Friday, October 22, 2010

Space Germs Will Fuck You Up: A Look at DVD MIA The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

The Incredible Melting Man (1977)
Directed and written by William Sachs
Special make-up effects by Rick Baker
With Alex Rebar, Burr DeBenning, Myron Healey, Michael Alldredge, Janus Blythe, and others
American International Pictures; 84 minutes

While passing through the rings of Saturn, something happens to the crew of the Scorpio Five, and back on Earth, astronaut Steve starts, well, there’s no other word for it—he starts melting, getting all drippy and runny and gooey.

It’s never properly explained, but Steve starts craving human flesh and after escaping from the hospital, sets about devouring a few hapless victims.
(Not that it helps in anyway, but I think eating flesh is supposed to slow down the effects of whatever Saturnian space germ he’s picked up.)

Steve’s affliction is supposed to be a secret, so that’s why the police are never contacted and why security for an ill astronaut is so lax.
(And also helps the film by keeping costs low.)

While the flick is dopey and illogical, it gets big points for letting you sometimes sympathize with the oozing Steve: he didn’t ask to be a liquefying cannibal, and after he kills someone, he seems to show regret.

And the ending (yeah, yeah, yeah, SPOILER) is quietly tragic (while disgusting):
Steve keeps melting and melting until all that’s left is a pile of messy clothes—
that a janitor unceremoniously sweeps up and then dumps into a trashcan the next morning.

One step above a John Waters movie financially and technically—especially with some cool early Rick Baker makeup FX—
but a step below in the smarts and laughs department
(although I really did enjoy all the quirky secondary characters peppered throughout the movie, from the pre-adolescent smokers to the horny octogenarians to the sleazy nudie photographer),
The Incredible Melting Man
is often delightfully goofy (and with a title like The Incredible Melting Man what did you expect?), while never forgetting to squeeeeeeeze in as much gore and muck as the MPAA will allow, or the basic fact that it’s a horror movie—so scares, tension and weirdness are the watchwords of the day.
It’s a very “’70s” B-movie. And that’s a compliment.

Had this flick only been gorier or funnier—or both—it would have been completely awesome!

But as it is, The Incredible Melting Man is still worth a look for gorehounds, freakazoids and aficionados of the Cinema of Weirdness.

And yes, director Jonathan Demme (between making Fighting Mad and Handle With Care?) does make a cameo as a dumbass victim doing the “going into the dark house alone” shtick.

But it’s Demme’s costar in the scene who steals the show. I knew I recognized her and the credits identified her as Janus Blythe, “Ruby” from The Hills Have Eyes! (I have had a crush on Ruby since forever…)

After Demme disappears into the dark house, Janus enters the house, but unlike dummy Demme, she turns on the lights.
The Monster is there and chases her, she barricades herself in the kitchen, Melto breaks through the window, she chops off his arm (!), he runs away… and then Janus has an Oscar-worthy freak-out.
It’s incredible to watch—and so real! Raw, honest.
It’s the most authentic thing in this movie: And of course someone would have a major freak-out after almost getting eating by a dissolving astronaut!
I know I would…
(Her incredible freak-out starts at about 4:50 at this clip—but Demme is at the beginning, looking very “hillbilly ripoff.”)

A remake of The Incredible Melting Man would be a good flick for one of those new breed of French or Serbian or Norwegian splatterpunk goremeisters (or even Eli Roth) to tackle; see if they can balance the gore and laughs, take us someplace new.

Roth would know how to make a good flick, if he would just get back to directing…

As a kid, I was a subscriber to both Starlog and Fangoria, and I remember one of those mags promoting the living shit out of The Incredible Melting Man back in the day.

Originally released by the gone, but not forgotten AIP in December 1977, The Incredible Melting Man is a flick I’ve only recently gotten to see despite knowing about for about 33 years (!). Like many AIP flicks (but not I Was a Teenage Werewolf, damn it!), The Incredible Melting Man became part of MGM’s seemingly defunct Midnite Movies DVD series
Which means that The Incredible Melting Man is now DVD MIA.

However, The National Film Board of Ivanlandia managed to screen it via the N-flix InstaVue option—
And as much as we are annoyed by N-flix’s weird and draconian policies reducing the user-friendly options to nil,
we praise the InstaVue policy—and its awesome B-movie selection, a fan’s dream!
Look, I’m not saying these flicks are good, but it’s nice to be able to screen movies that haven’t been available for ages, aren’t on DVD, and there are no more local TV stations that used to air the madness.

The DVD-MIA flicks I’ve screened so far are:
The biker flicks Angels From Hell and Devil’s Angels (with John Cassavettes!),
I Escaped From Devil’s Island (with Jim Brown!),
I Bury the Living (with Richard Boone!),
Master of the World (with Vincent Price /and/ Charles Bronson),
The Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday (with Lee Marvin and Oliver Reed!),
Alakazam the Great,
Robert Aldrich's The Choirboys [we're working on a future review right now],
Queen of Blood [ditto],
Looking for Mr. Goodbar [ditto]

and Richard Lester's The Bed-Sitting Room (which I hated—hated enough to write this:
Technically, this flick is perfect in its low-budget depiction of post-nuclear war England, but its script is nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. Being "surreal" is no excuse for not being funny, either. Maybe it's funnier if you're English... But I’m not and it isn’t.

Meanwhile, I’ve been able, through a friend, to screen a bunch of flicks unavailable except for in their various shadow-world/bootleg off-the-web manifestations.

This way, I’ve managed to screen some really choice bits, including:
Run of the Arrow,
Michael Reeve’s The Sorcerers,
The Passage (with an mindboggling performance by Malcolm McDowell),
When Eight Bells Toll (young Antony Hopkins doing Alastair MacLean),
Fear Is the Key (MacLean again, but with a car chase to rival Bullitt’s—honestly, it’s that good; this movie is starring Vanishing Point’s Barry Newman, so you know I’m right),
and the grim Report to the Commissioner, with young, baby-faced Michael Moriarty, a young Yaphet Kotto in old-age makeup and a young Bob Balaban (credited as “Robert”) being super-awesome as a homeless guy with no legs who gets around on a low cart—and at one point he chases a taxi through traffic, a great scene!

Via N-flix Insta, boots, Warner Bros. Archives, Universal, Columbia and others opening their vaults for DVD on demand, there is a flood of material previously thought gone forever.

That said, I feel that the concept of DVD MIA could almost be put to rest.
Sure, sure, there’s lots I still want—needto get my paws on, but who’s to say their release isn’t around the corner?

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