There’s a certain set of expectations laid down through the generations of horror films following immense popularity of the Universal Monsters that all monster movies must strive to meet. Therefore, as monster movies strive farther away from their classical influences throughout the years, filmmakers often have to create their own variations and turns on these cinematic creepers. Imaginations churn, and thus, era-appropriate political context and social subtext find their way into otherwise ridiculous proceedings. And through this process, the modern monster movie has been born, putting human terror front and center and allowing the unnatural to supersede the supernatural.
Those elements are what come to mind when analyzing a film as generic yet as strange as The Incredible Melting Man, now on DVD and Blu-ray from SHOUT! Factory. A film made on a limited budget but with a wealth of aspiration, The Incredible Melting Man takes the stories of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Invisible Man and fuses them into one, creating an oddity of film and storytelling that feels all-too-familiar. Despite the film showcasing technical skill and amazing special effects work, the creative skill is still somewhat lacking, delivering a paint-by-numbers story and wooden dialogue in between the enjoyable set pieces. Overall though, there’s no surprise in The Incredible Melting Man’s reputation as a midnight movie, although not necessarily too awful to be “so bad it’s good” and not clever enough to be considered intentional popcorn entertainment.
The Incredible Melting Man is born from fears of the ‘70s rapidly moving space program and subsequent fascination with the extraterrestrial, as an astronaut (Alex Rebar) brings to Earth a physiological reaction that causes his skin to melt after a close encounter with a radioactive solar flare from Saturn. Between his immense pain and the psychological scars of his encounter, the aforementioned astronaut runs from his hospital stay, destroying any and everything in his path whilst consuming flesh as his humanity becomes a distant memory. As his condition worsens and the more die as a result, the astronaut scientist friend (Burr DeBenning), a physician (Lisle Wilson) and an Air Force officer (Myron Healey) set out to stop the ensuing madness.
With a title like The Incredible Melting Man, one cannot expect a serious horror film from the final film, yet that’s exactly what director William Sachs tries to achieve. Whether or not the product is a result of meddling producers, in line with Sachs claims at the time that the film was an intentional comedy gone wrong, is to be seen, but for the film that’s eventually released, there is no moment that winks to the audience or laughs at itself. Instead, we’re given a straightforward and predictable monster movie, and although there’s nothing wrong with that, there’s very little to champion. In any case, the one success of the film comes in the form of amazing prosthetic effects from a young Rick Baker, who provides the films stomach-churning melting man himself in all of its gloriously gory detail.
Otherwise, the film leaves a lot to be desired, especially from one that could have use it’s premise to a dark comic effect. At time, the film feels like a 1950s radioactivity horror film schtick, and at other times, a faint predecessor to the slasher films of the ‘80s, but generally conventional in execution and structure. The actors, despite keeping a straightface and hitting the beats with dedication and conviction, never do much to bring the film beyond its specific subgenre limitations and often act as expository conduits to go from location to location for the next shocking effect showcase. At the same time, the film isn’t by any measure absolutely terrible, and even taken outside of a “midnight movie” context, there is a lot of interesting visuals and sequences that will keep the film tolerable throughout.
The main problem with The Incredible Melting Man is that, despite the technical prowess of those involved, the film doesn’t have a voice that helps carry the individual moments into a satisfying whole. Scene-by-scene, one can get the sense that there was likely two different visions for the film, cut together and submitted for public approval through an incredibly apt title and premise. In one way, the film is a success as it’s rare to see a monster movie provide so much ambition and, albeit thinly-stretched, social subtext during its running time. But in another way, because of that same potential, the film feels like a disappointment, and is more likely to be enjoyed ironically than genuinely.
SHOUT! does a great job for the most part with this release. There’s no gross overuse of DNR, even though certain visual elements feature a distracting amount of grain. The color and picture is incredibly sharp, especially so with the gorgeous special effects, and the edges are adequately defined.
SHOUT! does a particularly good job in this department, utilizing a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track that drastically lowers the natural hiss that comes with low-budget productions of the ‘70s. There are few flaws, and small ADR-sync issues, but the film is still cohesive and understandable, with the great score from Arlon Ober popping out rather wonderfully.
Although bare bones in the feature department, the few that are included make it count. An audio commentary with William Sachs gives a unique, if somewhat strained, perspective on a film that’s found a loyal cult audience and his heavy in its technical successes; Interviews with Rick Baker, SFX Wizard Greg Cannom and Sachs provide a retrospective look again into the technical aspects and intentions behind the film; and the Theatrical Trailer is a bit of campy genre nostalgia.
The Incredible Melting Man is a film that’s curiously lost between genres and storytelling techniques, although worthy of a watch to see the transition between monster movie and slasher film aesthetics. The film isn’t nearly as bad as the Mystery Science Theater 3000 camp would lead you to believe, but it isn’t nearly as fun as it’s loyal following has retrofitted to its legacy. It’s an average film, and the special effects are top-notch, even by today’s standards, but there should be some consideration before devotion of dollars to this Blu-ray. If you’re a fan already, however, then SHOUT! has done the film justice and is likely already in your collection.
– By Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Diabolique Magazine and Fangoria Magazine. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on several screenplays spanning over different genres and subject matter, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.