Sunday, June 2, 2013

May Day Movie Marathon, Part IV

The Manster (1959)
If The Ghoul (1933) doesn't deliver on the horror or (off-screen) carnage, then The Manster more than makes up for it. The movie was made for an American company, United Artists, but it was filmed in Japan with a mix of both Japanese and American cast and crew members. The movie's tone is a mix, too: it feels like an American sci-fi/horror movie from that era (I'm reminded of The Brain that Wouldn't Die (1959)), but the creature's look and origin are as bizarre as any I've ever seen in a Japanese monster movie.

Before we even get to the opening credits, some sort of hairy creature sneaks into a home and brutally kills at least three women. Coincidentally, I watched this movie right after the nearly bloodless The Ghoul. The Manster seems to go out of its way to underscore the difference between a British film of the early '30s and an American/Japanese film of the late '50s by actually splashing blood across a window as the opening titles appear.

We soon find ourselves in the mountain laboratory of Doctor Robert Suzuki, amoral scientist extraordinaire. Immediately upon entering the office, Suzuki asks his secretary, Tara, if "he" has come back. Tara says that she locked him into the laboratory and hands Suzuki a gun. "He" turns out to be Kenji, the most recent product of the good Doctor's work. In his lab, we see that the Doctor keeps a hideously deformed woman named Emiko locked in a cage. When Kenji appears, Dr. Suzuki takes the opportunity to inform the audience that Kenji is his brother and an experiment gone wrong... I mean, he "reminds" the mutated Kenji that he's his brother and an experiment gone wrong. Suzuki finishes off the creature with the pistol and dumps the body into his convenient monster-disposal system; i.e., a shaft that leads into the volcanic heart of the mountain.

Dr. Suzuki goes back up to the front office to find American reporter Larry Stanford. After working for several years as a foreign correspondent in Japan, Larry has been assigned to interview the enigmatic scientist before heading home to his wife in New York. The audience gets another healthy dose of exposition as Dr. Suzuki describes his work on evolution and claims that he has found a way to chemically replicate the effects of the mutagenic cosmic rays that bathed prehistoric Earth.

During this interview, Dr. Suzuki does some "harmless" questioning of his own, claiming that the scientist in him is simply curious. The oddest question is whether or not the reporter has had 'any other companionship' while he's been away from his wife. Larry is mildly offended by the question, but says that he's been "a good boy". This seems to satisfy Suzuki who has pulled down a bottle from the back of his liquor cabinet. After the liquor puts Larry out, Dr. Suzuki injects the reporter with a mysterious fluid.

That's right, Suzuki has decided to continue his experiments literally minutes after having to put down his brother. The hallmark of a good mad scientist is persistence.

When Larry comes to, he accepts the Doctor's offer to see the local sights before returning to the States. It's immediately apparent that Suzuki's mystery chemical has affected a change on Larry. Despite having remained faithful for several years away from home, Larry now seems eager to participate in drunken debauchery on the eve of his return trip while being surrounded by plenty of geishas. When Suzuki includes the attractive Tara in an "innocent" trip to the local mineral baths, Larry abandons all thoughts of returning home. This sudden change in plans and personality have both Larry's wife and Ian, Larry's boss and friend, extremely worried.

Larry's wife is flown out in an attempt to convince him to come back with her, but things don't go well when she catches him and Tara returning to his apartment after a night on the town. Given the choice between his wife and his mistress, Larry dramatically chooses the latter. Despite her threat, his wife decides to stay in Japan for a while longer in hopes of winning him back.

Larry's personality isn't the only thing that's changing. He's had a sore shoulder since the surreptitious injection, but the confrontation with his wife seems to have exacerbated whatever changes are occurring to him. The most minor of these is the scaly patch that's formed around the sore spot. Of greater concern is the fact that his right hand has sprouted hair and claws. That night, the distraught man wanders through the village before entering a monastery. After ranting for a while, Larry kills the Shinto priest.

The next day finds Larry anxious and unable to remember what he's done. He becomes extremely solitary, drinks heavily, and has little patience for Ian's attempts to talk with him. It's during his nighttime wanderings that the creature spawned by Dr. Suzuki's injection completely takes over his personality and he begins stalking and murdering young women. Meanwhile, Suzuki is excited by the obvious changes in Larry, who he says is becoming a new species thanks to his formula. It's not apparent whether or not the Doctor knows that his latest experiment has become as violent as his last.

In a final effort to help his friend, Ian introduces Larry to a psychiatrist. Almost immediately after he drives the two men out of his apartment, Larry experiences a sudden sharp pain in his shoulder...

Up to this point, The Manster has given us a pseudo-werewolf that kills at night and has no memory of his deeds. The only difference between Larry Stanford and Larry Talbot (it's interesting that both are named "Larry") is that Larry Stanford's transformation thus far is only partial and doesn't go away with the rising of the sun. It's after the psychiatrist leaves that The Manster gets seriously weird.

Larry pulls off his robe to find that the scaly patch on his shoulder has turned into an eye!

And I immediately loved this movie

Larry immediately makes a beeline for the psychiatrist's office, kicks in the doors, and frightens the shrink into calling the police. As the horrified doctor watches, Larry's extra eye grows into a hideous second head! Not wanting to be left out, his original face also becomes monstrous. The psychiatrist is dispatched and the two-headed fiend escapes before the police arrive. However, the fact that Larry had been screaming at the doctor only a few hours before makes Ian suspicious.

Did I mention that I love this movie?

Ian admits his fears to the police chief and the local law enforcement are soon on the lookout for the mutant reporter. A long series of chases ensue, with Larry leaving several dead cops in his wake. When the monster returns to his apartment, he comes face to face with his wife, who promptly faints. The chase then continues to the nearby shipyard, where the police again fail to catch the creature. (The police in this movie are about as effective as the Godzilla films' JDF.)

Back at the laboratory, we see that Dr. Suzuki (who has had only one short scene in the past 40 minutes) is finally feeling pangs of conscience. He's developed another serum that he believes will separate Larry from the monster if he's exposed to heat. To further atone for his actions, he's decided to commit ritual suicide. But first he dispatches Emiko, his wife(!), whose deformity had been the result of voluntarily taking an early form of the serum.

Before Suzuki can off himself, though, Larry arrives at the mountain laboratory, which is experiencing significant volcanic activity. The fiend leaves Tara unconscious in the office before stalking into the lab itself. The Doctor quickly injects him with the second serum before being killed. With the police in hot pursuit, Larry escapes the lab and grabs Tara. While running across the mountain, he passes by several volcanic vents. The heat from the vents activates the serum, which causes the two-headed man to split into two beings; Larry himself and the murderous creature that's been growing on his right side. (The waistband of Larry's pants is strangely intact considering that the right side of his body just tore free and became a big furry creature.)

There's a brief struggle between the two and Larry is knocked to the ground. The monster, being a jerk, throws Tara into a volcanic vent. In return, Larry pushes his ugly twin into the same vent. It's only after eliminating his own alibi that his wife and the police show up. As Larry is carried away on a stretcher, Ian and the world's most patient wife contemplate the good and evil present in each man.

The Manster has all the marks of high quality cinema: mad science, serial killing monsters, and a creature that spends the last half hour of the movie with two heads. The best part is that we have no idea what Dr. Suzuki is trying to accomplish. He babbles on about evolution and is apparently trying to create a new race of being, but he doesn't seem to have any real goal. What kind of being is he trying to make? Does he want to evolve the human race or devolve it? What is his purpose? He seems to think that Larry's post-injection hedonism is a good sign, but is that really indicative of what he wants? He's disappointed when he produces bloodthirsty monsters, but isn't that kind of the logical result when you create an evolved/devolved creature with no self-control? In the end it doesn't really matter because Dr. Suzuki gives us a murderous two-headed monster, which is all I was really asking for.

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