October Horrorshow: The Incredible Melting Man

Being a fan of shitty movies can be taxing. For one thing, not all shitty movies are alike. There are good shitty movies and bad shitty movies. But, since we’re not dealing with quality, the bad far outweighs the good. For every Commando there are about fifty Ghosts of Georgia. It’s almost like watching sports, in that regard. A hardcore sports fan will sit through game after game, investing vast amounts of time waiting for the handful of games in a season that are memorable. That’s what I do a couple of times a week, only with movies. I sit down, hoping to be entertained, but most of the time, I’m treated to a festival of bores. Not today.

The Incredible Melting Man is a spectacular mess coming to us from the long gone year of 1977. Written and directed by William Sachs, this flick follows astronaut Steve West (Alex Rebar), the sole survivor of a mission to Saturn. His ship flew through a burst of solar radiation and West returned to earth seriously injured. In fact, just like the title of the film states, West is melting. It’s a fairly serious medical condition. Yet, against his doctor’s advice, West checks himself out of the hospital (in this case, bizarrely, a warehouse) and goes on a violent rampage, a la Frankenstein’s monster.

Hot on West’s trail is Dr. Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning), a scientist, who also happens to be West’s friend. In true b-movie tradition, it’s not explained just what kind of scientist Ted is. He’s just the movie’s resident smart guy, in charge of expository dialogue.

Other than that, there’s not much else going on in this movie. West rambles through the southern California countryside, leaving bits of his flesh behind in a grisly trail, and occasionally he eats people. Why does he eat people? Is there still a man underneath all that gory makeup, or has West become a zombie? It doesn’t make any sense why West is behaving this way, but it doesn’t matter. This is a movie about a man who is melting. His face fell off. It’s gross. If he spent the entire flick in a hospital bed then this movie would suck. A mobile melting man, terrorizing the fair citizens of the republic is exactly what we viewers need.

It’s the little touches here and there that make this flick shitty. An example: at one point during this movie, I picked up the tablet and googled, “would a human head float?” The best part? It auto-filled. I love both the fact this movie had me so curious, and that there have been enough queries on floating heads for Google to anticipate the question. That’s more a commentary on us than it is on the movie, but still...

Sachs wasn’t above some shitty movie trickery here and there to get his movie made. It has a run time of 84 minutes, but Sachs shamelessly padded this with overly long shots, reused footage, and slow motion sequences. My favorite example in this movie is when West chases down the nurse in the hospital/warehouse where he’s being treated. She flees from West, understandably, and then runs away down the hallway. And runs some more...down the same hallway, in endless slow motion. Then she runs through a glass door (spectacular!), and runs through the parking lot, only to be inexplicably caught and killed. A sequence that should have taken only a few moments instead eats up about a minute of screen time. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but Sachs does shit like this the entire movie. I bet if this film had been edited for proper pacing, it would be about 45 minutes long. But what makes this scene truly wonderful is that it concludes with a point of view shot of West chasing down the nurse. It sounds like the camera was mounted on a skateboard. I could hear the wheels spinning.

Sachs must have had to scrimp on the makeup budget, as well, as there are a whole lot of long distance shots of West stumbling around. We’re close enough to tell he’s a monster, from all the red on his head and clothes, but not close enough to make out any details. This flick is a master class in cutting corners. Poorly, I might add.

One last moment secures this movie’s shitty pedigree. There’s an expository scene between Ted and another doctor, while riding aboard an electric dolly in the warehouse. This noisy machine creeps through the warehouse while the two passengers talk about West’s condition. When I write that it’s a noisy contraption, I mean it. The noise threatens to overpower the dialogue. It looks neat, I guess, but why in the world would Sachs not have the audio re-recorded in this scene? There’s no call for leaving in the original audio. It’s horrible. Either Sachs didn’t have the budget for overdubbing, or he didn’t think it was necessary. Now that is some cheap shit.

Despite all of this, The Incredible Melting Man is a hell of a shitty movie. It’s a simple idea, made into a simple movie, with some gross makeup and hilarious set pieces (there’s a scene in a lemon orchard that is priceless). This is exactly what I want out of a shitty movie. I like this movie so much that I can see myself watching it again some day. That’s high praise, considering how many bad movies I see. This one’s better than Alien: Resurrection.