MansterAn American-Japanese co-production that apparently horrified an entire generation of sixties-era youngsters. Not being part of that generation, I wasn’t too bothered by the film, about a man with an extra head growing out of his shoulder that makes him do terrible things.

THE MANSTER (1959) was one of the most unique horror-fests of the early sixties, although what seems to resonate most is its promotion. The tagline “Half-Man, Half-Monster, All Terror!” has become legendary on the exhibition circuit, and so has THE MANSTER’S release on a double-bill with THE HORROR CHAMBER OF DR. FAUSTUS (the Americanized version of the French classic EYES WITHOUT A FACE). That unforgettable tagline was adroitly spoofed in Joe Dante’s MATINEE, while THE MANSTER itself was explicitly referenced in THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972), HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADVERTISING (1989) and ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992).

Somewhere in Japan a pool-full of pretty geisha girls are savagely murdered by a hairy monster. The critter is named Kenji and owned by Dr. Suzuki, Kenji’s mad scientist brother. Kenji, it seems, was the subject of an experiment that “didn’t work out,” and so ends up gassed by his none-too-benevolent sibling. When the square-jawed American journalist Larry shows up at Suzuki’s lab to inquire about his progress, Suzuki surreptitiously injects him with an experimental serum.

At first the serum has little effect on Larry. However, he gradually begins to lose his inhibitions and enjoy the local customs, which include frolicking with geisha girls and public orgies. Larry also discovers weird growths on his body, and comes to realize that his behavior is but a symptom of a horrific metamorphosis.

Larry begins stalking women and killing them, and then the most hideous development of all takes place: another head sprouts from Larry’s right shoulder! By now fully subhuman, and sprouting tufts of gorilla-like hair all over his (and the other head’s) body, Larry attempts to flee the attention of police and the local media, killing several cops in the process. He heads back to the laboratory of Dr. Suzuki and confronts the corrupt doctor…just as a nearby volcano erupts!

Unique though it is in many respects, this film is still very much a product of its time. That’s evident in the rather staid black-and-white photography and obnoxiously insistent music cues that punctuate the (none-too-horrific) horror. Another irritating early sixties convention is the resolutely personality-free hero, played by Peter Dyneley; it’s actually an improvement when he begins losing his inhibitions and sprouting hair! There’s also the ridiculous, and frankly racist, portrayal of Japan (where the film was shot) as a corrupt land of loose sexual mores and mad scientists.

But the film does boast a taut, well constructed narrative, and contains many striking images that can be retrospectively described as Cronenbergian, most notably a large eyeball that appears in the protagonist’s shoulder (never mind that the special effects here and elsewhere are pretty laughable). That and the sight of a woman with a hideously mutated face made the film somewhat notorious during its time (and actually led to it being banned in Finland). Of course it’s no longer terribly shocking, but does work as enjoyably archaic gross-out fun.

Vital Statistics

Lopert Pictures Corp./United Artists

Directors: George Breakston, Kenneth G. Crane
Producer: George Breakston
Screenplay: Walt Sheldon
Cinematography: David Mason
Editing: Kenneth Crane
Cast: Peter Dyneley, Jane Hylton, Satoshi Nakamura, Terri Zimmern, Van Hawley, Jerry Ito, Toyoko Takechi, Kenzo Kuroki, Alan Tarlton, Shinpei Takagi, George Wyman