The Incredible Melting Man (1977) – Retro Review

Genre film fans, particularly old genre film fans, tend to be very forgiving when discussing terrible films of yesteryear. Most old-timers, including myself, can always find redeeming values that overcome problems of writing, directing, acting, or budget to create an entertaining experience. Of course, there are exceptions, such as Birdemic!, where there are no redeeming values to be found. A review of which would require only one or two sentences if that much. Not worth the effort.

Don’t misunderstand — The Incredible Melting Man is a very bad movie. It is also approaching cult status, if it hasn’t already reached that objective. Part of the rationale for this phenomenon lies with the delay in transition from VHS to DVD, which created a small-but-vocal demand from people like me who saw the film first-run at drive-in theaters in 1977, and have time-weakened memories. VHS print quality varied, probably due to generational duping, indicating that the film wasn’t taken very seriously by the distribution industry, and that lack of attention continued with a few DVD releases. But the main reason for its growing popularity is the special effects provided by a young Rick Baker (1950 – 2015) whose stature as a makeup artist was beginning to emerge out of low-budget genre films (John Landis’s first film Schlock, 1973; Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive, 1974; Jeff Lieberman’s Squirm, 1976; Batman artist/writer Bill Finger’s Track of the Moon Beast, 1976). This film was also the second (uncredited) appearance of special makeup superstar Greg Cannom (The Howling, 1981; Dreamscape, 1984; Dick Tracy, 1990; Mrs. Doubtfire, 1993). Together, these two practical effects experts were responsible for lifting The Incredible Melting Man out of obscurity and into genre film semi-stardom.

This new release, viewed for the first time over a period of three decades, is unintentionally hilarious all by itself. It needed absolutely no help from the egregious Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) that targeted the film for derision in 1996. As if it isn’t obvious, I am no fan of any production that takes older genre films, edits them down to smaller chunks for the benefit of idiots who toss off one-liners to make themselves look good. Viewers can, and should, make their own humorous comments from the comfort of their own couches – and true entertainment is derived from a complete, uncut film released in excellent Blu-ray format by Shout! Factory. Visually, the film is a crisp and clear 1080p HD delight that amplifies the extreme close-up photography used (or misused) throughout.

The story is linear and simplistic – the sole survivor of America’s first trip to the rings of Saturn (Alex Rebar in his only screen credit) is pulled from (unseen) wreckage and isolated in a nearby warehouse… er, hospital, cared for by one doctor and one nurse. He’s suffering from the effects of watching our sun through Saturn’s rings. How the sun and its flares got so big from that distance is not something to dwell upon. But his eyes bleed while out in space, and back on Earth he begins to melt. He kills the overweight nurse because somehow the only doctor around reached a diagnosis that the astronaut needs blood to survive. The now-monster escapes the conveniently- unguarded “hospital.” The rest of the 84-minute film is a chase through a lightly-wooded area populated by cannon fodder, one hilarious encounter after another (I have to reference the “fisherman.” I just have to.) But it will be more fun for viewers if I don’t provide details. Strangely, though, the film concludes with a confrontation that generates a modicum of suspense, and a final scene that’s successful in portraying black, bittersweet humor.

In addition to Baker and Cannom, above, there are a few recognizable names involved with the film. In the acting department, veteran TV personality Burr DeBenning (1936 – 2003) sleepwalks through the lead role of Dr. Ted Nelson, former friend of the afflicted monster, and enemy of extreme close-ups designed to minimize low-budget background exposure. Another veteran familiar to fans of 50s and 60s genre features ( a very late serial, Panther Girl of the Kongo, 1955; Jungle Moon Men, 1955; The Unearthly 1957) and virtually every TV series up through the 70s, is Myron Healy as General Perry. Of those two, Healy fares just a bit better as far as dialog is concerned, throwing orders around in his trademark deep, booming voice.

But the true villain of this piece – if you don’t include the mindless melting creature – is Writer/Director William Sachs. Responsible for story logic (there is none), dialog that is painful to hear, and direction that displays his limited range (and fondness for extreme close-ups) unless you’re a fan of his only other genre credit (Galaxina, 1980). Included in the DVD extras is an interview with Sachs in which he blames the producers for all of the budget constraints that destroyed an otherwise viable film. Take him at his word if you will, but I have difficulty putting responsibility on a group of producers that include an uncredited Max Rosenberg of Hammer Films and Amicus Productions, and production manager Peter Cornberg (first assistant director, Blade Runner, 1982; production manager, Testament, 1983).

Despite its myriad flaws, however, The Incredible Melting Man has survived time and troubles, hanging around for a decent treatment that presents its positive aspects in hi-def glory. While the film still generates loud guffaws (as it absolutely should), both old and new viewers will experience a highly entertaining piece of genre history.

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The Black Scorpion (1957) – Retro Review

Over the last decade or so, Baby-Boomer genre fans and collectors have welcomed a resurgence of science fiction and horror films of the 1950s in the form of standard and blu-ray DVD releases. The packaging and availability, however, differs wildly. There are some incredible bargains, such as the four-pack Icons of Horror: Sam Katzman boxset that collects The Giant Claw, Creature with the Atom Brain, Zombies of Mora Tau, and The Werewolf for the price of a single blu-ray disk. We’re not talking low-quality public domain films here, shoddily transferred from a blurry VHS tape recorded off television; these are crisp black-and-white prints as watchable now as when the viewer was 10- or 12-years old.

A number of until-recently-inaccessible films have received a (theoretical) upgrade to blu-ray format in either single or double-feature releases. Among those are some classics – Forbidden Planet and Them!, for example – and some less-than classic, such as The Neanderthal Man. And last, and not quite least, are the few titles held closely by production companies and released only in DVR format. The Black Scorpion, available on-demand from the Warner Bros. Archive Collection, is one of those titles. It is very doubtful that we’ll ever see a blu-ray version of this fun little picture, but… never say never.

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The Black Scorpion carries a serious pedigree – it is the last feature film associated with the legendary Willis H. O’Brien, or OBie in genre vernacular. O’Brien is arguably the most famous of stop-motion film effect creators, at least until the emergence of Ray Harryhausen, and Harryhausen was O’Brien’s protégé. O’Brien developed the technology behind King Kong (1933), Son of Kong (1933; uncredited), and the original Mighty Joe Young (1949). The mantle of superior  achievement in stop-motion technology passed on to Harryhausen in 1958, with The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.

Received industry knowledge indicates that The Black Scorpion film emerged from test footage of a stop-motion scorpion created by O’Brien and his assistant, Pete Peterson. Warner Bros. producers, intrigued by the possibility of a money-making successor to Them! (1954), hired O’Brien and Peterson to follow-up and expand the test footage into a marketable film. As it turned out, The Black Scorpion was released with a simplistic story and a weak script, but the effects are so diverse and bizarre they carry the film.

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The Black Scorpion is somewhat of a rarity among the Big Critter films of the 1950s in that the titular monster derives from volcanic activity rather than the common radiation mutation. Principal location cinematography in Mexico adds additional verisimilitude to the story – the terrain is sufficiently rugged, remote, and an active volcano is certainly not out of the question. The volcano opens a cavern from which several giant scorpions emerge to terrorize the rural countryside. But the special effects team serves up additional visual treats – in addition to the “regular” giant scorpions, there is a gigantic scorpion that preys on its own, and anything else that gets in the way, and assorted large insects lurking in the cavern.

Richard Denning plays Hank Scott, an American geologist sent to Mexico to do science on the volcano, but also help authorities with relocation of villagers cut off by earthquakes and landslides. And there he meets wealthy rancher, Teresa Alvarez, as played by the gorgeous Mara Corday, just as the scorpions begin their ravaging. Both actors were not strangers to genre films in 1957. Denning was a very visible semi-heavy in the widely acclaimed Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), and lesser vehicles such as Target: Earth (1954), Roger Corman’s post-apocalyptic “thriller” Day the World Ended (1955), and Creature with the Atom Brain (1955). He also was a TV stalwart both before and after this particular film, probably most widely known as Governor Paul Jameson in the long-running Hawaii Five-O (1968 – 1980). Mara Corday was a B-movie star with just a few TV credits. The Black Scorpion was the last of her three genre films, but the other two are memorable for different reasons – Tarantula (1955) is a highly-regarded Big Bug films, while The Giant Claw (1957) is considered to be one of the silliest of 50s black-white monster movies. Arguably, Corday was at the peak of her profession when The Black Scorpion was released. In January of that year, she married TV personality Richard Long, a union that lasted 17 years until his death in 1974. In October, 1958, she was Playboy’s co-Playmate of the Month. And a friendship kindled with Clint Eastwood on the set of Tarantula led to appearances in four of his films.

The Black Scorpion certainly can’t be considered as a classic in its genre. Production problems led to some cutbacks on special effect expenses that are very evident in the film. When the scorpion of the title has (conveniently) eaten all of his brethren and set sights toward Mexico City, what viewers see are imposed negatives of the beast rather than the complete stop-motion critter. The Black Scorpion is very, very black. But given all the associated problems, The Black Scorpion remains one of the most enjoyable of genre films. Special effects carry it almost completely, at least up to the suburbs of Mexico City. 

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The Monster That Challenged the World (1957) – Blu-ray Review

Several of the black-and-white Big Critter films of the 1950s have received recent blu-ray releases that may or may not be a marked improvement on the original print but certainly cost more than a standard DVD release. Titles include, but are not limited to, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Them!, and this particular little gem starring a beefy former western star, Tim Holt, along with veteran actors Audrey Dalton and Hans Conried (of the Fractured Flickers segment of Rocky and Bullwinkle TV series).

Rather than true horror, this film should be classified as science fiction since it deals with the tried-and-true 50s theme of genetic mutation from radioactive material. In this case, the beastie(s) in question are mutated molluscs living in the Salton Sea. Although the title is more than a little hyperbolic (original title, The Kraken, was shelved), the storyline offers the possibility of a wide-spread infestation of the monsters through prolific egg-laying coupled with the inability of human ingenuity to come up with a way to contain them.

The movie benefits from a number of positive aspects. The screenplay is written by David Duncan, who went on to write scripts for big-budget productions such as The Time Machine (1960), Fantastic Voyage (1966), and many TV series. The actors take their roles quite seriously and professionally. The location filming at Catalina Island, the Salton Sea, and other California sites features crisp, clear cinematography. And the special effects are practical, including a life-sized monster that towers over its human prey.
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The quality of this first blu-ray release is not much better than other standard DVD recordings, if at all. Feature-wise, the disk is almost bare-bones, but does contain an informative commentary track by genre film historian, Tom Weaver. The age of the film (and others) does nothing to reduce the price point. It’s ultimately up to the viewer/collector to determine if this purchase is necessary. But the movie itself is worth collecting in any format. It’s one of the best of its kind.

Lizeth’s Picks – Volume 1

You get a lot of interesting responses when you ask people to name some of their favorite horror movies.

Some people enjoy horror movies for their humor or satire, others for the genuine frightfulness they invoke, still others just love watching the imagination of another person(s) run wild on the screen.
Last night my wife and I got into a discussion about horror movies and which ones we consider our favorites. She grew up watching monster movies as a child. My mother-in-law apparently forced her to watch all the scary films. My wife claims it scared her for life, something she stills teases my mother-in-law about to this day.
So here are some of her favorites and why she finds them so enjoyable:


sci-fi horror, space epic, time travel, monster and phycological mystery 
“Fun movie, that has an interesting setting. Shows how vulnerable the human mind is when put in a hopeless situation. Humans need each other, being alone can make a person snap.”

Horror slasher movie. Serial killers and survivalists. 
“The twist, that the girl is a survivalist. Seems girly but she’s badass.”

The Blob remake 1988. Sci-fi horror monster movie. 
“I like movies that leave you scared after their over. The Blob is something so empty, without reason. It doesn’t have a voice, it doesn’t have a face, it doesn’t have a shape. And it can go anywhere. It’s not killing because it’s enjoys killing, it’s eating. It’s following its instincts.”

Zombie love movie that has a beating heart. 
“I like the idea that love can be so strong it brings a zombie back to life so he can pursue his love.”

slasher serial  killer horror . Lots of teens die. 
“Suspenseful horror movie that keeps you on your toes. You never know who the killer is, every time you think you’ll figured it out you’re wrong. It makes you jump. Even though it’s a slasher movie it’s easy to watch because it’s so entertaining, Matthew Lillard is a hoot.”

Vampire gangster mash-up that is action packed, bloody as hell and down right fun. 
“I like how even though the main characters are two criminals and a Christian family, they come together to ward off evil. It shows how humans will come together no matter their differences to defeat a common enemy.”

sci-fi horror alien invasion movie, with clowns as the creepy monsters “I like it because I don’t like clowns and the clowns are creepy. They are so ugly it’s almost funny to watch them. They used clown cliques really well. The cotton candy cocoons that harvest human blood are cool and the circus tent space ship is inviting, not threatening. Everyone loves the circus so it’s the perfect trap.”
Thanks Bonita!

Tweet of the Day!

The Giant Spider Invasion (1975) – Lobby Art

Courtesy of @Dr_Giallo this gorgeous lobby #art of giant monster spiders is awesome sauce.

— Dr. Giallo (@Dr_Giallo) April 14, 2015

If you like, check out some vintage horror movie poster art from the 1960s. Or these amazing animated posters from the alltime classic horror mainstays.