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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Incredible Melting Man

In an obvious attempt to coat-tail on the title of a famous 50s film, The Incredible Melting Man (IMM) is essentially a horror picture. Space travel is a sliver of sci-fi pimento in a very large horror film olive. William Sachs wrote the script (such as it is) and directed. Alex Rebar “stars” as the Melting Man, though 95% of his footage is under makeup. Burr DeBenning plays Dr. Ted, the Incredibly Ineffective Man. Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith has a small, but exposed, part as Sandra, the photographer’s model. Rick Baker is given credit for his ├╝ber-gross makeup effects.

Quick Plot Synopsis
NASA has launched three astronauts on a mission to Saturn. One of them, Steve, comments, “You’ve not seen anything until you’ve seen the sun through the rings of Saturn.” Somehow this exposes the three to massive radiation. Steve gets a nosebleed. Cut to a hospital room. Steve is the only survivor of Scorpio 5. His head is fully bandaged. When he wakes up, he sees his hands are deteriorating — melting. He tears off the bandages. His face is melting too. He is horrified, and so is a modestly plump nurse. She runs screaming. Steve chases her (sort of). Cut to Dr. Loring calling Dr. Ted Nelson to report that Steve has escaped. Ted is mildly annoyed and wavering. He will look for Steve after he has had some soup. But alas, they are out of crackers. (?) The nurse is found dead, part of head chewed on. Ted quickly exposits to Loring that the radiation must have altered Steve’s cell structure. His brain is melting too, so he won’t have rational thought — only some memories. Steve will need human cells to sustain himself, so will instinctually kill and eat people. (How Ted knows all this is not explained, nor why, knowing all this, he thought crackers were so important). Ted tells General Michael Perry about Steve escaping. Perry is annoyed and angry that no one is following his orders. So Mike pretends to be a civilian. Ted and Mike drive around, sort of looking for Steve. Meanwhile, Steve has killed a random fisherman. His half-eaten body is discovered when a photographer and his model argue about whether to do a topless shoot. Mike and Ted agree that they must recapture Steve, so they go to Ted’s house where Mrs. Ted is all upset that no one seems to be really looking for Steve. And, her mother and boyfriend are late (Steve has killed and eaten them). Ted goes out again, linking up with Sheriff Neil at the scene where Steve has killed a random guy and terrified his wife. Steve went back to Ted’s house. Steve attacks and kills Mike, but flees at Ted’s approach. Steve shambles to a power station. There, Neil makes the mistake of shooting melty-Steve. For some reason, bullets make Steve stronger. He tosses Neil over a railing to a sparky-death on power lines. Two guards arrive, shoot Ted dead and find out what Neil learned. Steve, despite all the strengthening from the bullets, keeps melting. He becomes a puddle of goo. While a janitor cleans up the mess that was Steve, voiceover radio tells of Steve and the other astronauts of Scorpio 5 still being in quarantine, but wishing the men of Scorpio 7 all the best as man explores the universe. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Amusing elements, albeit unintended, keep IMM out of the bin of total-dreck. Rick Baker’s makeup for Melty-Steve is over-the-top in its quest for grossness.

Cultural Connection
Liberated Low-Brow — When, in the late 60s, the movie industry was liberated from the last vestiges of the old self-censorship rules, artistic “freedom” was free to “flourish”. The tangent of this flourishing was a race for the bottom. Blood, gore, nudity, sex. At first they were titillating “features.” They took on the hallmarks of “serious” filmmaking. Soon enough, the novelty wore off and the formerly taboo became “required” ingredients. One could not produce a movie without some gratuitous blood, gore, violence and nudity. IMM is a prime example. The writer/director took a basic 50s storyline and put it through the “serious” 70s low-brow filter of blood, gore and sex.

Quatermas Revisited — The germ of the story for IMM is essentially a rehash of The Quatermas Xperiment from 1955. In TQX, an astronaut returns from space, having been exposed to some mysterious radiation. This radiation causes the astronaut to slowly mutate into a hideous blob creature which kills and absorbs other life. IMM takes that old theme up again, even though by 1978, space travel was not so mysterious and frightening.

A Go-Go 2 — IMM is also a remake of 1965’s Monster A-Go-Go. MAGG was also a rehash of TQX, except that the irradiated astronaut does not turn into a blob, but just some really ugly guy who shambles about killing people. MAGG was far from a worthy model for a remake, but William Sachs did so anyway. To ramp things up, Sachs made his shambling astronaut-monster grosser, his killing grosser, and threw in some frontal nudity — just because he could. IMM is not a demonstrably better film for it.

Crackers! — One hilariously incongruous scene appears about mid-way through the film. The Incredible Melting Steve has escaped his hush-hush hospital and murdered a nurse. He is loose in the countryside, killing people and half eating them. An army general calls Ted to demand that Steve be found and recaptured. With all this urgency, Ted is obsessed with having a lunch of soup. When his wife asks if he’s going to go out to look for Steve, Ted asks if she remembered to buy any crackers. He likes crackers with his soup. Such a bizarre non-sequitur.

Nudity For Its Own Sake — A blatant bit of low-brow pandering is inserted for the discovery of the half-eaten fisherman. It could have been a man walking his dog, or some kids running through the tall grass. No. Sachs has a photographer pressuring his shy model into posing topless. He pulls down her top. They pointlessly struggle, mostly to give Cheryl Smith’s perkiness as much airing as Sachs could get, before she backs into the dead fisherman.

Oversold Footage — Quite a few scenes seem to go on longer than necessary. Women screaming, heads floating in a stream, closeups of melty-Steve’s dripping face, more women screaming. It seems like Sachs did not shoot enough footage to make the target run-time after edits. So, many scenes used more of their footage than editing prudence would have suggested. These drawn-out scenes only add to the plodding pace.

Moral of the Story? — Sachs appears to have had a back-burner message for IMM to convey. That is, corrupt and secretive governments endanger people out of greed and to cover up their own ineptitude. Scorpio 7 will be launched despite all the deaths associated with Scorpio 5. This message amounts to the final three minutes of the film.

Bottom line? IMM has some sci-fi underpinnings, but is primarily a horror film crafted to be as revoltingly gross as it could be. The pace is slow. The script wavers from wooden to inane. Given the new age ushered in by Star Wars and Close Encounters, IMM looks dismally out of date. IMM has little to recommend it.

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