Monday, July 11, 2016

THE MANSTER 1959/1962

Japanese/American Chiller With A Mid-Life Crisis Afflicted 
Two- Headed Monster Rampaging Through Mid-Century Tokyo !!

"Half Man....Half Monster...!"

     This endearingly cheap and shoddy little Japanese/American co-production was one of those films that seemed to show up (along with with other UA efforts such as I BURY THE LIVING and THE FOUR SKULLS OFJONATHAN DRAKE among others) perpetually on TV during the 60's and early 70's. A true international production, it was filmed in Japan with an American director (with a Japanese crew), a pair of married Brits in leading roles and English speaking Japanese actors filling out the cast. Looking ahead to THE THING WITH TWO HEADS and THE INCREDIBLE TWO HEADED TRANSPLANT, it featured a couple of images that indelibly ingrained on young viewers minds and has some (intentional or not) surprising adult themes lurking in its plot.
     American newspaper man Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley THUNDERBIRDS) is on long term assignment in Tokyo and looking forward to finally being able to go home and be reunited with his patiently waiting wife Linda (Jane Hylton - and actual wife of Dyneley), when he's handed a final assignment to go interview reclusive scientist Dr. Suzuki (Tetsu Nakanura from MOTHRA and THE LAST DINOSAUR).
    Upon arriving at the doctor's laboratory (serendipitously as we'll see located next to a large volcano), the doctor explains that he's working the effect of periodic cosmic rays from outer space and their effect in mutating life on earth. The Dr. confers to his beautiful Eurasian assistant Tara (Terri Zimmern) that he feels that Larry would be the "perfect specimen" for his future experiments.
    Earlier in a pre-credit sequence we were shown the effects of his experiments with a huge hairy beast rampaging through a geisha house (complete with blood splashed across the title card) before the critter is summarily tossed in a handy doorway to the volcano by Dr. Suzuki. In addition he keeps a woman with a horribly disfigured face (a still that was a favorite in FAMOUS MONSTERS & various horror movie books) locked in a cage in his laboratory. It's never really explained what the Doctor's purpose is with these experiments (but what the heck, he makes monsters) and seeing how his two past failed experiments are his brother and wife respectively he falls fairly comfortably into the "mad doctor" category (in addition his lab contains large mutated look plants) .

    In order to keep Larry in Japan Dr. Suzuki offers to show him around the town which translates to piling him with sake, providing him with woman (in particular the alluring Tara) and hot mineral baths with scantily clad geisha girls. Jumping into full mid-life crisis mode, Larry seems all to eager to partake in these indulgences much to the dismay of his wife (who travels to Tokyo to confront him) and his co-workers. Amidst his carrying on Larry transforms into pretty much a total ass and begins another transformation as a lump on his shoulder turns into an eyeball (another unforgettable still for monster kids) which grows into a misshapen head. Donning a trench coat he begins a Jack the Ripper like murder spree offing random women and the occasional priest, while periodically returning to his bachelor pad apartment to brood and yell at his ever sympathetic wife.
    The film while seeming to present the hero as as unwilling recipient of his monstrous tendencies much like Larry Talbot in Universal's Wolfman movies (with the the "curse" here being a medical experiment) it's interesting that the THE MANSTER's main protagonist (once again named Larry) is presented not as sympathetic character but as pretty much a jerk (in fact a really big jerk). THE MANSTER also shows post WWII America's part fascination and still lingering dread of Eastern cultures with the all-American wife waiting at home in her pearls and apron while her husband is seduced by the exotic allure of Japan. For a low budget monster movie there's some quite frankly adult themes lurking around here including Larry's in your face infidelity and the not to subtle references to Tara's past employment as a prostitute servicing the American occupation forces.
    Clocking in at barely 72 min. the film's sometimes ludicrous & no logic plot gets bogged down in the middle with some police procedural and investigation along with Linda's agonizing over Larry's infidelity. It's does reward however with a total bat-shit crazy finale involving an exploding volcano, the ultimate "split" personality (in a scene which truly needs to be seen to be believed) and a mind numbing WTF soliloquy to Tara from Dr. Suzuki (in which he compares themselves to Pierre and Madame Louise Curie ?!) as he realizes the error of his ways.

    Although not the greatest actress in the world by any stretch "one and done" actress (her role here as Tara is her only credit) Terri Zimmern exudes a certain exotic sexuality and wonders why she didn't work more in the upcoming decade. Some accounts claim that was married to co-director William Crane which might explain her lack of an on-going career.
    Released with the film noir like title of THE SPLIT in England, THE MANSTER came stateside in 1962 where its was co-featured (in a really bizarre dbl. feature) with THE HORROR CHAMBER OF DR. FAUSTUS, the re-tilted/re-edited version of Georges Franju's LES YEUX SANS VISAGE (EYES WITHOUT A FACE) - "A Ghastly Elegance That Suggests Tennessee Williams !".

The above screen-caps are from the Retromedia DVD

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