Around 1994, at age fifteen, I discovered a CD called Monster Rock ’n’ Roll Show, which compiled horror- and sci-fi-themed novelty songs––“Monster Mash” and the like. Mostly from the fifties and early sixties, the songs were joined by brief radio trailers for films of the same era (The Haunted Strangler, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein). To a ‘90s teenager like me, this was the time of “Oldies But Goodies,” an affirmative era of American culture that was square enough to make WEIRD an electrified buzzword on comic book covers and other pulp artifacts. Terrifyingly quirky encounters between humans, vampires, purple people eaters and more are the life-blood of Monster Rock ’n’ Roll Show, whose overarching sentiment is perhaps best expressed by Buchanan & Goodman’s cutup record “Frankenstein of ’59.” After a tumultuous showdown with the entire U.S. Army, Count Dracula, and Tom Dooley, Frankenstein (the creature, of course, not his creator) crashes American Bandstand. All is well, Goodman assures us: “It seems all the monster wanted to do was dance with the teenagers.”
However, The collection included a few tracks that were outliers both from the era and the sentiment, still fun but decidedly more unhinged. Among these was the theme song to the 1968 Japanese-American coproduction The Green Slime, written by composer Charles Fox and sung by Ricky Lancelotti. Fifties sci-fi films may wear their atomic anxieties on their sleeves, but Lancelotti’s delivery––imitating a soul singer transforming in mid-verse to psychotic street corner evangelist––is convincingly adamant that the End is Nigh, and its cause is GREEN SLIME.
What can it be, what is the REA-son?
Is this the end to all that WE’VE done?
Is it just something in your… head?
WILL YOU BELIEVE IT WHEN YOU’RE DEAD?!?!
Fox and Lancelotti pay lip service to collective humanist ambitions only to reveal their culmination in Green Slime. Chilling theremin, groovy drum fills, and fuzz guitar join the singer to move the atomic sci-fi apocalypse needle into the 1968 red.
I must confess that, for years, I thought the singer of “The Green Slime” was a black man. Perhaps I was supposed to think this. Regardless, I imagined that the vocal was a day job for someone working by night for the Panthers. That whole humanist project was white supremacy all along, and the voice expressed delight in its demise, having formed a silent pact with Green Slime. As it was, Ricky Lancelotti was a New Jersey Italian American, and I have no idea what his politics were, if any. A cartoon voice artist (he did work for Hanna Barbera’s The Banana Splits) and occasional Frank Zappa collaborator, he experienced at least two notable car accidents: driving a Porsche off a cliff that was caught by a tree (a sort of calmer, more beneficent Green Slime), and, less miraculously, the one that caused his death at 35. If his voice is not a call for action against the ongoing racial disparity and social inequality in the United States, it nonetheless expresses a kind of conviction, a force of chaotic life.
Slightly more plausibly, one can see The Green Slime as muted revenge for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Its North American cast is the object of numerous bloody burns and electrocutions by the titular menace (strong stuff for one of the first G-rated movies––several YouTube commenters report childhood nightmares). James O’Neill’s Terror on Tape claims, apparently incorrectly, that the Japanese title translates as Death and the Green Slime. This would have made sense, as the best parts in the film are when people die. After all, the people in this movie, which not only lacks nonwhites but is tragically deficient in teenagers to dance with, are awful; the film’s actual dancing scene, in which smug mission Commander Jack Rankin (Robert Horton) manhandles Dr. Lisa Benson (Luciana Paluzzi), is among the film’s most repellent. Dr. Hans Halverson (Ted Gunther), who discovers information crucial to containing and defeating the Green Slime––that is, that they consume energy anywhere they can find it so that they can multiply and spread themselves evermore––meets his demise because he wants to study rather than destroy the creatures. All of this makes the humanist project look totally not worth it.
Q.E.D., GREEN SLIME! We know who to root for. Yet this is hard to do, because the creatures resist our anthropomorphizing tendencies. However silly looking, they also don’t look quite like anything––a child’s papier-mâché project; big ruby eyes in bloody lip lids; a mass of teeth seemingly frozen in a grin; tentacles waving up and down with a loopy, let-it-all-hang-out lassitude. The creatures make noises somewhere between a miserable infant’s cries and a delighted porcupine eating a pumpkin. The Man in the sixties might have thought he saw hippies: dazed freeloaders, wasting resources and contributing nothing to society but wanton destruction and debasement. But really, these creatures are pretty sui generis. No one refers to them as slime in the movie, only to “creatures”; meanwhile, the U.S. poster declares that they, the green slime, are coming. From one––or, let’s say, from “some slime”––many. What answer does the Eagle on the U.S. Seal have to that?
In narrative terms, The Green Slime sadly restores the status quo. Yet it begins and ends with its title song, which describes a different outcome. We’ll believe it, when we’re dead.
Edited by Michelle Baroody
The Green Slime screens at the Trylon Cinema from Sunday, August 25 to Tuesday, August 27. For tickets and more information, see the Trylon’s website.