Thursday, September 4, 2014

Video Cheese: THE MANSTER (1962)

NOTE: This review was written for www.jabootu.net's Video Cheese. It has been published here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.


THE MANSTER (1962)
   "A sort of Japanese Jekyll and Hyde story."

   Ah, The Manster, one of my all-time favorites. I was introduced to this moody American/Japanese co-production as a small boy glued to TNT, where the film had something of a regular rotation thanks to Monstervision and 100% WEIRD. The film was often shown back to back with The Green Slime, I guess because both were international co-productions featuring American actors. 

   But while The Green Slime boasted such familiar faces as Robert Horton and Richard Jaeckel, The Manster claims Peter Dyneley as it's star. While Dyneley was a pretty busy character actor, most will remember him as the voice of Jeff Tracy, the founder of International Rescue and father to the main characters of Thunderbirds, Gerry Anderson's most popular Supermarionation series (as well as two feature films, Thunderbirds Are Go, and Thunderbird 6). Small wonder he's so well-remembered for the part, as the voice casting was absolutely perfect. Shane Rimmer shares this circumstance.

   The cast does have other familiar faces for the genre buff, though. Dyneley's real-life wife Jane Hylton here plays Linda, the spouse of Dyneley's American reporter stationed in Japan, Larry Stanford. 

   Our heavy is Testsu Nakamura, whom Jabootuites will remember for his last film, The Last Dinosaur. He played Dr. Kawamoto, the character who's death fully sets Richard Boone's Great White Hunter Masten Thrust into blood-lust over the last living Tyrannosaurus on earth. He was a familiar face in several Toho epics, including Mothra, The Human Vapor, and Yog; Monster From Space

   Another veteran of Mothra is Jerry Ito (famous as the slimy Nelson, who captured the fairies of Mothra's Island and set the huge insect on a destructive recovery mission across Japan and the mythical nation of "Rolisica"), who probably has his best role here, as the heroic police chief trying to hunt down the mystery killer at large in Tokyo.

   The film was seemingly written for Lon Chaney to star in, had they gotten started a decade earlier. Larry Stanford treks out to interview eccentric scientist Dr. Suzuki, who has been experimenting with a way to chemically alter the personalities of people, with the ultimate goal of splitting the good and bad halves of one's personality into two separate beings (hence the alternate title for this film, The Split). 

   Suzuki finds Larry to be the perfect specimen and drugs the reporter out to give him an injection of his formula. The formerly happy-go-lucky American then becomes increasingly sullen and aloof to downright crabby. When his wife Linda arrives from the States to be near him after he has decided to stay on in Japan for a while (through the encouragement of Dr. Suzuki, who has his lab assistant Tara instigating an affair with Larry), he practically throws her out. His personality having turned 180, he soon becomes violent, as well as exhibiting physical changes.

   Larry's hand turns all monster-y and he kills a priest, although he doesn't remember doing the deed. Later, he sprouts an extra eyeball on his shoulder where the injection was given (this scene made it into It Came From Hollywood). Eventually, a second head grows out of Larry's shoulder! Thus, The Manster joins that (weirdly small, if you think about it) club of two-headed man-monsters. More happens, but I won't spoil it for anybody else.

   I've always loved this film. The photography, the music, the pace, the acting, all top-notch. The fantastic events are underplayed like you'd see an a 50's British picture, and the film acts as more of a crime thriller than a werewolf movie. 

   The music meanwhile, is very aggressive and uses the therimen quite heavily. The film is lit for darkness in most scenes, creating a nice mood of creeping menace (one of those films perfect for 1:00 AM viewing). 

   Granted, not all is peachy. There's an erupting volcano that more resembles fireworks stuffed into a paper mache sculpture than the real thing, a condition enhanced when shown on an indoor set depicting the exterior of Suzuki's house! Built back near the wall, the actors must pretend there's more than ten feet between themselves and the 'volcano.' (Although, in fairness, the effect isn't bad, just obvious.) Also a bit odd is how, when the promised split takes place, Larry's belt and boxers remain intact while the rest of his clothing is ripped in half!

   In the end, though, a fine little flick. I've never understood why the film has been so maligned, but there are obviously some who love it quite a bit. Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell even paid visual tribute to the film in Army of Darkness! That must be pretty special to such an obscure animal as The Manster.

   Release on double bill with The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus.

1 comment:

  1. "The Manster" really startled me as a kid: just the idea of growing another head, of splitting in two. Heavy, nightmarish stuff.

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