“Oh no, it’s his ear…”- Dr Ted Nelson
Oh boy, what a great big gloppy, gooey mess of a movie. Released in 1977, which I saw in the cinema in ’78, as I recall. I enjoyed it then, I thought it was pretty cool – as a dumb kid of eighteen. And it entertained me when I watched it for the purpose of this review. But there’s no denying, it’s a calamity of a movie. Sometimes it plays almost as a comedy, but then there are other sequences which are straight up horror. I can’t really classify it as a horror comedy in all good conscience because it’s really not. As for calling it science fiction? Kill me now. It barely qualifies as science fantasy. Let’s name and shame the writer William Sachs, who also directed this lamentable little gorefest.
It’s a disjointed film that lurches uneasily between comedy and horror, and I guess the main reason for the uneven tone is that the film began as a comedic parody of fifties sci-fi movies, right down to its sensational title. When Max Rosenberg became involved, he thought it was too great a horror concept to waste on a comedy. Rosenberg, it should be noted was one half of Amicus Productions in the sixties and seventies, and Amicus were Hammer’s main horror rival in those days. It’s hard to believe, but Rosenberg actually believed he had a brand-new movie monster on his hands. (Given your experience, Max – you should’ve known better) But the crap really hit the fan when after filming had finished, further scenes were filmed without the director’s knowledge (so it’s not ALL his fault, bless) and edited in (clumsily) while some of the comedy was removed. Hence the senseless mashup.
The plot is simple. A guy melts. Literally that’s it. So, you might wonder why bother watching, does it have ANY redeeming qualities? Yes, it does. The “melting man” effects are the work of Rick Baker, who became one of Hollywood’s top make up effects geniuses and worked on films like An American Werewolf in London, Funhouse, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, The Frighteners, Graystoke etc. And his work here is just excellent, as the title character looks like a cross between a melting candle and a lasagne. (So, you do NOT want to see his closeups if you’re eating Italian food.)
It’s clear from the opening sequence that we’re immediately on hilariously shaky ground. The film is set in the then present day of the late seventies and we’ve sent our first manned probe to Saturn. (Wait…WHAT?) We know this not from the stock footage of solar flares, nor by the well-known and easily recognisable stock footage of an Apollo command module with the moon clearly filling in the background. We know this because astronaut Steve West (Alex Rebar – a man with the acting talent of a corpse) says, and I quote; “Magnificent. You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the sun through the rings of Saturn”.
(Sorry, again…. WHAT? Um… I don’t like to be pedantic here. But Saturn is a gas giant. Gas. It’s physically impossible to land on it. Cuz…it’s GAS. Admittedly, they’re in orbit but where were they going to land. Also, the rings of Saturn are composed of chunks of ice. Their ship would’ve been pulverised before they got a chance to admire the view.)
But a blast of radiation stops Steve’s speech. His nose begins to bleed. He looks startled and… (and that’s his weak-ass attempt at “acting” done for the entire shoot, along with mercifully, he has no more dialogue) in the very next scene, he’s back on Earth, swathed in bandages in what’s supposed to be a hospital but appears to be a warehouse on an industrial estate. (Sorry, me again. seriously, WTF? This is set in the seventies. Not only do we have what seems to be simultaneous radio contact with Earth from Saturn, but this clown seems to have somehow turned the ship around and come back to Earth, landing safely – we don’t know – the very next day? It took the Voyager probe four YEARS to get there – one way!)
He’s being attended to by a doctor and a chubby nurse. Now, the chubby nurse is one of those people you KNOW has victim #1 written all over her. And sure enough, when Alex wakes up while she’s out of the room, he tears off the bandages and sees his grotesque melting features and flips out. As anybody might. But there’s a problem. The stuff that Baker applied to give the melting effect is sticky, and there’s a bit of bandage that sticks to his nose – no kidding. And it’s there for the remainder of the scene, when the chubby nurse comes in and tries to escape. All his reactions are made with a bandage flapping on his nose, it’s hilarious.
She runs screaming down the corridor of the warehouse or industrial complex, wherever they shot it – it’s no hospital, crashes through the flimsiest glass door known to exist, and is caught.
From then on, it’s the Melting Man wandering around the countryside, oozing and leaving bits of himself everywhere, even the soles of his feet leave puddles. And that’s basically the whole film, this gelatinous drippy walking glop shuffling along, eating people, assuming that’s to slow down his melting process, he beheads a fisherman, leaving the head to go bobbing down a stream, he scares a little girl, his eye goes sliding down his cheek – while all the time being tracked via Geiger counter by the heroic, square jawed Dr Ted Nelson (Burr De Benning). Really, it’s stunning that there’s so little plot even in as modest a production as this. And by modest, I mean cheap. The whole film takes place from one mid afternoon through until dawn the following morning.
There’s not even a grand finale, no crashing into electricity cables, no drama – he sits against a wall and, well, melts. A janitor finds him the following morning and scoops up the puddle and puts it in a bin, while his radio plays a news report of a lift-off of the second probe to Saturn.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t do well at the box office – but despite it’s overwhelming flaws, it has a quirky, offbeat entertainment value and at times manages to echo some of those fifties films it aspires to parody.
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