July 9, 2012

Movie Review: The Manster (1959)

I am trying to figure out just when I first heard of The Manster (aka The Split). I know I had heard of it some time ago, but I may just be thinking of a joke. You have to admit, it is a bit of an odd title. It is one of those little monster movies that tried to feed off of the waning years of the Universal Monsters era. The film plays little like a mash up of The Wolfman and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, but with some more exploitive elements tossed in to spice it up a little bit.

As the movie opens, we witness some bathing geisha girls attacked by some sort of ape looking thing. You cannot get quite a good look at it, as you only see it in silhouette, but a splash of blood tells you it mean business. The tale picks up at the mountain laboratory of Dr. Robert Suzuki (Tetsu Nakamura). He is slightly off his rocker as he experiments with cosmic rays and their effects on evolution. It turns out, the ape man glimpsed at the outset is Suzuki's brother, who had agreed to be an experimental subject in his bizarre experiments. Now, he has proven to be a mistake and is disposed of into the active volcano that fuels Suzuki's lab. With family like that...

Anyway, Suzuki is visited by Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley), a reporter on assignment in Japan. He is looking to see what drive's Suzuki's work, which he believes involves mushrooms. Well, it just so happens, that with the loss of his brother, the doctor is looking for a new subject to test his evolutionary serum on. Larry seems to be the perfect candidate to be tested on. So, the doctor drugs the good Larry and pumps him full of the monster making serum.

Suzuki and his alluring assistant, Tara (Terri Zimmern), join him back in Tokyo so that they can monitor any changes that happen to him. Now, Larry is an interesting case and you can notice  change in him almost right away. When we meet him, he seems anxious to get home to his wife in New York, however, shortly after the serum is injected he appears ready to stay in Tokyo and partake in as much sake and as many geisha girls as he can. He begins to turn into a sleaze. The doctor pretty much pushes him into the arms of Tara, who falls for him even as he becomes progressively more monstrous.

The movie follows Larry as he slowly becomes meaner and grumpier. He gets surly and stops working, he starts drinking and smoking more. Then his wife shows up to find out why he hasn't come home. This just makes him angrier. The changes begin to advance, first a hairy hand appears, then a creepy eye sprouts on his shoulder. All of this is handled rather effectively. Larry starts blacking out and people start dying. Everything culminates with Larry literally splitting into two beings.

The Manster really isn't all that bad. It is rather short, clocking in at a mere 72-minutes, and because of that there are a lot of missed opportunities. Suzuki is could have been a much more interesting character, he is a somewhat sympathetic character, having experimented on his brother and his wife taking the serum herself and ending up a misshapen creature locked in the basement. He is a tragic figure who grows closer to the edge, determined to solve his serum and save his wife, but still doing so in unethical fashion. It is too bad we cannot explore him a bit more.

Larry Stanford is an interesting character as well. Sadly, we do not get to know him all that well before the serum injection. We do not really spend much time with him before the changes start to take hold, therefore it might be a little difficult to discern between the serum and if he really has some slimy tendencies.

The movie looks at the duality of man and how we have good and evil in all of us, as well as the dangers of messing with nature. Of course, it does it all on fast forward and adds in the luridness of infidelity, racism, and sexism to spice things up. This could be one of those movies to bridge the gap between classic monsters and exploitation. Manster is the missing link!

It is also interesting to note that this is credited with inspiring Sam Raimi when he made Army of Darkness he paid tribute when Ash swallowed one of his miniatures and an evil version splits off from him.


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