Friday, 5 April 2013

The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

50's Throwback Comedy Gets Serious!

We start in space where three astronauts are enjoying the view of the sun through the rings of Saturn. Some solar flare activity and suddenly we're in a hospital with the only survivor - Steve (Alex Rebar), Dr. Loring (Lisle Wilson) and a nurse (Bonnie Inch). Steve wakes up and takes off his bandages to see his wounds, goes a little wobbly and chases a nurse. She runs down a very cool looking corridor before bursting through a balsa wood and sugar glass door.

Next thing we know she is dead and now Dr. Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning), a friend of Steve's, is on the case. He tells Loringthat  his wife, Judy (Ann Sweeny), is pregnant but has had two miscarriages before. He concludes that Steve is degenerating and needs human tissue to survive, and so has a need to eat people!

Sure enough Steve has decided to hide in the woods where he beheads a fisherman and tosses the head into a river where, in another great sequence, it drifts downstream to a waterfall, bursting open as it hits rocks at the bottom.

Nelson has gone home to complain about stuff to his wife. We see some children smoking before going off to play in the woods. As the young girl counts for hide and seek the two boys run off back into town, leaving her there. When she finishes and can't find them she cries out she doesn't want to play any more then comes across Steve. She runs back to the town crying out about Frankenstein while Steve stays there and has flashbacks about his Saturn trip. Elsewhere Ted finds Steve's ear.

A model (Cheryl 'Rainbeaux' Smith) is being photographed by a man in a nice cardigan (Don Walters) and starts complaining at being asked to remove her top.

"Look don't call me 'Baby' ok? I really don't like to be called 'Baby'".
"Ok Honey, sorry, what would you like me to call you, Honey? Doll?"

He carries on calling her Baby and grabs her top while clearly not photographing her but she pulls back and stumbles onto the beheaded fisherman's body. Ted turns up with General Perry (Myron Healy) to investigate. Steve is now wandering around in the sunset having more flashbacks.

Ted calls home and has a really cheery conversation with his wife. She invites General Perry and Dr. Loring to dinner. Perry accepts before she reveals her mother and partner are coming too. The older couple, Helen and Harold, stop on their way to steal some fruit and become the next victims of monstrous Steve. Judy fears for them as they are late. She discusses Steve with Ted but Perry overhears and castigates Ted for speaking about the subject even with his wife.

Judy tells them they should be out searching  for such a dangerous man, what do they expect? That he'll come knock on their door? So they go off in search once again. Steve is hiding out - in a graveyard. Well of course. He soon finds his way to the Nelson residence though, where Judy is knitting. We hear breaking glass. Judy finds the cat has broken a milk bottle. The Sheriff (Micheal Alldredge) finds Helen and Harold and informs the Nelsons. Steve still waits outside. Ted gives Judy a sedative and heads off again leaving General Perry to guard her. He meets the Sheriff who has realised Ted and Parry know what's going on. Ted tells him it's confidential but the Sheriff carries on.

"If I tell you, you can't tell anyone. Not even your wife."
(sadly) "You know I'm not married Ted".

Steve meanwhile has decided to go in and have a quick bite, of General Perry! Ted decides to check on Judy. Steve makes a sharp exit.  He's in someone else's house in no time, killing the returning man but the girl  fights him off with a carving knife.

Steve heads off towards a power plant with Ted and the Sheriff in pursuit. They climb a lot of steps. The Sheriff shoots Steve, but bullets pass through him. Steve kills the Sheriff but attracts two security guards. Steve attacks Ted but ultimately saves him from falling to his death. The security guards shoot Ted while he's trying to defend Steve and in a rage Steve kills them. He then finds a quiet corner to melt into nothing.

A radio broadcast tells of a new mission to Saturn.

This was conceived as a comedy by William Sachs who wrote and directed it. The title references 'The Incredible Shrinking Man' (1957) and the story 'First Man Into Space' (1959) with the accident in space creating a monster and 'The Quatermass Experiment' (1955) where an astronaut turns into an alien organism.  Much of the humour was cut out by the producers in post-production though, considering a straight horror movie to be more profitable. General opinion seems to disagree and it is not highly regarded at all. Some  funny lines remain but I wonder what was cut. When Nelson tells Loring about his wife's miscarriages he seems to be hinting at an emptiness and wanting in his life. He continues to talk about Steve, his friend, could he really be letting his sick friend fill the void left without children? This seems a long shot.

Our young girl screams 'Frankenstein' referring to the monster (Steve) but unlike the creature from Shelley's tale, Steve did not save the child and really does mean people harm. While Steve's victims remain mostly comedic, the Nurse, The Fisherman and The Old Couple, the situation becomes very serious. Even the Fisherman's body appears to grip Sandra's ankle in it's lifeless hand.

Only the final couple have any severity about them and while the man dies off screen Nell's run to the kitchen and frantic blocking of the door has real tension. She then waits with the carving knife as he circles the house in true horror fashion before coming through the window.

The sequence at the end  has Steve throwing Ted off of the building but a clinging Ted brings out memories in Steve who redeems himself by saving Ted. Ted tries to save Steve but dies in the attempt, is this because of his actions or due to Steve haing become his 'ward'? Does Steve then react from anger? Instinct? Vengeance? Also Ted had mentioned that as Steve melts, he gets stronger - yet he curls up and dies at the end? I presume there were answers which got lost with the comedy.

I would have preferred for once not to see Cheryl Smith topless and would have preferred Sandra to have fought for her rights more. I would have preferred Ted to be a little happier sometimes and less one dimensional. Rick Baker's make up was excellent and there are some good sequences scattered through the film. Cheryl Smith scores any film extra points too although overall it could have been shorter.

Maru's Score 5/10

The Incredible Melting Man (1977) on IMDb

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