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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cult Film Faves Not On DVD: The Incredible Melting Man (1977) review


Alex Rebar (Steve West/The Melting Man), Burr DeBenning (Dr. Ted Nelson), Myron Healey (Gen. Michael Perry), Michael Alldredge (Sheriff Neil Blake), Jonathan Demme (Matt), Janus Blythe (Nell), Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith (Model)

Directed by William Sachs

The Short Version: This terrifically trashy, misbegotten 70s relic is delicious 'B' entertainment of the highest order. Incredibly stupid, this gorily inventive, yet poverty row production came during a time when anyone could still get their movie into theaters and possibly become a future cult item. If you're a bad movie lover, stop the world and melt with the MELTING MAN.

Astronaut Steve West and two others head an expedition to the outer reaches of Saturn. Upon witnessing the outer crust of the sun through the rings of the sixth planet, something happens to the crew. Upon re-entry, only West is alive. Awakening in a hospital bed covered in gauze, Steve West comes to the horrifying realization his body is melting away after contracting some bizarre space bacteria. Almost immediately, Steve begins a murderous, cannibalistic rampage, escaping the hospital and eating other humans to replace his continuously dying cells.

The victimized nurse loses half her face to the man eating melting man

Grand and gooey gore ghoulash-science fiction flick from director William (GALAXINA) Sachs reeks of amateurishness from start to finish. Yet the film has a number of notable features that make it worth a watch and worthy of its minor cult status. Sachs film appears to borrow elements from Hammer's 1955 science fiction opus, THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT, but upon closer inspection, the MELTING MAN leans more towards being a direct remake of the low budget B/W creature feature, FIRST MAN INTO SPACE (1959), even down to the monster. It follows the Golden Age of Sci Fi formula for monster movie potboilers to a tea, but more extravagant in the effects department.

This much later schlocker is far more gruesome and violent and benefits from some riotously squishy effects work from Rick Baker, who at the time, had dabbled in other low budget efforts such as the "no money down" BLACK LAGOON clone OCTAMAN (1971), John Landis' SCHLOCK (1973), another impoverished movie about a man turned monster from getting hit in the head by a piece of moon rock in TRACK OF THE MOON BEAST (1976) and the worm ridden SQUIRM (1976).

The tone of THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN is summed in one rather tasteless sequence. The maniacal melting man attacks a fisherman, tears his head off and tosses it into a river. This all occurs in slow motion. Through editing, we see on more than one occasion, this bobbin' noggin floating down river, ultimately going over a small waterfall (in slow motion) crashing onto some rocks resulting in a small explosion of viscera as the hapless head heads further downstream. There's no reason for a minute, or two of the films running time to focus on a crudely decapitated head rafting down river, but it definitely adds additional exploitation (not to mention a macabre giggle, or two) value and the head is quite nicely crafted, I must say.

Other scenes that make little sense is a rotund nurse running screaming down a seemingly empty hospital hallway after laying eyes on the melting man during the first five minutes (the action gets almost immediately underway right from the start), crashing through a plate glass window, instead of simply pushing the door open. This is in slow motion, too. Also perplexing are our stock hero characters taking a break from hunting the rapidly decomposing gelatinous mass that is Steve West to eat soup and then complaining over the lack of crackers in the house!

More brutal gore keeps your attention on the screen including a truly spectacular dummy death by massive electrocution. The french fried victim is a shocker(haha) when it happens and the pyrotechnics are quite good for what must have been an $87.00 budget. The ending is a bit of a downer as West finally succumbs to his space sickness, melting away into a pile of slop till morning comes and a janitor sweeps up the viscous mess left behind while a voiceover counts down a new mission to Saturn.

The acting in MELTING MAN is what you would expect even though there are a few seasoned veterans amongst the cast. Burr DeBenning featured in dozens of television credits and appeared in the lively Charles Bronson crime feature ST. IVES (1976). Myrone Healey will be recognizable from any number of roles in American television programs. He also starred in the US version of the Toho monster flick, VARAN, THE UNBELIEVABLE (1962). In keeping with his exploitation movies, Healey also featured in the atrocious killer bear flick, CLAWS also in 1977.

You'll also spy Janus Blythe among the cast. She was Ruby in Wes Craven's two HILLS HAVE EYES movies and also a hot and horny teenager in the MACON COUNTY LINE styled THE BLACK OAK CONSPIRACY (1977). Here, she gets trapped in a house by the melting man and fends him off with a meat cleaver. Future award winning director Jonathan Demme also has a small role in the film as Blythe's boyfriend. The tragic trash movie actress, Rainbeaux Smith has a brief role as model whose photographer can't wait to get her top off. Smith was also in CAGED HEAT, THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS (both 1974), DRUM and MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH (both 1976).

Comparison of older VHS rip versus restored version: VHS above--restored version below & insert

Sadly, THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN has yet to garner a US DVD release. It was released to VHS in the mid 80s from Lightning Video and MGM released it to VHS in 2000. It did receive a DVD release in Germany which quickly went OOP. There's also an Italian DVD. I passed on it since all those MGM titles were coming to DVD, but this title didn't make it before Metro's financial troubles began to take hold. Currently, it's been making the widescreen rounds on cable television. I managed to copy it to my DVR and it looks gorgeous. Serious schlock fans take note and track down THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN.


R.A.M.'67 said...

Caught it on the DVR? Well done!

I've only read about this and have seen pictures of the cool make-up effects. At the rate things go, TIMM will wind up on a DVD box set; it seems to be one way a lot of "slow movers" get to DVD these days!

That Myron Healy got around, especially in the '50s!

Jonathan Demme in a movie? I didn't know that! Did he have other parts prior to directing his own films?

The long trip of the decapitated head sounds like it should be a gag on a Halloween episode ofThe Simpsons!

venoms5 said...

Yeah, as soon as I get me a new DVD recorder, I can rip that and a slew of other great flicks to DVD-R!

Jonathan Demme also had a role in HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD for Roger Corman which I should have up either tonight or tomorrow some time.

I just watched the restored version this morning. It recorded a couple days ago. It looks great.

Unknown said...

Great flicks!

Maynard Morrissey said...

haha, looks great, never heard of this before. I must check this out!

Franco Macabro said...

Damn, I've always wanted to see this one! I love the idea of the Melting dude through out the movie.

Brings to mind that melting guy from ROBOCOP or the whole ending sequence in The Devils Rain where all the satan worshippers melt under the rain.

Also reminds of that other melting people movie: STREET THRASH!

venoms5 said...

@ Elgart: I do the best I can, Elgart! I see you have a good start on your site, as well!

@ Maynard: I may ultimately purchase the Italian DVD instead of ripping the copy I got off of cable. It was on this great retro channel called 3epix, I think is the name. I believe MST3K did this one, too.

@ Fran: I was looking forward to the MGM disc, but alas, it never happened. Might pick up the Italian disc. An original copy looks better on the shelf than a disc on a spindle. It's a minor cult item here at least, but it seems to have been released on DVD everywhere else but here, lol.

I Like Horror Movies said...

Just dangling this one over our heads, arent you V? I have been wanting to see this for years, another great review! And uh ::cough:: when you get that DVD ripper working...

venoms5 said...

Yeah, I know, I got a slew of movies not on DVD that are just sitting on my DVR right now. My DVD recorder conked out on me right before I bought the house. Hell, I was shocked to find HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS on this new channel called The 3EPIX last week in restored widescreen! They been showing a smattering of obscure oldies there.

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