Screaming Streaming! Presents: THE MANSTER (1959)
Movie Review: THE MANSTER (1959)
By Michael Arruda
One of my favorite things about streaming video is the wide selection of older titles readily available. I’m having fun catching up with movies I’ve never seen before and obscure oddball gems I haven’t seen in ages.
Today’s feature falls into the latter category, although I hesitate to call it a gem. It isn’t.
It’s THE MANSTER (1959), a film that’s been on my mind since Craig Shaw Gardner mentioned it this past summer after reading my review of THE INCREDIBLE TWO HEADED TRANSPLANT (1971). He pointed out that along with TRANSPLANT and THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972) it made up the full complement of two-headed men monster movies.
I hadn’t seen THE MANSTER in years, so I was happy when it turned up on my streaming video menu.
THE MANSTER takes place in Japan and opens with a weird ape-like creature on the loose, the result of an experiment gone wrong by a certain Dr. Suzuki (Tetsu Nakamura). Suzuki promptly destroys his creature, but like all good mad scientists, vows to try again.
Enter American reporter Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley), about to conduct his final interview before returning home to the States to spend some much needed time with his wife Linda (Jane Hylton). His last interview subject—unfortunately for him— is Dr. Suzuki.
Dr. Suzuki privately tells his female assistant Tara (Terri Zimmern) that the reporter is perfect for their next experiment. And so, while Larry is interviewing Suzuki about his work— some crazed notion about harnessing rays from outer space which, when aimed at animal life, cause changes in evolution, resulting in a new species of life— yeah, doc, whatever—Suzuki slips Larry a drug in his drink which knocks him out.
When Larry awakens, he has an aching shoulder, and soon things grow much worse. His personality changes, he’s suddenly ignoring both his job and his wife, and he’s spending his evenings enjoying the Japanese night life, getting drunk and hooking up with other women. And, oh that pain in his shoulder keeps getting worse! It leads to the best image in the movie, when Larry looks at his shoulder and sees a monstrous eye sticking out of it gazing up at him.
Eventually, Larry sprouts a new head (I guess this is that new species Suzuki was so excited about!) and soon afterwards Larry becomes a homicidal two-headed maniac, killing people left and right. Ultimately, the head grows into an entire body and splits apart from Larry, making it easier for the police to chase the monster and leave Larry alone, conveniently enabling his wife to rescue him from all this madness.
The significance of THE MANSTER is that it featured a two-headed man monster long before its two-head cousins from the 1970s, THE INCREDIBLE TWO HEADED TRANSPLANT (1971) and THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972). Other than this, the movie is just okay.
The acting is pretty good. Peter Dyneley isn’t bad as American reporter Larry Stanford. He has a “Lon Chaney Jr.” thing going, as there’s something about his look in this movie which reminds me of Chaney. Dyneley plays Larry as more than just a wise-cracking American reporter. He gives him a sincerity not often found in these roles. Dyneley would go on to provide many of the voices for the popular 1960s TV show THUNDERBIRDS, which featured some pretty cool puppetry.
Dyneley’s real-life wife, Jane Hylton, appeared in many movies with him, and she’s on hand here as his wife Linda. She’s pretty awful, unfortunately.
Tetsu Nakamura fares much better as Dr. Suzuki. Nakamura makes for a very smooth mad scientist and gets to deliver lines Bela Lugosi would have been at home saying. Nakamura appeared in a decent amount of Japanese monster movies, including THE MYSTERIANS (1957) and MOTHRA (1961).
Directors George P. Breakston and Kenneth G. Crane include the one memorable scene of the eye emerging from Larry’s shoulder, but other than this, there isn’t much to remember about THE MANSTER.
The two-headed “Manster” is pretty fake looking, but doesn’t look any worse than the 1970s incarnations. Dr. Suzuki keeps mutants imprisoned in his lab, the results of previous experiments gone wrong. These mutants are kinda creepy, but ultimately they’re a disappointment, as the make-up job on them is pretty bad.
Director Breakston also received story credit, and as monster stories go, it’s a pretty good one, but the screenplay by William J. Sheldon is not so good, as most of the dialogue in this one is plain awful.
I first saw THE MANSTER as a teenager on late night TV, and I remember liking it a lot. I’d seen it a couple of times since, but not in a while. Admittedly, the movie doesn’t hold up as well as I remember it.
Sure, the two main players, Dyneley and Nakamura, turn in professional performances and make their characters believable, but they’re surrounded by lesser performances. The fright scenes are few and far between, and I guess that was my biggest disappointment seeing this movie again. The Manster scenes really weren’t all that exciting, nor were they campy enough to make me laugh out loud. And the murder scenes were rather lame as well. I remember this one having more of an edge to it.
When you come right down to it, THE MANSTER is really just a mediocre B monster movie. While it does contain a novel concept, really, at the end of the day, there’s nothing that makes it head and shoulders above the rest.
© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda