‘A new peak in horror’
The Incredible Melting Man is a 1977 American science fiction horror feature film about an astronaut whose body begins to melt after he is exposed to radiation during a space flight to Saturn, driving him to commit murders and consume human flesh to survive.
Financed by former Amicus partner Max J. Rosenberg (Tales from the Crypt), and written and directed by William Sachs, the film stars Alex Rebar (screenwriter of Demented) as Steve West, the protagonist of the title, alongside Burr DeBenning as a scientist trying to help him, and Myron Healey as a United States Air Force general seeking to capture him.
The film – which was initially intended as a parody – includes several homages to science fiction and horror films of the 1950s, especially First Man into Space. Makeup artist Rick Baker provided the memorably gory and gloopy visual effects for the film, assisted by Greg Cannom and Rob Bottin.
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- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature, transferred from original film elements
- Original Mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Audio Commentary with William Sachs
- Super 8 digest version of the film
- Interview with Writer/Director William Sachs and Makeup Effects Artist Rick Baker
- Interview with Makeup Effects Artist Greg Cannom
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
- Collector’s booklet featuring essays on the history of the film by Mike White and a brief history of Super 8 by Douglas Weir
“Magnificent! You’ve never seen anything till you’ve seen the Sun through the rings of Saturn” declares the magnificently wooden Alex Rebar at the opening of The Incredible Melting Man, and similarly, you’ve never seen anything until you sit down to watch this film – though only the most fanatical trash cinema fan might declare it to be “magnificent.”
There’s no denying the ridiculous entertainment value of this gloriously dreadful film, however, as it mixes a Fifties B-movie plot with spectacular bad taste to create one of the most ludicrous and – if you are in the right mood – entertaining films of the era.
I first saw The Incredible Melting Man in the early 1980s, when it turned up as support feature to – of all things – Every Which Way But Loose. Of course, an audience looking forward to Clint Eastwood’s good ol’ boy capers with a comedy Orangutan were scarcely prepared for a film in which the lead character slowly melts, eats people and gets his arm chopped off and which has a memorable long shot of a severed head floating down a stream, tumbling over a waterfall and bursting open on the rocks below. It caused quite a stir.
How this film managed to pass through the BBFC with an ‘AA’ certificate – almost equivalent to ’15’ now – in 1977, when gory scenes were still being cut from ‘X’ rated movies, is anyone’s guess [NB. Later VHS releases where rated ’18’ in a sign of darker times]. For this teenager, the film was everything I’d hoped it would be when seeing trailers on TV and gloopy stills in horror mags.
The story is pretty simple. Steve West (Rebar) is an astronaut who has something bad happen to him on a Saturn mission. Back on Earth (which seems to take no time at all), he awakens in hospital to find himself covered in bandages and strapped to a bed. Naturally unguarded (because why would you keep an astronaut whose condition is a national security top secret in a secure unit), he removes the bandages to reveal a face and hands that are beginning to melt. Naturally, this discovery forces him to chase a fat nurse through the empty hospital and then eat her.
Mission director Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning) and General Perry (Myron Healey) set out to track Steve down, which mostly involves Nelson wandering through the woods holding a geiger counter. Steve, meanwhile, is on a rampage, ripping apart a fisherman ( cue the aforementioned head scene), frightening children and leaving corpses to be found by a young model and a lecherous photographer (who are here simply to get some bare breasts into the story – given that the breasts belong to cult icon Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith (Parasite; Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural), I doubt anyone is complaining).
As Steve decays, he seems to get stronger and more deranged. There’s the suggestion that eating people might slow the melting down, though how the beleaguered astronaut would know that is anyone’s guess. In any case, he seems to spend most of his time lurking around houses to no obvious reason, attacking a young couple (played by film director Jonathan Demme and The Hills Have Eyes star Janus Blythe) before making his way to a power station for a final showdown with Nelson and the trigger happy cops.
The film is one of a handful of late 1970s movies that essentially channel 1950s science fiction (it would make a great double-bill with the equally retro-styled The Giant Spider Invasion), and the story here seems clearly inspired by The First Man into Space and The Quatermass Xperiment, both of which featured astronauts who return to Earth infected with something that slowly causes them to decay, losing their minds and their humanity in the process. It’s a classic science fiction concept, and one that can be given a certain emotional and intellectual clout, but of course here all that is swept aside in favour of gore and mayhem.
While the actual violence levels in the film are not that high, the graphic nature of the film is pretty remarkable. It’s not just the continually melting Rebar that will test the stamina of more sensitive viewers, though the shots of him dripping away, an eyeball falling out and eventually melting down completely will be enough to put many people off their dinners; it’s also the burst open head (filmed in loving slow motion!), the half-eaten nurse, the severed limbs and the general gore quota that still manages to be shocking. These scenes are also the best thing about the movie. Created by Rick Baker, the melting man and the gore are of a quality that the rest of the movie doesn’t even come close to. Baker’s work is the real star here (certainly more so than Rebar, who only gets the one scene without the make-up and delivers his single line of dialogue terribly).
Watching it again now, I can appreciate other things in the movie. It is, of course, terrible by any conventional standards. But then, how can we actually judge a film that calls itself The Incredible Melting Man? This is the sort of film that is almost critic proof, because it is inherently, shamelessly trashy. The only thing that really matters is this – does it entertain? And I’d say that the answer is a definite ‘yes’. It’s a film that delivers everything you want from this sort of thing – a steady supply of gore, gratuitous nudity, ripe dialogue and as few pauses for characterisation as it can get away with.
The rest of the film is pure 1950s though, and it’s easy to see that director William Sachs probably was trying to shoot a comic book style pastiche – according to him, the producers didn’t want a comedy horror and made him shoot more ‘straight’ horror scenes. The film is actually still pretty funny if you are familiar with Fifties science fiction, though how much of the comedy is deliberate is hard to tell. DeBenning is stiff as a board playing the stereotypical scientist, and most of the supporting characters are pretty one-dimensional and, yes, cartoon like. This would usually be a bad thing in a movie, but here, it’s rather appropriate. Good performances of well rounded characters spouting non-risible dialogue would probably be the death of this movie.
In the end, The Incredible Melting Man is exactly what you expect it to be. If you pick up a film with this title wanting something other than what you get, then more fool you, frankly. But if you are a lover of no-nonsense drive in madness or simply want a party movie with tits and gore and no complex plot to get caught up in, then this is for you. And Arrow’s Blu-ray ensures you can enjoy Rick Baker’s effects to their fullest!
David Flint, HORRORPEDIA
“The Incredible Melting Man is an endearingly awful creature feature, without much horror or science fiction, although it can boast of gloriously gloopy special effects and make-up by Rick Baker.” Twitchfilm
“I actually found it pretty fun; once you get past the silly concept, it’s a pretty traditional “unwitting victim on a rampage” movie, with a major downer ending that adds a touch of Romero-esque cynicism to the proceedings.” Horror Movie a Day
“But most of those murders are a hoot and a holler (my favorite: the artfully composed shot of Steve’s shadow tossing the fisherman’s head, which then sails into the frame, lands in the water, and floats downstream until it goes splat at the bottom of a waterfall), and a monster as nauseating as Steve is a pretty compelling sight, even when moseying is all it’s up to. Besides, do you really watch a movie called The Incredible Melting Man for its story?” 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting
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” … a silly popcorn treat that well deserves its reputation as a cult classic thanks to its riotous dialogue and comedic performances (especially Myron Healey as the General). But the real hero here is make up legend Rick Baker whose blood, pus and mucous dripping effects are simply amazing (they look even better on Blu-ray). The film also served as a launch pad for emerging SFX talents like Greg Cannom and Rob Bottin.” Peter Fuller, Kultguy’s Keep
“Likeable throwback to the science fiction films of two decades previously, with stunning make-up by Rick Baker.” Alan Frank, The Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Handbook, Batsford, 1982
Cast and characters:
- Alex Rebar … Steve West – Amityville: The Evil Escapes
- Burr DeBenning … Dr. Ted Nelson – A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child; Freddy’s Nightmares; Wolfen; Alien Zone
- Myron Healey … General Michael Perry – RoboCop TV series; Pulse; Ghost Fever; V TV series
- Michael Alldredge … Sheriff Neil Blake
- Ann Sweeny … Judy Nelson
- Lisle Wilson … Dr. Loring
- Cheryl Smith … The Model (as Rainbeaux Smith) – Parasite; Laserblast; Massacre at Central High; Phantom of the Paradise; Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural
- Julie Drazen … Carol
- Stuart Edmond Rodgers Stuart Edmond Rodgers … Little Boy
- Chris Witney … Little Boy
- Edwin Max … Harold
- Dorothy Love … Helen
- Janus Blythe … Nell Winters – Spine; The Hills Have Eyes Part II; The Hills Have Eyes; Eaten Alive; Drive In Massacre; Phantom of the Paradise; The Centerfold Girls
- Jonathan Demme … Matt Winters – director of The Silence of the Lambs
- Westbrook Claridge … Second Security Guard
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