1977’s The Incredible Melting Man is quite possibly one of the worst horror American horror movies of its time, but it’s also the film that kick-started my love affair with blood and guts horror cinema. Growing up in the late ‘70’s, after school programming was a lot different than what kids get today. We didn’t have eight variants of Nickelodeon or the Disney channel cramming manufactured pop idols down our throats, or a hundred different networks showing all manner of seizure-inducing cartoons. No, we had three channels (four, if weather permitted)! And on those three (or four) channels our choices were limited to maybe two or three cartoons, a bunch of bawdy game shows, and repeats of ‘50’s and ‘60’s TV shows like Star Trek, The Monkees, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and The Rat Patrol. Basically, networks gave kids Saturday mornings, and the rest of the week was adult time. Not even the commercials were geared toward us, which brings us back to The Incredible Melting Man. I remember this commercial airing in the late fall of 1977, during an afternoon episode of Star Trek. It started out harmlessly enough; something about an astronaut and an accident in space. I thought “Hey, astronauts? Space? I like those things! Tell me more!”
Well, before I knew it, the screen was awash in carnage the likes I’d never seen or imagined. After about thirty seconds of watching a literally melting man spew goo all over a series of hapless victims, I ran from the room in tears, thoroughly traumatized by what I’d just witnessed. The commercial would air several more times into the winter, and I’d force myself to watch it through barely-spread fingers, each time opening them a little more so as to desensitize myself to the gruesome imagery. Eventually, I started to like what I was seeing. Hell, I wanted to see it for myself! But, being all of eight years old at the time, no one was going to take me to see an R-rated sci-fi horror flick, so I did the next best thing – I begged my mother to buy me an issue of Famous Monsters (my first!) that featured the titular creature’s viscous visage on its cover, and, after convincing her that I was “mature enough”, she relented. After a couple of weeks, I decided that I was The Incredible Melting Man’s biggest fan, and talked about it with anyone who would listen. I wouldn’t actually see the movie until more than a decade later, when, fueled by nostalgia (and THC), I rented it from the video store only to discover that this film I’d wanted to see for the better part of my young life was little more than a terribly written and woodenly acted piece of z-grade schlock. But it was an important piece of z-grade schlock, and one that helped to shape me into the twisted and depraved individual that I am today.
The Incredible Melting Man opens with a trio of astronauts orbiting what appears to be stock footage of solar flares standing in for the rings of Saturn. Astronaut Steve West (Alex Rebar) joyously proclaims that “you’ve never seen anything until you’ve seen the sun through the rings of Saturn” before he and his crew are overcome by a case of overacting and bleeding noses. Somehow, Steve makes it back to Earth (we’ll overlook the fact that a manned mission to Saturn would take close to seven years, and, given his “condition” Steve would be little more than a stain in his seat by the time he got back home), where we find him wrapped up like a mummy in a secret “hospital” somewhere in California. Steve apparently needs to be regularly administered “whole blood” to keep him alive, but, when he awakens and sees himself for the first time, Steve goes berserk, kills his nurse, and skulks off into the wilderness to melt all over hapless California redneck types. Meanwhile, Steve’s doctor (and good friend), Ted Nelson, goes hunting for his irradiated buddy with a Geiger counter, stumbling across melted off bits of Steve along the way (“Oh God. It’s…it’s his ear!”).
As if having a rapidly liquefying best friend isn’t bad enough, Ted’s also got to contend with an ornery Air Force General (Myron Healey) who’s hellbent on getting Steve back in one piece. Matters are further complicated by Ted’s pregnant, borderline-hysterical wife, Judy (Ann Sweeny), whose mother and boyfriend have gone missing, as well as the local Sheriff (Michael Alldredge) who's certain Ted knows more about the grisly killings than he’s letting on!
Originally conceived as a horror parody (and it shows), The Incredible Melting Man is the sort of film that Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans drool over. It’s an unintentionally hilarious, woodenly acted, and, ultimately, pointless piece of sci-fi/horror dreck, yet it’s also a hugely entertaining experience so long as you’re in the…ahem…right frame of mind. The big surprise, however, is how well Rick Baker’s gruesome effects still hold up. This is some seriously icky stuff and, regardless of the quality of the film, still stands as some of the best SFX make-up work of the era.
MGM releases The Incredible Melting Man as part of their Limited Edition collection which, much like the “print on demand” Warner Archive DVD’s, offers a fairly barebones set with pedestrian cover art and a very utilitarian menu. It’s pretty cheap looking set, but the transfer is anything but! Save for the predictable amount of print damage in the stock footage bits and title sequence, this is one clean and crisp transfer, with vivid colors and a welcome sense of filmic warmth. The single bonus feature (and we’re lucky to have gotten even that) is the very same trailer I saw on television more than thirty five years ago, presented in full-screen and looking every bit its age.
While it never lived up to my childhood expectations, The Incredible Melting Man is a very important film to me in that it served as the gateway drug to my horror addiction. Sure, I’d dabbled in the genre with the Universal Classics that aired during the Creature Double Feature on Saturday afternoons, but once I saw that loveable melting mug staring back at me from the pages of Famous Monsters, I knew then that I’d be a gorehound for life. Having this movie on DVD, especially with such a quality transfer, is a bit of a Holy Grail moment for me, and this will be one I’ll torture my friends with over and over again. In the annals of z-grade cheese, The Incredible Melting Man is like a fine aged Limburger; it stinks so good.