Review: The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #723

Number of Views: Two
Release Date: December 9, 1977
Sub-Genre: Body Horror/Melt Movie
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $250,000
Running Time: 84 minutes
Director: William Sachs
Producer: Samuel W. Gelfman
Screenplay: William Sachs
Special Effects: Rick Baker
Cinematography: Willy Curtis
Score: Arlon Ober
Editing: James Beshears
Studio: Quartet Productions
Distributors: American International Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Arrow Video (Blu-Ray)
Stars: Alex Rebar, Burr DeBenning, Myron Healey, Michael Alldredge, Ann Sweeny, Lisle Wilson, Cheryl Smith, Julie Drazen, Stuart Edmond Rodgers, Chris Witney, Edwin Max, Dorothy Love, Janus Blythe, Jonathan Demme

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Electric Light Orchestra “Melting In The Sun”

[2] Arlon Ober “The Incredible Melting Man”

I thought I’d kick this appraisal off with a fun little-known fact just to get those wagons rolling. Were you aware that the word “melt” has recently made something of a rousing comeback? In the UK, urban youths have taken to using this particular verb and granting it a fresh lease of life, as a term of questionable endearment no less.

Should you hear the words “get back in the freezer you fucking melt” then, by inner city definition, you are being accused of possessing no balls and being utterly clueless to boot. I’m not ordinarily one for street jive but this one tickles my fickle pickle ’til it trickles; so much so that I simply had to share it with you. That is all.

William Sachs’ 1977 oozefest, The Incredible Melting Man, may well have passed many of you by as it pretty much dissolved on release and has seldom been spoken of since. It appeared at a time when fifties sci-fi B-movies were enjoying a new lease of life and Sachs intended it to be a light-hearted parody of the monster flicks that inspired its conception.

However, the studio had other ideas and edited out many of the comedic scenes during post production, insisting that horror was the only way to go. As a result, it fell between the two stalls and was generally regarded as flimsy and forgettable fodder with nothing unique to set it apart from the droves. Needless to say, I beg to differ.

You see, while the “melt movie” may not be the most publicized of sub-genres, it isn’t without its highlights. Michael Herz’s The Toxic Avenger, Larry Cohen’s The Stuff, J. Michael Muro’s Street Trash, David Cronenberg’s The Fly, Chuck Russell’s The Blob, Brian Yuzna’s Society and Philip Brophy’s Body Melt all spring to mind, while make-up effects for the infamous toxic meltdown scene from Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop were directly inspired by none other than Sachs’ film.

For this reason alone, The Incredible Melting Man is now considered something of an innovator in B-movie circles as owe the entire melt movement to its very existence. Indeed, it featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1996 which raised its profile considerably. Thanks to Arrow Films, it has now been provided the long overdue Blu-Ray restoration treatment and this equates to a whole lot of schlocky goodness in my book.

Let’s get one thing clear from the offset shall we? The Incredible Melting Man is one huge gelatinous mess of a movie, at least, from a thematic standpoint. Like its titular terrorizer, it wanders aimlessly from one ill-conceived scene to the next with precious little focus and logic plays little to no role in proceedings.

That said, seldom has a midnite movie been so magnanimous when doing precisely what it states on the tin and Rick Baker’s gloriously gloopy make-up is truly a thing of twisted beauty. Moreover, we’re not required to sit tight until the closing act to witness the sickness in all its grotesque glory, as our primary enlightenment comes in the very same moment that our angst-ridden astronaut first unravels those facial bandages.

His name is Colonel Steve West (Alex Rebar) and he has recently returned from a long haul space expedition to Saturn which didn’t quite go according to plan. Exposure to intense levels of radiation was too much for his two fellow crew members to take and both succumbed to their extensive injuries. However, Steve inexplicably endured the blast and has been on bed rest in the local hospital ever since.

Eventually, he awakens from his indefinite slumber to find himself wrapped from head to toe in sterile dressing like some dirty little secretion. Understandably, the first burning question on his chapped lips involves what precisely lies beneath all this stifling gift wrap so he shuffles to the nearest wall mirror and inquires as to who the fairest might be.

Predictably the answer is not to his liking and it is here that we are first required to accommodate the ridiculous. Should I come to in a burns unit and be presented paella via reflection, then I’d damn well want some fast answers and the on-duty nurse would likely receive quite the mouthful. That said, I’d possibly refrain from chasing the poor woman down the longest corridor in living memory, before tearing off her rosy red cheek in a fit of murderous rage.

Something tells me that not all the apples were in the cart prior to lift-off as Steve switches from mankind to unkind in a step not nearly giant enough. On the distinct upside, talk about hitting the ground melting. I may find Steve’s actions a tad dyspeptic but, for the purpose of B-grade entertainment, I make him right you know. Fuck some shit up Steve and I’ll gladly follow your tacky trauma trail wherever it may lead.

And fuck some shit up he bloody well does. Indeed, no sooner have we dislodged a glob of Steve’s muculent man-snot from our rambling boots, than he has found himself another sorry sap to tear asunder. Could it be that Steve is about to put an 84 minute run together? If so then The Incredible Melting Man is in danger of becoming our new favorite movie.

All signs point to yes as his journey then leads shamelessly to a group of chain-smoking ankle biters for one of the most politically incorrect scenes in modern cinema. Steve isn’t feeling quite mean enough to dispatch these particular babes in the wood but their very attendance is priceless enough for some good old-fashioned shock and awe on this occasion.

Realizing that there is still a story to be told, Sachs opts to do just that as the military dispatches scientist Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning) to track down his old buddy and we bust out those Geiger counters. Ted splits his time 20/80 between tending to his pregnant wife Judy (Ann Sweeny) and hitting the radiation trail to track down and reason with his fast decomposing lard target. All the while, mission control are in his ear, reminding him of his brief and desperate to keep this whole sordid shambles under wraps regardless of cost.

Regrettably, this is where The Incredible Melting Man begins to liquefy a little as the second act gives Steve precious little to do aside from lurk with ominous intent and occasionally weep on the undergrowth. I’m all for building suspense but, at some point, you have to snip the rubber band so to speak and lopsided pacing harms the overall experience considerably.

Regardless of its numerous foibles, there are 1001 reasons to hold a soft, squishy spot in your heart of hearts for Sachs’ squelchy delight and barely a leper’s fistful not to. The dialogue and performances are wooden in the best way, it’s frequently inappropriate, perfectly showcases the sublime talents of one of the premiere effects artists of a generation, and deserves the little bit of love it’s had coming for too long now. I may be a lot of things but a “melt” ain’t one of them; thus I think I’ll leave mop-up duties to The Incredible Melting Man himself. Little tip for you Steve, my fast-curdling friend – you may wish to work on your back for a bit fella. Just saying.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Incredible is the operative word where monster maestro Baker’s practical SFX are concerned as they chart our melting man’s gradual dissolution into slop quite brilliantly, given the time and financial constraints faced. When you consider that Sachs’ film was released pre-eighties, the amount of splatter on the platter is admirable and there are some wonderfully icky moments crammed into the slender running time. My personal favorite would have to be the hapless fisherman’s head, which spends a good minute in downstream transit after removal, before tumbling down a waterfall and dashing on a sharp rock below. He’s also not averse to a little shameless sleaze for good measure, as attested by one reluctant flash of bouncing betties under an unscrupulous photographer’s leering gaze.

Read Robocop Appraisal

Read The Stuff Appraisal

Read The Blob Appraisal

Read Society Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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