This is a wonderful little film. Why don't more people know about it? There is a odd triumvirate of "two headed movies", forming their own sub-genre which just have to be explored. There's The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant, yet to be tracked down and reviewed, The Thing with Two Heads, a seventies opus with Ray Milland, and this sixties gem. Let's review number two of the three. It's got enough whiffs of gore, implied nudity and scientific sleaze to make it a true classic. There's also the Japanese setting, actors and overall feel that make it quite unique. Let's get into the story.
It's sixties Japan, and the first scene is some nubile Japanese girls taking a communal bath. While there is no outright nudity in this film, there's often these types of bared-shoulders-in-the-baths scenes which probably excited many adolescent boys in the sixties - and beyond. An ape-like creature breaks into their bathhouse and kills them, to which we see a splatter of black-and-white blood on a rice-paper curtain. We then go to the Laboratory of a certain Doctor Robert Suzuki (Tetsu Nakamura) and his pretty assistant Tara (Terri Zimmern). Doctor Suzuki has tracked this hairy creature, whom he calls Kenji, to his quarters and shoots him dead. We also see a grotesque female creature that wails in a cage. The creature make-up here is actually quite disturbing, as well as its cries. Suzuki is experimenting with mutating people to become a new species, for what reason we never know, but the results are hardly pretty, or friendly.
Enter American reporter Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley) visiting the good Doctor for reasons I can't remember. Stanford is the perfect subject for Suzuki, and despite Tara's objections, he drugs him with laced saki, then gives him a mysterious injection. Stanford, other than a sore neck, is none the worse for wear and eager to return home to his wife Linda, (Jane Hylton) who is waiting for him impatiently back in America. First things first though - Suzuki invites Larry out for a night on the town, and things quickly take a turn for the worst. Under Suzuki's influence, Larry becomes a drunken, womanising rogue, neglecting to go home at all, no doubt affected by the mutating serum in his veins.
As his moods deteriorate, Larry also falls in love with Tara, and refuses to go back to Linda. Linda talks to Larry's American co-workers, and tries to stay and talk sense into him. Meanwhile, Larry has strange attacks where his hand becomes clawed and hairy, and he kills various women and a temple priest at one point. Larry's friend Ian (Norman Van Hawley) hires a psychologist to help him, but is rebuffed by the raging, disturbed man. Suddenly, Larry feels a stabbing pain and sees an eye growing out of his shoulder! Director Sam Raimi no doubt cribbed this scene for his Army of Darkness - watch it and you'll see what I mean. Stanford, in horror, tries to get help from the Psychologist but is zapped by a faulty electrical wire, and mutates even further. A second, smaller monster-head grows from his shoulder and he turns into a marauding, fanged, shaggy-eyebrowed two-headed Thing! This is a great moment in Cinema, folks. Of course, the psychologist and a few others are toast at this point.
After being chased by police in a lengthy scene, "The Manster" (he's never referred to as this) finds his way back to Suzuki's Laboratory. We have found out in the meantime that the ape-Kenji-monster was Suzuki's brother, a willing test subject, and that the female monster was his wife, again another willing person who tried his monstrous serum. Suzuki kills his stricken wife out of pity, and Tara convinces him to commit suicide, hari-kiri style. Suddenly the Manster bursts in and attacks, and Suzuki gives him an injection which may separate his monster-half give enough heat in the atmosphere. Sure enough, there's a volcano around - we saw it at the start of the film - and after Larry kills Suzuki, he grabs Tara and carries her up to it. As soon as he reaches the crater, the monster-side of him painfully splits off to reveal yet another ape-like creature - and a human-again Larry. The two, newly split protagonists fight each other near the deadly crater. Will any of them avoid being burned to a crisp in the big climax?
I was very pleasantly surprised by The Manster. The eerie organ music makes for extra atmosphere. The acting, especially the characters of Larry, Suzuki and Tara, is all a high standard, far more than a little pot-boiler like this would warrant. Yet, they all take it very seriously and put their all into it. You actually feel something like pity for the poor American, tricked into becoming, first a depressed, drunken boor, then an out-of-control monster, as well as Suzuki's poor old wife turned into a shrieking, chained-up mutant. The black-and-white photography is nicely done, and even through the central creature does look a bit silly at times, it's never enough to detract from the film. In some shots, like the above one, he even looks a little frightening. As a Japanese/American co-production (although most of the crew seems to be American) it certainly has a unique look to it that makes it memorable. All the characters speak perfect english so it's hardly a "foreign" film. There aren't gouts of gore or explicit sex, but there is a sordid air implied at certain moments, that this reviewer appreciated.
All in all, I'd recommend this one to any of you out there who likes a bit of scientific fantasy/horror with a Japanese feel to it. Some of you may get a laugh out of the cheesier elements, some may just sit back and appreciate the superb imagination that went into the film. Either way, enjoy the delights of The Manster.
© Boris Lugosi 2005.
Review written: 05/16/2005 20:13:37