CAPSULE: THE MANSTER (1959)

DIRECTED BY: George P. Breakston, Kenneth G. Crane

FEATURING: Peter Dyneley, Tetsu Nakamura, Jane Hylton, Terri Zimmern

PLOT:  A Japanese scientist corrupts an American foreign correspondent in Tokyo, eventually

Still from The Manster (1959)

turning him into a two-headed monster…. um, man-ster.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: When you’re titling your movie The Manster, you’re probably not expecting to make any exclusive lists, other than the List of the Most Shamelessly Cheesy Movie Titles Ever.  Thanks to its historical provenance and overwrought, tastefully depraved atmosphere, this psychotronic oddity is worthy of a mention; it will take its place as a footnote to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies Ever Made, and like it.

COMMENTSThe Manster may not be a very good movie, but it does have transformations, geishas, chaste drunken orgies, theremins, hyperactive overacting, and an erupting volcano, with a plot cribbed from “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” swaddled in Pysch 101 theories about the duality of man.  That counts for something.  Need more?  It’s also got a mad scientist with a cave laboratory complete with giant mushrooms, a cell for his mutated wife, and a furnace for disposing of unwanted monsters.  The cheesy sci-fi accoutrements are shuttled into the background for much of the running time, as the main action becomes watching Peter Dyneley act like a jerk, drinking saki with loose women and slapping his long-suffering wife after being shot up with Japanese chemicals.  (Dyneley takes to the lifestyle of a gin-soaked heel like a 1950s mad scientist takes to collecting Tesla coils).  His chemically-induced devotion to the dark side results in his killing Shinto monks during blackouts and growing an eye on his shoulder, which eventually develops into a full-grown noggin.  Through the magic of b-movie moral alchemy he’s able to kill his creator and redeem himself, literally splitting apart from his hairy id (an extraordinary moment).  The final words of a journalist documenting the mad tale give us all a paradox to mull over: “I’m a reporter, not a mystic, Linda.  But there are things beyond us, things perhaps we’re not meant to understand.  If what’s happened here had made this all clear, well then, perhaps it made sense after all.”  Gotcha: the story makes sense because it makes it clear we weren’t meant to understand it.

Probably The Manster‘s greatest claim to fame is being originally released as the bottom half of a sublime/ridiculous double bill with Eyes Without a Face (which was dubbed and retitled Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus to make it appear like just another B-horror movie!)  As the world’s first two-headed man/monster movie, it’s also the great-grandfather of How to Get Ahead in Advertising, and Sam Raimi even paid The Manster tribute in the weirdest sequence of Army of Darkness.  That’s pretty good company for a movie that began its life as an unsophisticated, exploitative b-quickie!

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…its gorgeous shadow-strewn cinematography, bizarrely mismatched performances, and loopy juxtapositions of Asian and American nightmare iconography make it unforgettable trash that, in its more insane moments, even attains a sort of accidental bargain-bin poetry.”–Ian Grey, Baltimore City Paper (DVD)

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