John Jos. Miller’s CREATURE FEATURE

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Two-Headed Mutants and Lizard Dinosaurs

MANSTER (1959; US release 1962) A US/Japan co-production filmed in Japan. Japanese title: SOTO NO SATSUJINKI (The Split)

I first saw MANSTER on Creature Feature back in those halcyon days which I reminisced about in my post earlier in the week. I remembered it as a decent horror movie with a bang-up opening sequence and one terrific, seminal scene that has stuck with me vividly over the years. I hadn’t seen it often since that first viewing, perhaps never, until I finally tracked it down on eBay maybe ten years ago. Subsequent viewings have confirmed my original impressions.

The initial scene was as I remembered. Some Japanese babes are lounging naked in a resplendent natural hot tube when they’re attacked by a shadowy monstrous figure. Blood splashes across a paper screen, as does the title THE MANSTER, and we cut back to the hot tub to see that all the women have been murdered. Then the proper story begins.

Roll titles!

Englishman Peter Dyneley (as globetrotting international correspondent Larry Stanford) currently stationed in Tokyo is waiting to return home to New York City and his long-suffering wife, who, coincidentally enough, is played by his real-life wife, Jane Hylton (you can tell that both are English because they have fancy “y”s in their names instead of “i”s). Stanford, kind of boozy-looking but basically a decent, hard working guy who’s a little burned out, is sent to chase one final story before his homeward departure. Something about a Japanese scientist who lives in a hut on the side of a volcano somewhere.

The Japanese scientist, Dr. Robert (!) Suzuki (played by Tetsu Nakamura) is one of those dedicated guys who sticks to his theory no matter what. He’s basically your common-variety B movie scientist who lives in a hut with an extensive basement filled with a well turned out lab, mutated fungus, the demented debris arising from his previous experiments, and a really big furnace (or perhaps it was simply a large iron door opening up into the interior of a seething volcano — it’s hard to tell) where he disposes of his current experimental errors. So what if the formula that for some obscure reason he’s injected into the neck of every family member turned them into hideous, ravening beasts? This is science, goddamnit! People have to give a little if we’re to advance our knowledge. After Larry tracks him down, Doc Suzuki plies him with doped scotch and asks him awkward questions, like, so, Larry, have you been fooling around on your wife while being a globe-trotting international correspondent? Larry hems and haws but says he’s been a good boy, passes out, and the doctor gets out the needle and serum and injects him in the base of the neck, because, what the heck, he couldn’t resist another chance to test his clearly flawed theories.

Larry wakes up and rubs his neck. The Doc tells him that he seems like a swell fellow and he (the Doc) needs some time off, so why doesn’t he show him around Japan? He’ll take him places the tourists don’t see. Larry, realizing that he hasn’t ever nodded off during an interview before, decides he needs a vacation too, so he says, why not? In order to keep track of him, Suzuki introduces him to his sidekick, the slinky Tara (played by exotically beautiful Terri Zimmern, who was quite competent in this role, which turns out to be her only movie/television appearance) after ordering her, in the name of science, to seduce him.

Partyin' in Tokyo.

Larry goes downhill quickly. Even the unexpected appearance of his wife, flying to Japan to plead with him to come home, fails to detour him from his path of drunken boozing, naked inter-sex hot tub bathing with the comely lab assistant, and actual physical degradation as his hand gets all hairy and deformed-looking. Oddly, stuff like this always seems to hit the hand first.

It hurts a bit.

Larry soon finds himself staggering through the Tokyo night murdering assorted innocent bystanders he stumbles across, yet not remembering any of extra-curricular activities the next day. He’s now a disheveled physical wreck, drunk, sweaty looking, and in increasing pain and discomfort until one night he tears away his shirt to reveal the movie’s great iconic moment which scared the pants off me when I first saw it.

Eventually, he returns to the mountain-side hut for a final confrontation with Dr. Suzuki, the police and his wife on his trail, and the scientist is actually able to witness the fruits of his experiments as Larry’s animal side splits away from his human portion into a separate, though much more hairy entity (a transformation brilliantly parodied in ARMY OF DARKNESS).

What? This isn't covered by my HMO?

Though maybe a too literal reinterpretation of DR. JEKYLL AND MISTER HYDE, I continue to enjoy this movie. It’s well-acted, with Peter Dyneley doing a nice job depicting the downward spiral of a good guy into a depraved one. Tetsu Nakumura had a long career in Japanese cinema, usually as the henchman of the chief bad guy or the second fiddle scientist in such movies as SPACE AMOEBA, MOTHRA, THE HUMAN VAPOR, and, one of my favorites, THE MYSTERIANS. As a kid, it was partly responsible (along with RODAN, MOTHRA, and GODZILLA) for spurring my continuing interest in Japanese culture. I think it was all that inter-sexual hot tub bathing.

THE MANSTER is now widely available in several DVD options. A quick scan of eBay shows it priced at the magnificent sum of $1.66 plus shipping. Check it out for some good two-headed mutant fun.

Rating: 8

KING DINOSAUR (1955)

I have a very high pain tolerance. For example, two years ago I broke my right tibia in two places and walked around on it for about three weeks before seeing a doctor (true, but too long a story to recount now). I can withstand considerable suffering before breaking, but this sixty-three minute long movie came closer to doing me in than three weeks with an untreated broken leg. Still, I knew blogging would be a dangerous job when I took it, and part of the job is to take the occasional bullet so you, the reader, won’t have too. This time I took an entire clip from an uzi.

KING DINOSAUR was directed and co-written by Burt I. Gordon, who has more credits in the sf/fantasy field than he has talent, though, in fairness to Mr. B. I. G., he also was responsible for one of my guilty pleasures, THE MAGIC SWORD, which I’m sure I’ll get around to blogging about sooner or later.

I can summarize the story in three short sentences (Stray planet shows up in solar system. Astronauts go there. They blow it up.), but then you’d miss all the funny stuff. So, here we go.

A new planet dubbed Nova wanders into the solar system and settles into an orbit right next to the Earth. Why not go visit? Using barely applicable stock footage (that by actual timing takes up12 minutes of a 63 minute film) we watch, enthralled, as the US whips up a space program in a few months. We’re introduced to the four astronauts in quick snippets interspersed between the stock footage. I won’t embarrass the actors by naming them. Suffice it to say that one of the female actresses has six IMDB credits besides KING TURKEY, the other none. The two male leads (actually the only two males — human, anyway — in the film did go on to longer careers, mainly on episodic tv). These four are the only people in the movie.

They land on Nova in a clearing adjacent to a forest which is identical to any number of forests on Earth. It’s inhabited by creatures native to Earth (as shown by lots more stock footage), except for the dog-sized cricket, or whatever the hell that bug was, and the forest alligator, which although obviously stuffed attacks one of the men.

Both women scientists scream continuously at the drop of a hat. At one point when they’re tromping around the woods (before the forest alligator attack) one of the women asks what time is it and one of the men reply about three o’clock on Earth, so we have three or four hours of light left. The forest alligators should have eaten all their asses, just for being so frigging stupid.

While the male astronaut recovers from being attacked and almost killed by a stuffed forest alligator, the female geologist insists on visiting a nearby island for no good reason. She and the other male astronaut climb into their rubber raft and paddle a few moments before they reach the island where they discover three “dinosaurs” that are actually an iguana, a skink, and a baby alligator. The iguana fights the baby alligator (which they don’t even bother to dress up by putting a fake fin on his back) and then the skink (ditto), and I’m afraid, that, yes, actually animals were harmed in the making of this film. Or perhaps they were just convincing actors.

I should mention parenthetically that every time a big animal appears the men shoot it, including the giant armadillo, but mostly to no effect.

Meanwhile, the iguana traps the two meddling scientists in a cave. The guy scientist, a zoologist/ paleontologist no less, takes a photo of the iguana and declares, “It looks just like a Tyrannosaurus!” Yeah, if a Tyrannosaurus walked on four legs and looked like an iguana, WHICH IT DOESN’T. Although he’s using your basic regular camera, the female scientist grabs the suddenly developed photo and rips it up, screaming, “They’ll never believe us!” (Well, NOW they won’t!)

The doctor having recovered from the attack of the stuffed forest alligator, the others finally come to their rescue. The doctor who was almost eaten by the stuffed forest alligator declares, “This is a good time to use the atom bomb we bought!” which is always the reaction of scientists when they come across new and interesting creatures. The atom bomb, which is the size of a smallish suitcase and has amperage meters on it, is set it to go off in 30 minutes. The scientists scamper, clearly leaving behind Joe the loveable kinkajou (normal sized) which they’d adopted, jump into their rubber rafts and paddle across the pond-sized lake, dive behind a three foot high sand dune, and look up and watch the fireball go off and blossom into a mushroom cloud. As they’re running for cover behind the sand dune, someone in the crew clearly must have said, “Crap! We forgot all about Little Joe the loveable kinkajou!” so we see a couple of two, three second isolated shots of him clearly added in editing pretending he’d been there all the time, though he’s never shown with any of the characters and no one even says, “Crap! We almost forgot all about Little Joe and let his loveable little ass get vaporized!” Instead, one of the men mumble something sententious about having just bought civilization to Nova, but you can’t tell if he’s being serious or ironic.

The end.

If KING DINOSAUR doesn’t get the gold for being the stupidest science fiction movie ever made, it does medal. Easily available on DVD, but, really, why would you buy it?

Rating: 1

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