Tuesday, October 08, 2013

“Tell her she smooches good!”

The Manster. Man, that’s a hell of a title right there. Specifically the title of a 1959 American/Japanese co-production. Also known as The Split, Doktor Satan, The Two-Headed Monster, and Sôtô no Satsujinki.

Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley, who would later do voice work for the Thunderbirds show) is an American reporter who’s been on a long-term assignment in Japan. His last job before going home to his wife Linda (Jane Hylton, Dyneley’s real-life wife) is to interview a prominent Japanese scientist. This scientist, Dr. Robert Suzuki (Tetsu Nakamura credited as Satoshi Nakamura) is a full-fledged crackpot, having a lab on a volcanic mountain, a beautiful assistant, a lab/dungeon with a few giant plants and his mutated wife Emiko in a cage. Before Larry arrived, Dr. Suzuki just finished shooting his mutated brother Genji, who had gone into a village and killed some people, and then dumping the body into the volcano.

After chatting vaguely about the nature of his experiments, Dr. Suzuki slips Stanford a mickey and injects him with a serum. For Science! Larry wakes up from his nap none the wiser and Doc invites him to hang out later, catch some authentic Japanese culture, and forget about going home to his wife. Larry thinks it’s a great idea, and goes on a week long bender wherein he goes to geisha parties, bath houses, and starts going out with Tara (Terri Zimmern), the doctor’s attractive and vaguely-foreign assistant.

So naturally his wife Linda arrives in Japan. She and Larry’s boss, Ian Matthews (Norman Van Hawley) are worried about him, prompting a lot of yelling from Larry. Larry also starts undergoing physical changes. His right shoulder keeps hurting, and his right hand gets all hairy and monstrous.

Oh yeah, and he tends to fly into rages where he kills people. Doc makes notes about the progress of the mutation, Tara begins falling in love with Larry, and before you know it, Larry’s a hairy, two-headed monster in a trench coat being chased by the police.

Directed by George Breakston and Kenneth G. Crane, the movie is competently shot, though several of the sets, like the exterior of the mountain cottage/lab look pretty cheap. This being a co-production between American and Japanese filmmakers, it’s quite interesting seeing what amounts to a tourist’s look at late 50’s Japan. It’s also nice seeing the movie avoid the “Hey! Look at them foreigners!” trap.

Now, as to the manster makeup, it starts off fairly simple with a hairy hand before building up to the money shot of Larry discovering the eye on his shoulder. Sure Dyneley’s overacting the hell out of the scene, but the simple grotesqueness of a new eyeball staring out of a shoulder sells it. So much so that the way Evil Ash in Army of Darkness is “born” is a direct nod to The Manster. The second head Larry eventually sprouts is not great, but better than some of the other monster costumes in the movie.

There are two other scenes of note. One is where Dr. Suzuki has a heartfelt and touching goodbye with his mutated wife that hits with a level of gravitas the rest of the movie lacks. The second, and earlier, is where Stanford, feeling surly and desperate, wanders the city at night and comes across a Buddhist temple. There’s a priest wearing a cheap bald skullcap and Stanford talks at him for a moment. The priest looks at him briefly, the goes back to his prayers, probably because of the language barrier. Stanford starts to leave, then passes some statues, focusing on a monstrous looking one. Stanford has another freak out and goes back to the priest, then it cuts away as we hear the priest scream. It’s really suspenseful, well shot, set up, and effective.

Story by George P. Breakston and Walt Sheldon. The script is fairly pedestrian, borrowing themes from Jekyll & Hyde quite liberally with a few doses of Frankenstein. Dialogue is mostly forgettable, and Dr. Suzuki’s entire motivation for conducting experiments is never, ever made clear. I have no idea what kind if scientist he is, or why he’s researching mutation by injecting people with vague stuff. How does that kind of project get funded? Oh yes, and the ending is dumb

You know what’s great though? The title. THE MANSTER. It is amazingly stupid and stupidly amazing.

Music by Hirooki Ogawa, the soundtrack features Japanese musical touches and that old B movie staple, the Theremin.

The Manster is an odd 50’s B movie. It’s got an atypical setting, a curious setting, and a great money shot ¾ of the way through the movie. It’s not great, by any means, but unconventional enough that it sticks with you more than some other sci-fi cheapies.

You could do worse.


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