’s take a good look at why. The acting and writing are par for the course for B Movies, but the visuals, that’s where it really falls apart. We’ve got a fog. Not just any fog, but a thick, floor-to-ceiling blanket whenever the slime people are on screen. Yes, I get that it’s their shtick, but by the end of the movie, the fog gets so thick that it obscures EVERYTHING on screen in a sheet of gray so the big, climactic fight scene is nothing but a bunch of voices shouting and slime people gurgling.

It actually looks like this at points.

Now to go on a bit of a tangent, this is one of the major reasons I hated The Mist too (though admittedly, the talent involved in making that movie is much, much, much, much better). There are monsters hiding in the fog that want to kill you, that’s an old idea, but in both of these movies, said fog is a giant wall of obscuration that stretches on and on and on (worse in Slime People since it also obscures the foreground). It is completely uniform, not particularly dark and in no way is it menacing for a viewer. Imagination is a key component of something scary and filling the screen with one color works fine for brief moments, but as the foundation for the entire feel of the movie it gets boring fast. The eyes have nothing to do during lulls in the action (if they can even see the action) which is just boring and evaporates the tension. I’m not saying fog is a complete no-no in visual storytelling. I’m saying that wall-to-wall fog is. Case in point for good fog usage: the old Universal Horror movies. In those films, the quasi-gothic art style is enhanced by the occasional gloomy fog that oppressively hovers and swirls near the ground. It has depth. It has distance. It obfuscates without obscuring the scene, hiding sections of the locations but allowing the eye to soak in enough detail to piece together a place in the mind. It hides just enough to let the viewer fill in the hypothetical rest of the image.

Now I never want to write about the use of fog ever again.

Blair Robertson & Vance Skarstedt on script duties, and, well, it’s the standard platter of B Movie elements. The Slime People can be your standard metaphor for mankind’s hubris for tampering with the laws of nature or something since they are provoked into invading the surface. Or something. I don’t know, it reminds me a little of the many, many times the Fantastic Four fought the armies of the Mole Man. It’s not really worth looking too closely at since the story elements, while not exactly good, aren’t anything that hasn’t been seen before.

Lou Foman, Paul Sawtell & Bert Shefter deliver a fairly standard, inoffensive score for this kind of film.

So yeah, The Slime People. It’s bad and you can’t really see anything for most of the movie. And it has the same basic plot as The Mist. And it has the same visual reason why I was bored by The Mist. So apparently today’s lesson is that horror movies that overdo it on the fog machines are bad. And it only took me 1300 words to get there!

Holy shit, the trailer actually shows more clear shots of the slime people than the actual movie.

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