Friday, February 24, 2017

148. The Manster

148. The Manster (1959)
Director: Geroge P. Breakston
Writers: William J. Sheldon from a story by Geroge P. Breakston
From: Sci-Fi Invasion; Pure Terror

A foreign correspondent in Japan is injected with a formula that gradually turns him into a two-headed monster.

Larry Stanford, an American foreign correspondent working in Japan goes to interview Dr. Robert Suzuki about the doctor’s theories about cosmic rays effecting evolution. The doctor says he doesn’t have anything ready for publication yet, but decides that Stanford would be the perfect subject for the latest version of the serum. Suzuki drugs Stanford and then injects him in the shoulder with the serum. Suzuki’s assistant, Tara, objects, but Suzuki dismisses her concerns.

Back at the newspaper, Stanford tells his boss how eager he is to finally go back to New York and see his wife. This is to establish the baseline of who he is and how the serum’s changing him. This, by the way, is the extent of that baseline: wants to go home, then doesn’t. He goes for a night out with Suzuki at a geisha bar, gets drunk, and hooks up with one of the geishas. Cut to a week or so later and Stanford’s editor scolding him for delaying his trip home and spending all his time drunk. Stanford angrily replies that he’s been dogging it for the newspaper all this time, he should get to enjoy himself before heading back home and settling down.

As Stanford becomes the monster, first his hand changes, then an eye grows in his shoulder (good visual there), which finally emerges as a separate head. As the change is happening, Stanford goes on several murder sprees, none of which he remembers or have any consequences. Just before the changes manifest, his wife comes to Japan to convince him to come home and catches him with Tara. He spurns his wife and then confronts her right after his hand changes, threatening her and saying he probably didn’t hit her enough when he was living with her.

There are ways to read that scene that don’t make him look bad and, to be fair, it doesn’t read as him actively threatening her so much as saying what he needs to say to make her escape. The reason it’s problematic is the problem with the movie itself: he’s not sympathetic. No, he never does anything to warrant the injection and everything that comes with it—the movie makes it explicit more than once that Suzuki’s earlier subjects volunteered for the injection—but we never see him before the change so he’s only a jerk, only selfish, only randomly lashing out at people. We’re told he’s changed, but we don’t see him change. Except when the head pops out.

Anyway, murder spree, cops on his tail, he, now in full mindless monster form, goes up the volcano to the lab (sound like The Revenge of Doctor X yet?). There, Tara and Suzuki have had a change of heart apropos of nothing. There’s literally no explanation for this. Tara has arguably fallen in love with Standford, but Suzuki’s remained deaf to her pleas and to the murders. All of a sudden, he regrets what he’s done and has prepared a new injection that should accelerate the change and split Standford into two beings—the human and the monster.

Standford breaks in, gets injected, kills Suzuki, and takes Tara up the volcano. As they reach the lip, the injection goes into effect, the two split, and the monster approaches Tara. Standford wakes up, attacks the monster, and is getting beaten when Tara tries to help. The monster grabs her and, as the cops show up, the two go over the lip of the volcano leaving Standford in his faithful wife’s arms. Paramedics take Standford away to heal and potentially stand trial for his crimes while the editor gives some crap monologue about the good and evil in all of us, ostensibly the moral of the movie. THE END.

The movie’s remarkable for being at once so short and so excruciatingly boring. It feels like it just keeps going. One problem is that it’s so expository. Like I said, we’re told he’s not the same person, but we never see who he was before. Likewise, we’re told about the murders, but we don’t see him commit the murders—this is a monster movie where you don’t see the monster attack people! On top of that is the lack of motivation for anything. Starting with the experiment, there’s no explanation of what Suzuki’s trying to do. It’s about how cosmic rays can make an animal give birth to a new species, but how that relates to what he’s attempting escapes me. All of it feels like the line from Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie: this film is set “when science didn't have to have any specific purpose.”

So we never establish the baseline from which things change and we don’t know what the characters hope to accomplish with this change, we only see someone kind of be a dick to his friends and then turn into a monster. The movie drops the ball on giving us characters and, since it’s so short, it’s a big mistake because they could have included those elements.

In the end. the effects are good in close-up, but laughably bad at a distance, which is a bit of a switch, and the concept itself is fine, there’s just no reason for any of it. As I said, it’s short, but still manages to drag. The movie is public domain, though, and I’ve uploaded an MPEG-2 here. Perfectly fine for riffing, even better for recutting to play with the monster shots. Apart from that, it’s curiously bloodless for its high body count. Lots of people get killed, each of them off-screen, none with particular consequence. That’s probably the best summary of the movie right there.

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