Previously available in the United States as an MGM Midnite Movies VHS only release from 2000 (long out of print), and then issued as a Region 1 DVD as part of MGM’s Limited Edition Collection MOD program, the bonafide cult item THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN now gets the deluxe Blu-ray treatment via Shout! Factory's Scream Factory line. While the movie is basically a low-budget rehash of the old “astronaut goes up normal, comes down a mutant” formula (earlier examples of which being FIRST MAN INTO SPACE and MONSTER A-GO-GO), it’s redeemed by some literally eye-popping goo and gore effects by Rick Baker and assistant Greg Cannom.
While on a space mission to the planet Saturn (shown as grainy stock footage of solar flares and a NASA capsule in orbit over the Moon) astronaut Steve West (Alex Rebar) is exposed to a mysterious burst of cosmic rays that severely burns and scars his face and hands. Upon his return to Earth he is hospitalized and swathed in bandages, but he breaks his restraints and escapes the hospital, killing a nurse in the process and eating half her face for good measure (why he has suddenly developed a taste for human flesh is never explained).
Steve’s flesh starts to “melt” and drip, and slough off in disgusting clumps that look like chocolate/strawberry/vanilla swirl pudding. He wanders the countryside in his hospital jammies, killing, decapitating, and cannibalizing an unsuspecting fisherman, and scaring the dickens out of a trio of would-be delinquent kids. General Perry (Myron Healey — THE UNEARTHLY, VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE) assigns Dr. Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning) the classified mission of tracking Steve, who has by now lost an ear and his right eye and is leaving a virtual trail of radioactive, gelatinous flesh. Back at the ranch house, Ted’s pregnant wife Judy (Ann Sweeny) frets over her missing father-in-law and mother, who stop to steal some lemons from a citrus grove and get munched by The Melting Man. General Perry is Steve’s next victim, followed by a young couple (THE HILLS HAVE EYES’ Janus Blythe and director Jonathan Demme [CAGED HEAT, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS] in a rare “acting” role), but not before the wife hacks his left arm off with a meat cleaver.
The film climaxes as Ted and the local sheriff chase TMM around a huge industrial complex while two security guards pursue the three of them. The sheriff is thrown over a railing, perishing in a hail of sparks on some power lines, and Ted’s amusing protestations of “Don’t shoot, I’m Dr. Ted Nelson” fall on the security guards’ deaf ears as they riddle him with bullets, then meet their own demise at the hands of the rapidly degenerating Steve. Collapsing next to some garbage cans, Steve’s body begins to completely disintegrate, his left eye finally heading south in a cascade of bloody goop as he/it expires. The next morning (in the inevitable 1970s “twist” ending), a second Saturn mission launch is intercut with the industrial park’s visibly disgusted maintenance man depositing Steve’s remains into the garbage with a broom and shovel.
THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN has a pedestrian, TV-movie feel, and the screenplay throws logic to the winds at nearly every turn, providing numerous laugh-out-loud moments, including: Ted deflecting Judy’s questions about his mission by having a fit about her not picking up any crackers to go with his soup; the “comic relief” mother and father-in-law characters; Blythe’s character locking herself in the kitchen and choosing to confront The Melting Man rather than run like hell; Ted hanging from a steel railing at the industrial plant begging the cannibalistic, homicidal Melting Man to help him (“Steve, it’s me, Ted!); and the final “janitorial” scene, among many others. Despite these shortcomings, it’s nearly impossible not to be entertained throughout, and fans of 1970s drive-in schlock (not to mention dated synthesizer effects on the soundtrack) will not be disappointed.
Ultimately though, Baker and Cannom’s pioneering “goo” special effects makeup and some light gore (the fisherman’s bloody head floating downstream and over a waterfall, and partially eaten bodies of several victims) are the real attraction in what would be a pretty lackluster affair otherwise. The final “meltdown,” in particular, is pretty impressive and revolting. DVD Drive-In readers old enough to have been fans of Forrest J. Ackerman’s seminal Famous Monsters of Filmland horror mag will remember photos of the repulsive Melting Man featured prominently in its pages upon its initial release.
Another AIP pickup, MELTING MAN was executive produced by Max J. Rosenberg, who had been one-half of Amicus Productions in his partnership with Milton Subotsky, and written and directed by William Sachs (who had previously co-written and directed Erich von Däniken–ripoff documentary SECRETS OF THE GODS for Film Ventures International schlockmeisters Donn Davison and Edward L. Montoro, and later wrote and directed the cult Dorothy Stratten vehicle GALAXINA). The only nudity in the film is a brief, gratuitous topless scene by exploitation vet Rainbeaux Smith (THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS, MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH, etc.). And other familiar names in the credits include second unit director of photography Henning Schellerup (director of blaxploitation rarities THE BLACK BUNCH and SWEET JESUS PREACHERMAN and camera operator or DP on dozens of 1960s through 1980s exploitation flicks, including WILD RIDERS, DEATH RACE 2000, GATORBAIT II, CHESTY ANDERSON U.S. NAVY and PLANET OF DINOSAURS, to name a few) and veteran special effects pyrotechnician and stuntman Harry Woolman (THE SLIME PEOPLE, THE GIRLS FROM THUNDER STRIP, LOVE CAMP 7, BIGFOOT and many others).
When MGM relegated their new HD transfer to a barebones MOD DVD several years ago, it felt like a wasted opportunity not only because of the elements available but because of the cult item the film remains to be to this day. Thankfully, Shout! Factory has licensed the film from them and have given it the treatment it deserves. For this Blu-ray only release, THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN is presented in full 1080p High Definition in a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer. The transfer is gorgeous and virtually blemish-free, with well saturated and nicely balanced colors and crisp detail throughout (the textures in the outdoor greenery, as well as the many daylight-shot scenes, especially stand out now). Grain is generally tight and unproblematic, and the DTD-HD Master audio is clear, with no noticeable hiss or other noise. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.
Writer/director William Sachs goes solo for an audio commentary, in which he reveals that he had nothing to do with the opening scenes of the film (when Steve West experiences his space mission disaster, followed by his awakening in a hospital bed only to discover his horrific appearance in the mirror). Sachs states that he wanted the title character’s occupation as an astronaut to be kept a secret until the end of the film, but the producers thought otherwise and demanded the opening re-shoots. Sachs also discusses the comical intent of the film (despite the producers reading the script and seeing the opposite), the considerable 1950s horror comic book inspiration behind it, and although he speaks highly of the cast, there seemed to have been some bumps with the crew (the film went through two editors). Sachs repeats some of the stuff from the commentary but also adds some more tidbits (including that the shooting title was “Ghoul From Outer Space”) in a featurette (19:37) which also has Rick Baker as an interview subject. Baker remembers reading the script while in his gorilla suit for the ’76 KING KONG, and his hesitance in doing the low budget film (while his career was on the upward spine) caused him to ask for a ridiculous fee in hopes of rejection (which they ended up accepting). As opposed to Sachs, Baker believed the script was played straight but became a comedy due to the acting and editing. Makeup effects artist Greg Cannom is on hand for a shorter featurette (2:56) where he recalls his first meeting with Baker and that his experience on MELTING MAN (his first feature) was mainly working on the re-shoots, and that Rob Bottin was also with him. Two different theatrical trailers are included (one is a rare one which hypes Baker’s involvement, showing him creating appliances in his studio) as well as lengthy photo gallery and a radio spot. (Paul Tabili and George R. Reis)
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