The Japanese know a thing or two about monsters. They gave us the likes of Godzilla, Ghidorah, Gamera, and (my favorite) Mothra. Today’s film was a co-production between filmmakers from both the US and Japan. Though we don’t get a giant monster, we do get a freaky one. From 1959, he’s part man, part monster…it’s “The Manster!”
The film focuses on an American news correspondent living and working in Japan, Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley). Larry is coming to the end of his assignment in Japan and is anxious to return home to his wife Linda (Jane Hylton), but first he is following a possible story lead involving the research of scientist Dr. Robert Suzuki (Tetsu Nakamura). Suzuki and his assistant, Tara (Terri Zimmern) have been conducting experiments in the shadow of a papier-mache volcano on the effects of gamma rays on human evolution. Hey, like the Fantastic Four! Unknown to Larry, this has included disastrous experiments on Suzuki’s own wife and brother.
As soon as Suzuki meets Larry, he decides he is perfect for his next experiment. He gives Larry a drink spiked with some chemical concoction, which knocks Larry out, and then gives him an injection. When Larry awakes, he’s a bit sore, but he still finishes the interview. Back at the office he decides that Suzuki’s research is too boring to warrant a story.
But this isn’t the last Larry sees of Suzuki. The good doctor soon invites Larry to come and experience all of Japan’s great culture, which Larry has been too busy to experience previously. One of the first stops is one of Japan’s famous mineral bath houses. Joining them is the lovely Tara. Suzuki conveniently dismisses himself so Larry and Tara can flirt with each other while in the mineral waters, but partway through, Larry develops a strange pain in his shoulder. Of course, the doctor knows that the mineral bath will help activate the serum he injected Larry with days before. Still, even after having to leave abruptly, Larry and Tara begin an affair. This keeps Larry from leaving Japan, despite his wife’s long-distance pleas that he return home.
As time goes on, Larry turns into an unshaven, drunken slob. But hey, he’s got this sexy chick, what’s he care. But, the fun ends when his wife shows up and catches him with his lady friend. She issues Larry an ultimatum, her or Tara. Larry chooses to leave with Tara, but she sends him back to deal with his wife. While there, Larry notices his right hand changing and a strange patch of skin on his shoulder. While wandering the streets later that night, Larry attacks and kills a Buddhist monk.
All this thrills Suzuki who believes Larry is transforming into an entirely new species. Before long, Larry notices the strange patch of skin on his shoulder has developed into an eyeball. But if that wasn’t weird enough, soon a whole second head grows out of his shoulder…and it’s ug-ly! The two-headed “manster” soon starts going mad…killing people in the street and even going after Linda. Somehow he must be stopped, but Suzuki won’t be happy until he sees Larry split into two separate beings.
The description of this film comes nowhere close to capturing how wonderfully bizarre it is. Yes it’s campy, yes it’s crazy, but oh it’s so much fun! The performances are just perfect. Peter Dyneley comes across like a demented William H. Macy…very straight-laced when we first meet him, but absolutely cracker jacks after being pumped with the doc’s serum. John Agar would be proud. I also loved Tetsu Nakamura’s performance as Dr. Suzuki. His take on the obsessed mad scientist is very different from the norm, but he makes a very effective, slyly evil bad guy. I also mustn’t forget Terri Zimmern, who practically steals the show with her very sexy performance as Tara.
The “Manster” itself is a bit silly, I’ll admit. The effects are not good. I admit I laughed at several of the moments intended to shock. But there’s also a great weirdness to the movie…the nasty personality that Larry starts to exhibit after the injection, the fact that the development of the second creature growing out of his shoulder seems to be triggered by the sexual advances of Tara. Freud would’ve had a field day with this one!
This is definitely an underrated 50’s monster movie. It may not be as well-known as some films of the time, but it has had some influence on other filmmakers (see Sam Raimi’s “Army of Darkness”). “The Manster” may be half man, half monster…but it’s all fun!