Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: we confront the terrifying two-facedness of The Manster (1959).
The MansterDirector: George P. Breakston, Kenneth G. Crane
Cast: Peter Dyneley, Jane Hylton, Tetsu Nakamura
US release date: 1962-03-28
Japan release date: 1959-07
Alternative titles: The Other Thing With Two Heads; Twist and Shout and Then Scream.
Wastes no time getting started.
Interesting Japanese/American co-production.
Creepy underground lab full of "experiments".
Mayhem comes early and often (see "What gets eliminated").
Potential doctoral thesis material.
Romance is—what a surprise!—not convincing.
SYNOPSIS: Noted crackpot Dr Suzuki is busy turning normal people—like his own family members!—into furry and/or misshapen beasts in his underground mountain laboratory. Hey, everybody needs a hobby. When American reporter Larry shows up sniffing for a story and asking lots of questions, Suzuki and his assistant, the curvaceous Tara, start getting some funny ideas. Larry gets some funny ideas of his own, especially after Suzuki drugs him and injects him with some weird fungus-enzyme monster solution. And boy! His shoulder sure hurts.
Larry hightails it to Tokyo and starts living it up courtesy of Suzuki’s booze 'n' babes. It's a pity that shoulder us still tweaking, and it's an even bigger pity that his judgment seems to be going to pot. It's not just mental: a trip to the mineral baths leaves him trembling and weak, not to mention seeking carnal knowledge of the lovely Tara. Is this guy going through a mid-life crisis or what? The last thing he needs—or maybe the first thing he needs, but the last thing he wants—is a confrontation with longsuffering wife Linda, who's been waiting in New York the whole time. Larry gives her the old heave-ho, shaking all the while, and that's that. Larry's boss Ian is concerned too, not that Larry gives a toss for him either. But his shoulder--oh man, does this look infected?
Actually, the really-truly-honest-to-God last thing Larry needs is to find his body parts metamorphosizing into hairy monster pieces before his very eyes. So we won't even mention it, okay? This does, however, seem to encourage him in his new career as Jack-the-Ripper emulator. Ex-boss Ian shows up one night with a psychiatrist (you can tell he's a shrink by his Freudian beard and soft-spoken manner) but this does nothing besides send Larry in ever-greater frenzy. Needless to say he chucks the shrink out--the last thing he needs is a psychiatrist! Although really, the most totally really-truly last thing he needs is to see an eyeball growing out of his shoulder. But that's just what he gets!
Not that it stops there, of course. Predictably enough, things get worse before they get worse. And this being an equal opportunity film, they get worse for everybody, regardless of gender, nationality or profession. Hey, that's only fair.
Most enlightening lines of dialogue that I think have been addressed to me on past occasions: "You are my brother. You were an experiment that didn’t work out."
What gets eliminated: A woman; three more women; a furry beast; an unresponsive holy man; a distracted pedestrian; another pedestrian; a healthcare professional; three police officers; a devoted spouse; an amoral scientist; a sexy woman with a mysterious past; a monster, or at least half of one.
What gets saved: A marriage. Family values, kids!
Thesis topic: This movie can be read as an allegory about middle-aged manhood and the conflict felt by men who, on some level, desire to rebel against the structures of ordinary married life. Wanting nothing more than an unfettered train of booze and young women, they need to find some way to transgress those boundaries into which they have placed themselves. Larry's rant thirty minutes into the film ("Bridge on Wednesdays, cocktails Thursdays, PTA Fridays… No one's gonna tie me down anymore!") supports this theory. Discuss.
Party game: Play "Hot Springs." Everybody drinks a shot of sake, strips naked (or as close to it as is legal) and gets in a hot tub, swimming pool or large bath. Try to convince people that you actually know some Japanese words. Optional: Play "Geisha" after playing "Hot Springs." Make up your own rules.
Let's do the time warp again: Although released in the US in 1962, this movie was actually made in 1959, which is why we include it in this series. Sources offer conflicting production dates, though, which is confusing. (There is no copyright date on the movie itself, another oddity.)
Somehow their careers survived, sort of: Peter Dyneley (Larry) would lend his voice to various incarnations of the British marionette-sci-fi TV innovation Thunderbirds (1965-66, 1968), among much other 1960s and '70s TV. Jane Hylton (Linda) paid her dues in Devil's Bait (1959) and Circus of Horrors (1960), while Satoshi aka Tetsu Nakamura (Dr Suzuki) would go on roles in to Atragon (1964), Yog: the Space Amoeba (1970—read that title again, and feel the shiver), and The Last Dinosaur (1977). This film marks the beginning, middle and end of the acting career of both Norman Van Hawley (Ian) and Terri Zimmern (Tara). Too bad! She had a great, um, accent.
BOTTOM LINE: A low-budget, low-brow, lowest-common-denominator party.
NEXT WEEK: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms