Thursday, September 22, 2011

THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN

"He seems to be getting stronger as he melts!"

This one is another sci-fi horror film that I originally discovered through Starlog magazine as a kid. Specifically, I recall that THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (1977) was the cover story of Starlog #11, with a gory photo spotlighting the special makeup effects work of a very young Rick Baker. Now, this gruesome drive-in classic has received a belated DVD release, courtesy of the MGM Limited Edition Collection.

Astronaut Steve West (soap opera veteran Alex Rebar) is the sole survivor of a NASA mission to Saturn. Open returning to Earth, he succumbs to a strange form of radiation poisoning that causes his flesh to liquefy and drip from his body. Driven mad by the pain, he escapes from the secret medical facility in which he's been hidden away, and roams the California foothills, violently attacking random folks and consuming their flesh. Pursuing him is his doctor & best friend, Dr. Ted Nelson (perennial TV guest actor Burr DeBenning), using a hand-held Geiger counter to follow West's icky, sticky, and radioactive trail.

Written & directed by William Sachs (GALAXINA), this late 70s low budget throwback to 50s-60s sci-fi thrillers (the plot is nearly identical to MONSTER A-GO-GO!) is an utter mess - albeit an entertaining one - with a tissue-thin script, decent actors struggling unsuccessfully to make it work, and almost non-existent production values (the outer space "Saturn" mission is represented by public domain NASA Apollo footage and stock shots of solar flares - both of which are repeated several times). The cast - comprised almost entirely of familiar television character players - do their best, but the deck (i.e. Sach's script & direction) is stacked against them. As for the top-billed Rebar, he only has couple of minutes "face-time" and a handful of lines before getting covered in bloody goop.

Which brings us to the film's one genuine asset - the delightfully gory and gross "melting man" effects created by future Academy Award-winning makeup maestro, Rick Baker (THE WOLFMAN, ED WOOD). Baker created a series of disgustingly believable masks and gloves, in increasingly gloopy stages of decay, which Rebar wears over the course of the film. Baker also created the bloody results of the Melting Man's attacks, including a very convincing decapitated head and various other wounds and body parts.

Yep, this one's strictly for Old School gorehounds... and bad film aficionados with strong stomachs.

Released on VHS  a couple of times back in the 80s and 90s, this new manufacture-on-demand DVD from the MGM Limited Edition Collection sports a remarkably clean and visually stable 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. I'm guessing this obviously remastered transfer was originally prepared for MGM's late, lamented "Midnite Movies" DVD line, because it looks remarkable for a low budget film of its vintage. Aside from the beat-up stock footage, the print is virtually pristine, with no notable speckling or scratches. Audio is a simple Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono.  The only extra is a trailer for the film, that appears to actually be a TV spot.

As mentioned above, THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN is not a good movie, but I bet it played great at drive-ins where the adolescent audience's attention was probably focused elsewhere most of the time. The makeup effects, while a bit dated, are still fun; Baker's talent and craftsmanship is evident even in this early assignment. And, to Sach's credit, the film never gets too boring - any time it starts to drag, the viewer is soon treated to another "Melting Man' attack.

If this sounds like your kind of B-movie entertainment, this MOD disc - with its high-quality transfer - is worth picking up.

BUY: Mod-Incredible Melting Man