Friday, July 10, 2015

The Manster (1959)

The Manster is another of those elusive movies which I first encountered via a still in a book on horror movies when I was a kid.  It depicted a bestial-looking two headed guy fighting with a Japanese scientist.  The caption gave no real elaboration on this scenario and information about the film was hard to find.  Moreover, despite having had a UK release (under the title The Split), The Manster never turned up on UK TV and I never recall having seen a VHS or DVD release. So I was glad when it turned up on You Tube.  Running a brisk 72 minutes and photographed in crisp black and white, this US-Japan co-production wastes no time in serving up its surprisingly (for the time) brutal thrills, opening with a massacre at a geisha house, perpetrated by some kind of hairy hominid. 

Said creature turns out to be the creation of the local misguided scientist, who has his lab on the slopes of an active volcano.  The beast naturally returns home, where the scientist shoots it, revealing that it had once been his brother, who had volunteered to be an experimental subject.  (The scientist had also used his wife as a guinea pig - he keeps her, deformed and insane, in a cage in his lab).  Having run out of family members to experiment on, the scientist, Dr Suzuki, instead surreptitiously injects a visiting US journalist with his serum.  Inevitably, the reporter starts suffering all sorts of side effects, most notably a radical change in personality as he switches from being a conscientious journalist eager to return home to his wife in the US, to being a sleazy lowlife crawling through the underbelly of Tokyo, spurning his visiting wife for Suzuki's femme fatale assistant.

Inevitably, he starts having peculiar turns, in which his right side turns hairy and bestial and he starts murdering people - mainly prostitutes, but also a Buddhist priest and eventually an American psychiatrist trying to help him.  Eventually an eye appears on his right shoulder, to be followed by a complete second head after he receives an electric shock.  The rampaging two headed beast follows his predecessor's example and heads for Suzuki's lab, pursued by the police, his estranged wife and his editor.  Once at the lab, the creature inevitably kills Suzuki, before chasing the lady assistant up the volcano where he finally splits into two: his orginal self and a hairy hominid of the type seen in the prologue.  The hominid throws Suzuki's assistant into the volcano before being pushed in himself by the reporter.

A variation on the Jekyll and Hyde theme, The Manster is one of those films which, on one level, is so preposterous that you want to laugh at it.   However, it's portrayal of the fleshpots of Tokyo and its sheer bleakness make this impossible.  Interestingly, it offers no pat happy ending - the reporter, now divested of his evil twin, is still arrested for the murders he committed whilst under the influence of Suzuki's serum, with his wife and editor left pondering whether the authorities will offer any mitigation because of the circumstances in which actions took place.  Some of the special effects are, for a low budget movie of the period, quite effective, especially the eye on the shoulder.  The second head - some kind of mechanical prosthetic - isn't the worst attempt at realising such a thing I've ever seen.. The use of low-key noir-style lighting helps to keep it from looking as ridiculous as it should.  Even the actual split isn't badly done - effected by having the actors playing the reporter and the hominid placed behind a conveniently placed tree when it occurs, with one going one way, the other the opposite way, tearing the raincoat they are wearing apart.  (Somewhat miraculously, the reporter's underpants remain intact).

All-in-all, The Manster isn't a bad little B-movie.  Not hugely original and with a typically wooden cast speaking stilted dialogue (although, to their credit, they play it all straight), it nonetheless succeeds in creating a dark and sleazy atmosphere and delivers some decent thrills.   Not a classic, but still worth watching for lovers of schlock.



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