Here's a landmark film that spits in the eye of George Lucas, a wretched, ignored pageant of plodding evil and slime that posits this: out there in space, you won't find cute droids and heroic peasants, just homicidal rage and liquefacation. Though poor in most respects, this horror film, in this reviewer's opinion, achieves historical significance by proving in 1977 that a mainstream audience existed for gory special effects films.
Anyway, that's what messed me up. Just as Lucas was creating the first generation of Star Wars geeks, special effects artist Rick Baker was uniting gore freaks with his gloppy effects from this cynical face-boiler. When astronaut Steve West makes the mistake of admiring 'sunrise' through the rings of Saturn, the sun itself sends out a solar flare that fries his buddies and sends him back to Earth a changed man. Unfortunately, being a melting man isn't all that incredible, sending West into a murderous, cannibalistic rage, which prolongs his miserable life. It's a big catch-22 that involves stock characters running around acting ridiculous while West melts like an ice cream sundae, eyeballs falling out, and rips a fisherman's head off. It should come as no surprise that things don't end well.
The Incredible Melting Man sold itself as 'the first new horror creature.' Writer director William Sachs may even have believed the idea, though his slime-bucket creature lacks the philosophical significance of, say, Frankenstein's Monster, or the looks of Dracula. Never mind the fact that Melty by nature must end up a puddle sooner or later. But, as a loony one-off and gore fiesta, The Incredible Melting Man can't be beat!
Sachs' short resume includes other wonky genre classics like Galaxina and whacked-out documentaries like Secrets of the Gods, but nothing that would distinguish him as a master of cinema. This deficit displays in the form of bizarre tonal shifts, shameless recycling of footage, total lack of tension, and a probable directing style involving mandatory drug use amongst the cast. If that was the case, I would have liked what he was forcing on the elderly couple out on a mission to steal some lemons for Dr. Ted Nelson's wife. Though integral to the plot, these two act as if someone had shoved the brains of a pair of four-year-old Martians into their bloated corpses. And they get frisky, but are soon enough Melting Man Munchies. I love my mutilation with a side of folksy humor, don't you?
As the Melting Man eludes capture by staggering slowly around in a field, remembering in great detail scenes we just viewed ten minutes ago, hero Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning) proactively goes into some kind of epileptic fugue state, becoming overly concerned with buying crackers. Next minute, West tears off that fisherman's head, tossing it in a stream so that it may bob up and down in idyllic manner before going over an artificial waterfall that looks to be installed in some porn producer's back yard. The nice thing is that Sachs switches to slow motion, following the head down as it shatters like a melon on the rocks.
Activity soon reaches a fever pitch at Nelson's house, as the General bivouacs there during his search for West. "General! I ... thought you were taking a nap," Nelson yelps, as the camera goes in for another lengthy close-up of Nelson's singularly unattractive wife. Sachs builds tension through scenes of the wife fretting as she knits; meanwhile, West decides to sit down next to a nondescript tin shed and melt to death, in the loneliest ending to a creature movie ever filmed.
Yeah, so The Incredible Melting Man is no great shakes. Mixing gory, venal cynicism with disturbingly na´ve humor, Sachs directs his creature feature with a flair for making every character seem as mad as a hatter, making every actor seem completely inept, and larding the whole thing with unintentional hilarity. Plus his title character has a melting face and likes to eat people. Seeing that melting face on the cover of Famous Monsters on some little grocer's magazine rack in Sacramento in 1977 was my wake-up call. Wake up and smell the blood America! Gore is here to stay!