Incredible Melting Man, The (1977)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2013-07-28 07:15

Written and Directed by: William Sachs
Starring: Alex Rebar, Burr DeBenning, and Myron Healey

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

ďSteve escaped."
"Oh God. What're you gonna do?"
"Uh... did you get some crackers? I told you yesterday that we needed some crackers."

Despite carrying a title riffing on The Incredible Shrinking Man, William Sachsís 1977 schlock-fest promised ďthe first new horror creature,Ē a typical bit of grandstanding with at least a kernel of truth at its center. Like other decades, the 70s couldnít quite resist falling under the spell of nostalgia, so AIP tasked Sachs with updating the monster movie staples of the 50s with The Incredible Melting Man, and the result was actually the same old monster audiences had seen for decadesóit just happened to be much gooier this time around, as it was now melded to the eraís gross-out aesthetic and its cynicism. The filmís title might echo the jaunty horrors of a previous age, but itís a strangely disturbing inversion of them as well.

It immediately contorts scienceís crowning achievement during the 50s and 60s by presenting the space as a new frontier teeming with unknown horrors. In some not-so-distant future, the United States is attempting manned missions to Saturn. Their latest effort, Scorpio V, is shuttling three astronauts that way until the vessel is bombarded with a radiation blast that kills two of them. Steve West (Alex Rebar) is the only survivor, but heís reduced to a catatonic husk once he makes it back to earth. Upon waking up, heís horrified to discover that his face has melted away, and he immediately takes it out on a poor nurse (she might have escaped had she not made the poor decision to just run right through a plate glass door during Westís pursuit). After leaving her corpse splattered all over a parking lot, he retreats to the wilderness, where he preys on anyone who happens to step into his path.

One certainly canít argue that the filmís title is misleadingówithout a doubt, this is a film primarily concerned with an irradiated man decomposing right before our eyes and little more. Thereís a pretense of plot and conflict when the army dispatches scientist Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning) to track down his old pal, but even that winds up being a lazy search considering he spends more time discussing dinner plans and making party arrangements with his wife (Ann Sweeny). Occasionally, he gets his ass out there on the hunt, but much of the film finds West roaming free on in big, gorgeous landscapes, haunted by the mission control chatter from the ill-fated voyage. Essentially an old monster movie by way of the emergent splatter flicks of the day, The Incredible Melting Man quickly degenerates into an unabashed splatter show as its title character staggers through the countryside like a post-nuclear Frankensteinís monster and leaves a bloody trail in his wake.

An early encounter with an ill-fated fisherman leaves no doubt about the filmís aim. Not only does West rip his head clean off, but he also tosses the noggin aside into a nearby stream. A gratuitous instance of gore porn follows, as Sachs tracks the headís journey downriver, where it spills out of a waterfall and splatters all over the rocks below. By that point, itís clear that the real star here is Rick Baker, here coming into his own as one of the premiere effects artists of his generation after serving on crews for a handful of films. The Incredible Melting Man truly marked his arrival as a talent whose genius could elevate an otherwise ordinary (if not downright poor) film. At the time of its release, no one could have ever imagined that anyone would ever refer to it as ďa Rick Baker film,Ē but thatís exactly what it is. His piŤce de rťsistance here is the title character himself, who lives up to his name in that heís melting and looks absolutely incredible while doing so. West is utterly transformed into a molten, gelatinous blob left to drip puss and body parts all over the countryside. Both hideous and alluring, the effect especially captures the juvenile thrill of reveling in something thatís gross for the sake of being gross.

Itís tempting to say that this is also the only thing The Incredible Melting Man has going for it, but it also carries an odd mean streak that tilts it off-center. Few are spared from Westís rampage, including an elderly couple; when a couple of kids stroll into his path, itís easy to believe that the scene might end with a gruesome update of the famous scene in Whaleís Frankenstein where the Monster tosses Maria into a pond. Even when West isnít around, the film is unabashedly sleazy, as a pair of would-be victims includes a model and her photographer, who forces her to go topless for the shoot. The film plunges into outright nihilism during the conclusion, where no one makes it out alive; by that point, Nelson has teamed up with a slew of local authorities that keep getting offed by West, so it degenerates to a weirdly anticlimactic showdown between the two.

Both perish not in a blaze of glory but in a downbeat manneróNelson is splayed across a railing after being shot to death by some guards who donít understand his attempt to appeal to West, while the title character stumbles away before literally collapsing into a gooey heap. Sachs captures every agonizing second in a disturbing display of body horror would even have Cronenberg cheering right into his barf bag, and it's rendered even more disquieting when a clueless employee scoops up the remains and tosses them into a trashcan. Meanwhile, a radio broadcast announces that the United States has forged ahead with Scorpio VI, a revelation that takes on an unsettling, conspiratorial tone in the wake of Watergate and Vietnam. Even astronauts have become just another casualty and the wonders of their accomplishments twisted into something horrific.

That the film is even moderately unsettling and even a little heady seems to be a happy accident since itís stodgily directed and acted. If it feels silly (and it does), itís due to its technical ineptitude and tone-deafness. Amazingly, it was originally conceived as a straight-up horror comedy that would parody its predecessors; however, AIPís post-production hatchet turned it into an unwitting farce of the past and a strangely prescient indicator of the splattery decade to come. Sachs has been vocal about the studioís meddling in the past, and Scream Factory recently gave him a new forum with its upcoming Blu-ray release of the film, which features a commentary with the director, some theatrical trailers, a radio spot, a photo gallery, and interviews with Baker, Sachs, and Greg Cannon. The discís high-definition transfer is spectacular; for all the filmís woes, its vibrant photography captures the EC Comics aesthetic that inspired Sachs. His film might have only garnered infamy over the years (becoming an MST3K target didnít help), but The Incredible Melting Man feels like a quintessential film for the video generation, who no doubt ran its tapes ragged while showing off its violent, trashy wares. Buy it!

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