Sunday, December 1, 2013

Manster, The (1959)

... aka: Doktor Satan
... aka: Kyofu
... aka: Nightmare
... aka: Sôtô no satsujinki
... aka: Split, The
... aka: Two-Headed Monster, The

Directed by:
George P. Breakston
Kenneth G. Crane

A furry man-beast mauls three women to death and then returns home, where his brother promptly burns him with steam, shoots him and then tosses him inside an active volcano, which he can access through a trap door in his basement lab! The brother - Dr. Robert Suzuki ("Satoshi" / Tetsu Nakamura) - is one misguided (though not completely heartless) fella. He was not only was responsible for his brother's monstrous state, but also has used his own wife Emiko (Toyoko Takechi) as a guinea pig in his experiments. Now facially disfigured, the deranged Emiko is kept locked in a cage in the cellar where she jumps around and wails like a banshee. But rest assured, Dr. Suzuki's just getting warmed up. World Press foreign correspondent Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley) shows up to the doctor's secluded mountaintop home looking to do a story on him. Suzuki discusses his research into how cosmic rays and evolution / mutations are linked, asks all kinds of personal questions and then wastes no time drugging Larry's scotch and then injecting him with some kind of substance while he's out cold. It seems the good doc is running low on test subjects and the strong, young Larry has stumbled there at the worst possible time. After all, when it comes to the greater good for mankind, "What happens to one man doesn't make any difference."

Larry returns to Tokyo and plans on going back to New York City in a few days to be reunited with his estranged wife Linda (Jane Hylton). First, Dr. Suzuki shows up and decides to start pampering his test subject and show him a side of Japan he's never seen before. He takes Larry to a whorehouse where he gets drunk on sake and messes around with some geishas. Then it's off to a hot springs hotel. Suzuki's sexy personal assistant Tara (Terri Zimmern) flies in for the occasion and soon Larry finds himself drawn to her. He's having so much fun he's forgotten all about going back to New York... but his wife hasn't forgotten about him. Arriving in Tokyo, Linda discovers the man she's married has made a 180 degree change for the worse. He not only tells her he wants to be with Tara, but he's also become a short-tempered drunk who's starting to show violent tendencies. Regardless, Linda doesn't want to give up on her marriage and, with help from Larry's boss Ian Matthews (Norman Van Hawley), decides to try to get to the bottom of things. Larry, on the other hand, is beginning to show strange physical changes to match the internal ones.

After losing feeling in his hand and having disorienting black outs, he starts getting a bad kink in his shoulder, which soon begins to mutate even further. During one of his spells, he goes to a Buddhist temple and murders a priest; not remembering any of this later. He then hits the streets and starts murdering others. A eyeball forms on his shoulder, and then an entire head sprouts out! Dr. Suzuki is hoping he'll eventually split into two different beings. After Larry murders a psychiatrist (Alan Tarlton) his boss tried to hook him up with, a police superintendent (Jerry Ito) organizes his forces and a city-wide manhunt ensues. Like the ill-fated creature before him, Larry ends up heading back to Dr. Suzuki's lab for the big finale.

A Japanese / American co-production filmed in Japan, The Manster (also released as The Split and under numerous other titles) is one of those films that's considered a bad movie favorite despite the fact it's actually not really a bad movie. Sure, it's utterly ridiculous and has some unintentional laughs here and there, but it's not poorly made and there's genuine imagination at work here. Some scenes are surprising and borderline surreal and the premise predates both the awful The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (1971) and the intentionally silly The Thing with Two Heads (1972) by a good number of years. I much preferred the approach of this one. It takes itself seriously and even shows some heart; particularly in regard to the mad scientist character, who turns out not to be a one-dimensional evil sort at all, though he seems that way at first. The makeup effects, which are excellent for the time, are credited to Shinpei Takagi, who also plays the Buddhist priest who gets killed.

Co-directors Breakston (best known as an actor) and Crane (who also made Monster from Green Hell [1957]), had both worked on the TV series African Patrol together. Sam Raimi paid direct homage to this film in his third Evil Dead flick; Army of Darkness (1992). There's some debate over when and where this was actually first released. Some sources say 1959, while others say 1961 or 1962. Here in the U.S., it was originally double-billed with the superior The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus aka EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960).


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