Review Date: October 2, 2011
Released by: MGM
Release date: August 23, 2011
Widescreen 1.85 | 16x9: Yes
My experience with the Incredible Melting Man goes back to 1990. I bought a copy of Famous Monsters #145 at a used book store in Port Stanley, Ontario. Though the early Rick Baker creation graced the cover, there was no information inside about the movie itself or the titular creature. I was fascinated: who was he? Why was he melting? What did he do once he started to melt? Was he a murderous beast, or more of a tragic Frankenstein-type monster? I set out to find answers to these questions. The journey would take more than 20 years. See, it turns out that by the time I was even aware of The Incredible Melting Man
’s existence the 1984 Vestron VHS release had all but vanished from video store shelves, which in those pre-internet days meant I was S.O.L. It was reissued by MGM on VHS in 2000 but, by then, the format was all but dead. There was no marketing for the release and no stores stocked it. It was a film that continually slipped through the cracks and continued to elude me. For a good long while, it seemed that The Incredible Melting Man
was one of those cult rarities that would be destined to remain in obscurity forever, probably in a vault somewhere tucked between a print of London After Midnight
and the full-length version of Greed
. Thanks to MGM’s manufacture on demand business model, however, the Melting Man joins a host of other films rescued from limbo and given a new life on DVD. Is this cult obscurity worth the wait? Yes, yes, a thousand times, YES. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I popped Incredible Melting Man
into my player but the film is a buffet for fans of 70s camp/cult films and I ate up every gooey, drippy morsel.
Steve West (Alex Rebar
) is an astronaut in Project Scorpio, part of a crew sent to the rings of Saturn. I’m not exactly sure what the goal of their mission was but it involved spending a lot of time looking at stock footage of solar flares and moon landings through their observation window. During one particularly intense solar flare the ship is exposed to a dose of radiation that kills two of the three crew members. Steve, the sole surviving member of his crew, returns to Earth (apparently making the trip back in a matter of hours) and awakens in a hospital where he finds his flesh literally melting away from his bones. Suffering from uncontrollable fits of rage and driven to consume human flesh he escapes from the hospital where he’s being treated in secret, murdering and partially devouring a portly nurse in the process.
Called in to help track down West is his friend, Dr. Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning
, in what has to be the stiffest lead performance imaginable) who in turn calls in project leader, General Michael Perry (Myron Healey
). Tormented by flashbacks of his accident, West cuts swath of mayhem across the countryside, leaving a drippy trail of liquefied flesh and gooey body parts in his wake, making it easy for Nelson and Parry follow in hot pursuit.
And… that is literally the plot of the movie: astronaut melts and kills people while two guys chase him. Oh, sure, there’s Ted’s wife, Judy (Ann Sweeney
), who’s pregnant but neither she nor her pregnancy really factor into the main story. I assume she’s there to add a sense of danger to the proceedings but a sense of urgency never really materializes. Genre luminary Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith also makes a (mostly) topless appearance as a model trying to spurn the advances of a sleazy photographer. Again, her subplot never really ties into the main story beyond her (literally) tripping over one of West’s partially masticated victims. Don’t even get me started on the group of kids smoking in the woods…I promise you you’ll never see a similar scene in a modern movie.
The explanation behind West’s condition is so poorly conceived it doesn’t even serve its purpose as an excuse to explain the creature. There are too many glaring, logical lapses in the first few seconds that I felt I was playing catch up for the rest of the film. Why were they out by Saturn’s rings? What were they studying? How did West get back so quickly, and if he didn’t how did he survive such a long spaceflight after receiving such a devastating dose of radiation? If the filmmakers even thought of those questions they certainly didn’t devote a second to offering even cursory, throwaway explanations. And really, as the dubious ad copy proclaims him to be, “the first new horror creature” just isn’t all that threatening. It seems like the best defense against the Melting Man would be to wait him out, especially considering the rate at which he’s decaying. With the exception of the small kids and the fisherman (who, to be fair, was surprised from behind), it seems like nobody should have a tough time defending themselves against a creature whose flesh is the consistency of room temperature ice-cream. Even the old couple stealing lemons (yes, you read that right) should have been able to ward him off. You want to defeat the Incredible Melting Man? Wait.
The film is really all over the map: some of the cinematography is quite striking and the creature and gore effects by Rick Baker are effective and eye catching. The writing is absolutely wretched, however, with a poorly thought out plot not helped by stilted, awkward dialogue. The editing and transitions can be so ineptly executed that we are left to infer what’s happening because character’s locations in relation to one another are so poorly established and dialogue from one scene is placed overtop of footage from another without any regard for context. So poorly done is the opening that, at the thirty minute mark, the director feels the need to recap the first ten minutes of the film almost verbatim. Unfortunately for the audience, it doesn’t help. The structure of The Incredible Melting Man
is bizarre and confusing but often quite hilarious in that way that only low rent 70s drive-in fodder can manage. Every scene has something of interest, whether it’s cool gore or monster effects or snicker inducing dialogue. One thing The Incredible Melting Man
is not is boring.
If Wikipedia is to be believed, the film was originally intended as a parody of sci-fi horror films from the 50’s. When AIP decided a straight horror film would fill out the bottom of a drive-in double bill better it was re-cut and partially re-shot to emphasize the horror elements. I’m dubious as to the accuracy of this account but, even if true, I think this is one instance where studio interference actually benefitted a film. The “funny” scenes are played so broadly that placing them in a sincere context makes them funny in contrast. If the entire film had adopted the same, consistently over-the-top tone, it probably would have felt like it was trying too hard for cheap laughs. The final film works as a hilariously awful, z-grade thriller. If this is intended as parody, none of the actors seem to be in on the joke.
MGM always includes a disclaimer on their burn to order discs that the source materials for their limited edition titles haven’t been re-mastered but, even given that, The Incredible Melting man is in incredibly good shape for a film of this vintage that’s been moldering away in a film vault for thirty years. The picture is sharp and bright with strong blacks, vibrant colors and accurate skin tones. There is the occasional print blemish, which is not unexpected, but they’re rarely distracting and never persist for an excessive amount of time. The image appears free of excessive edge enhancement or noise reduction. I’ve seen newer, re-mastered films that don’t look this good. Like the titular creature, this transfer in an eye-popper.
If the image quality exceeded my expectations, the audio only manages to meet them. The 2-channel Dolby Digital audio is not stellar by any means but is still perfectly serviceable. With the exception of one or two scenes with horrible ADR, dialogue is always clear and audible. Sound effects sound canned as befitting a low budget 70’s film. The (at times howlingly inappropriate) score is well presented. All the elements are reasonably well balanced with one never overpowering any of the others. Good for what it is, but you may want to turn on some stereo or surround enhancing effects on your receiver.
As is par for the MGM burn-to-order line of discs, the only supplement included is a trailer (1:04). It’s about what you’d expect and it’s in pretty rough shape. Still, better to have it than not. Side note: is it just me, or is the trailer’s narrator the same one that narrated the trailer for the original A Nightmare on Elm Street
The Incredible Melting Man
has been out of circulation for a number of years and that’s really a shame because it’s a delightful buffet of tastelessness for fans of campy 70’s exploitation films. It features all the gooey monster violence, broad campy performances, and even a smattering of nudity, that you’d expect from an American International picture. I hate the overused phrase “so bad it’s good,” but this is one instance where the film truly fits the bill.
Thankfully MGM has rectified Melting Man
’s relegation to obscurity by offering it as part of their made to order line of DVDs, and have given it a far better presentation than anybody rightfully had reason to expect. I’ve literally waited for over 20 years to see this movie and while it wasn’t what I was expecting, it certainly didn’t disappoint. The Incredible Melting Man
gets my highest recommendation…but don’t mistake that for praise of the film itself.
Movie - A very ironic A+
Image Quality - B+
Sound - C+
Supplements - C+
- Running time - 1 hour and 26 minutes
- Rated R, 14A
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 2.0