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Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Manster (1959)


Next on my list of "Terrorpolooza 2012" reviews is an American/Japanese horror movie that I felt combined the best parts of American and Japanese film making into a smooth whole.

Larry Stanford befriends a scientist whom he interviews for his newspaper.  As Dr. Suzuki introduces him to the finer parts of Japanese culture, he finds himself falling for the scientist's beautiful assistant.  His personality starts to change... and soon his body follows...

If there is ONE thing that Japan is known for, it's great monster ideas.  If there is ONE thing the US is known for- especially back in the 1950's, it was for great camera work.  The two are used to wonderful effect in "The Manster".

The story is a simple Mad Scientist plot, but if fully capable of carrying the weight of the characters, and the things that happen to them.  There is very little in the way of frivolous subplots in this movie, each element of the story helps to move it forward, and add depth to the characters.  I could easily imagine this movie being an old 1950's style pulp novel.

The characters are great as well.  Even though you'd like to smack him, you still like and feel for Larry as he undergoes the bizarre changes that occur.  You also come to like the cool, beautiful, and slightly aloof assistant, Tara as well as her boss, Dr. Suzuki.  These three are given depth, and grow as the movie progresses.  They could've been presented as stereotypes in the genre, but are given to us as complex people with emotions of their own- which is what I look for in movie characters.

The acting on the part of these three actors: Peter Dyneley (as Larry), Terri Zimmern (as Tara), and Tetsu Nakamura (as Dr. Suzuki) was just a pleasure for me.  They engaged me, drew me in, and pulled me along with them as the events of the story unfolded.  They made me care about what was happening on the screen.

And then there is the Manster itself, and a couple of other "monstrosities".  The costuming of the monster at the start of the movie was pretty good.  It gave me a hint of what was to come, and made me want to see it.  Then came the make-up for the female "failed experiment".  It tore at my heart to see what the experiments had done to her- and the story behind it only made it all the more poignant to the scientist's personality.  After that came one of the best visual effects scene I've ever seen in a movie from the period- the eyeball in the shoulder shot.  My jaw actually dropped when I saw it, I was so impressed by it.  Unfortunately, the next stage of the transformation with the two heads wasn't as smoothly done as the eyeball stage.  Given what they had to work with though back then, they did the best they could, and it was still effective.

There is also some wonderful camera work in "The Manster" as well.  The open attack scene with the blood splashed on the screen was a fantastic shot.  The use of light and shadows was just remarkable as well, and really helped to create the mood and atmoshphere that fit the story perfectly.  Modern movie makers could take a few lessons away from black and white movies like this one, I think.

Ultimately, I have to say that "The Manster" is one of those films that illustrates monster movie making at it's best, even with it's low budget.  I would have very little problem with re-watching this movie again.  It's going into The Good.

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