This movie review will appear in the upcoming Unsung Horrors, edited by Eric McNaughton. I have a few more reviews in the book, but there are dozens upon dozens of reviews, written by We Belong Dead magazine contributors, sharing their passions for those neglected horror movies you should know about. If you loved the now sold out 70s Monster Memories, written by the same wild bunch of fanatics, you'll love Unsung Horrors.
Watch out! The Manster and his mad companion Dr. Faustus are terrorizing (your city). This thrill show will be the shock experience of your life. Suspense like Hitchcock! Mood like Tennessee Williams! See The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus and The Manster at the Bijou Theatre, NOW! (15 second radio spot copy from the Lopert Pictures Corporation Double Bill Pressbook, The Master Suspense Thrill Show! for The Manster and The Horror Chamber of Doctor Faustus)
Okay, so what if Psychotronic described reporter Larry Stanford’s (played by Peter Dyneley) unwelcomed second head as a “carved coconut”? And so what if Bill Warren doesn’t much care for the movie in his so-big-it-could-give-you-a-hernia-reading-it book, Keep Watching the Skies! (He flatly states it “stunk.”) And, well, yes, there’s that dreadful, awfully written monologue given by Matthews (Norman Van Hawley), Stanford’s newspaper boss, who, after the movie should have ended, reflects with “who really did all these things” and “he was just an average joe” musings. Groan.
And I suppose we can’t easily ignore the stagey acting by Larry’s wife in every scene she’s in (played by Jane Hylton, Dyneley’s real-life wife), but especially when she ruins a perfectly good close-up by telling the Police Superintendent (Jerry Ito of Mothra and Message from Space) “when you find him, will you remember something has happened to him, something he can’t control.”
Sure, you bet. Something that makes him kill again and again and grow hair in the worst places, like some Dr. Jekyll strung along for an acid ride with Mr. Hyde. Only this time he’s dressed in a trench coat splattered with blood and has a homicidal second head calling the shots while his first one downs quite a few of the more intoxicating kind.
But let’s ignore all of that and examine the reasons you should see this movie.
The Manster, Half Man-Half Monster (also titled The Split in Britain) was released to U.S. theaters in 1962, on a double bill with The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus (which the so-darn-picky Bill Warren found “evocative” and “poetic”). A science fiction movie with horror overtone, The Manster is a low budget, noir-ish looking schlock propelled by a crazed Japanese scientist meddling with nature-flavored tokusatsu body horror.
Certainly any monsterkid worth his electrodes will vividly remember the impact of seeing that horror’s result: first, the unblinking eye peering up from Stanford’s shoulder; soon after followed by that homicidal, hairy, coconut-head sprouting from the same spot. You can bet monsterkids everywhere reacted to this in either of two ways, of course: (1) wishing for an eye to pop up on their shoulders, too, so they could bring it to show-and-tell at school (Munsters and Addams Family chit-chat could only go so far, you know); or (2), for the more squeamish among them, clapping hands to their mouths, hoping that the screams they promised they’d never make hadn’t awakened their sleeping parents who had warned, in no uncertain terms, to NOT stay up late and watch THOSE movies on television.
Yes, The Manster is one of THOSE movies that epitomizes 1950s horror.
There’s a secluded scientist (Tetsu Nakamura) in his mountain-side laboratory--built over a volcano’s heat vents!--experimenting on people without a moral compass to guide him, creating mutations and misery through his experiments in evolution; there’s the world-weary reporter anxious to leave Tokyo and get back to his wife in the U.S. (or maybe not so anxious, actually), who gets caught up in more than just a quick story as he meets that mad scientist; there’s the usually ineffectual authority figures holding press meetings to watch body counts rise; and there are those budget special effects the director and cinematographer wisely kept in the dark most of the time. Aside from the bouncy balloon effect of the second head on Stanford’s shoulder when he runs, he still presents a terrifying image when standing still, limned against darkness, both heads snarling with beastly evil as they prepare to kill. There’s a whiff of noir atmosphere, but only a whiff as the police close in.
An English language co-production between United Artists and United Artists of Japan, with American and Japanese actors, The Manster impresses with its troubled, rough-edged reporter, its eventually remorseful scientist (okay, sure, he shoots his mutated wife and pushes his brother into a heat vent, but he’s sad about it afterwards), and its brutish premise of man and monster at odds with each other in one body.
There’s even an evocative and eerily poetic scene (in your face, Bill Warren!), showing Stanford as he follows priests to a temple where he’s attracted to another priest praying inside. It’s nighttime. The second head isn’t showing yet but its murderous desires are. Stanford enters the temple, sweating, irritable, looking for help but he doesn’t realize it. He tries talking to the priest with useless small talk. The priest stops praying and looks at him. Not understanding what Stanford is saying, and not really caring to, the priest goes back to his chanting. Wrong thing to do. Stanford becomes more agitated and the squat Oni statue, with glaring, angry eyes, is making him crazier by the second. He glances around the room at the dozens of other statues staring at him. Sweat starts pouring. The Oni’s stare pushes him over the edge. Our view moves to the cold, lifeless statues. Off screen, the chanting suddenly stops, replaced by a gurgling scream. This scene is always neglected by critics in their terse reviews. Shame on them.
The characterization of the leading man, Stanford, the reporter who’s worn out and not as clean and pressed as the trench coat he wears, is not your typical leading man role for a 1960s movie, either. Peter Dyneley, a British actor playing an American (he voiced Jeff Tracy in Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6), presents an atypical character as Stuart Galbraith notes in his Japanese Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films:
By 1962, characters in nearly every science fiction film made in the United States and even Japan were standard, perfunctory “types”: stoic, by-the-book military men, dedicated scientists, etc. Peter Dyneley’s Larry Stanford was different—a tired family man, looking ready to retire, harboring a deep resentment against his wife and frustration regarding his career which only become exposed while in his monster state.
Stanford’s atypical character isn’t the only one. Scientists in the 1950s and 1960s were usually on the up and up. Except for the occasional rogue conducting experiments not included in a Gilbert Chemistry Set (I was a Teenage Frankenstein and I was a Teenage Werewolf for instance), men of science were stalwart defenders of earth and humanity. Dr. Suzuki, our mountainside-secluded scientist with jail-like cells in his laboratory and a dwindling family tree? Not so much. He does manage to come around toward the end, just when everyone is about dead. Seeing Stanford in so much distress, he injects him with a final dose intended to split man from monster.
But will Stanford survive? Will he split from his stifling wife? And are mountainside laboratories built on volcanic heat vents a good idea? You be the judge. The Manster is waiting for you.
Information sources used for this article include: The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film by Michael Weldon, et al., 1st edition, 1983; Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties by Bill Warren, 2nd printing, 2010; and Japanese Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films by Stuart Galbraith IV, 1994. And of course, IMDb and Wikipedia, too.