Thursday, 2 July 2015

The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

Possibly one of the most iconic horror thrillers around that everyone forgets about. Its probably the epitome of schlock horror with the added bonus of having some quite dazzling practical effects courtesy of the legend Rick Baker. Get a load of that title! As with many sci-fi movies of the 70's and 80's, this film was heavily influenced by older sci-fi thrillers of the 50's that pretty much had the same plot. A dude comes back from outer space with some kind of illness or infection that slowly kills him.

Sure enough, in this movie a dude (Steve West) comes back from the far reaches of space (travelling to Saturn), after getting hit in the face with a blast of radiation. Although, I'm not too sure how they managed to get back to Earth when two of the crew were fried alive and the other was left half alive. Anyway with his other two crew mates dead, he is the only survivor back on Earth. But to everyone's horror the surviving astronauts flesh is slowly melting away, his whole body is slowly falling apart, and no one knows why. Role credits...oh wait!

Yes there is more, the movie continues for another hour and a half or so of simply watching this guy melt slowly. Its strange really because the movie starts off really well, the small sequence of the three astronauts in their little craft approaching Saturn's rings is quite decent. It looks really authentic with a solid little set, good costumes and good lighting, you could be fooled into thinking you're watching a serious sci-fi. Its the moment we get back to Earth the movie transforms into an extremely hammy tacky slasher thriller. For starters why would this astronaut leave the hospital and run off?? why would he even get out of bed in the first place? You're in a hospital, there is obviously something seriously wrong with you, you'd want the best help you can get, you'd want top people on the case, you'd want answers etc...Getting out of bed and running off after seeing your rotting hands and face is easily the wrong choice in my opinion.

From here on things get a tad silly, first off he starts to kill people in horrendous ways, yeah that's not cool bro. OK he's gone a bit loopy from the shock of seeing himself rotting away, but would that really cause you to start killing people in a fashion that would make Jason Voorhees proud? Its at some point during the stalking carnage that we find out he needs to eat human flesh to keep his strength up...yeaaah kinda leeching of the 1968 zombie craze set in motion by Romero methinks. This means we basically get one death scene after another, all set up in cheesy ways which are so blatantly obvious they offer no scares at all these days. Its also at this point that you basically don't really care about the character of West anymore, seeing as he's slaughtering folk for no real reason other than he looks like a monster. Each victim is the predictable stereotypical type, an old couple, a single bloke who looks a bit geeky, a young married couple, some faceless cops and some military dudes, oh and there's a little girl...but she of course escapes unharmed. Amazingly there are no teens having sex that get killed off, quite surprising really considering.

Despite all that its really all about the makeup and gore effects for the melting that we're interested in. Needless to say you can't go wrong with Rick Baker at the helm and he doesn't disappoint here. Admittedly the melting effects don't actually change all that much for the majority of the middle of the film, its only right at the very end we see the real money sequence. Up to that point we get lots of little gory moments with his ear coming off, his arm being cut off, various chunks of flesh and blood splodges, lots of gooey POV views from the melting mans perspective and some violent kills. For the most part he looks like a large runny cheese n tomato pizza that is dripping away but it is highly effective. But as I said the finale where we actually see the titular character melt away into a slushy, sticky, puddle of goo is by far the highlight. The vision of West's remaining eye slowly sliding down his face as his skull collapses in on itself is really terrific and haunting. Its a near perfect example of hands-on, practical effects that still holds up today, Baker the master craftsman.

Its a mixed bag really. The concept is not original, the start is good, the entire middle of the film is (now) a cliched monster slasher flick, but the effects are fantastic and you do kinda feel for West, at times. Although the morality aspect of the movie is well n truly lost beneath a sea of grisly gunk. Unfortunately overall the cheap slasher-esque motif sticks in your mind and brings the movie down, not even the so called black comedy segments, which are sporadic, make any real difference. I have read it was suppose to be a more light-hearted movie at first but they changed their minds, alas you can tell with some scenes feeling out of place. The old couple that get killed are clearly an old comedy sequence left in. In the end I can't deny that the movie is thin on plot, thin on motives for the characters and of course focuses more on horror and gore. Its a movie about a man...who slowly melts away, and that's it, nothing more, nothing less...but hell I liked it!