No sea beasts, dinosaurs, giant arachnids, or skyscraper-sized gorillas in today’s flick. The monster in today’s entry in the October Horrorshow Giant Monstershow is a gigantic man.
The Amazing Colossal Man is the fourth film of this year’s Horrorshow, and the third released in 1957, from ’50s b-monster auteur Bert I. Gordon. The man found a niche, and stayed there until the box office returns started to dry up. From a screenplay by Gordon and Mark Hanna (who would pen Attack of the 50 Foot Woman the following year), The Amazing Colossal Man tells the tale of the unfortunate Glenn Manning (Glenn Langan), an army officer who is exposed to a nuclear blast during a test in the Nevada desert.
The government was testing a new type of nuclear bomb, and Manning and his soldiers were there to witness it. But a small plane crashed on site, and Manning ran from the safety of a trench to aid survivors as the bomb exploded, exposing himself to massive amounts of heat and radiation. Manning was far enough away from the explosion to avoid being killed outright, but the force of the blast left him with burns over 90% of his body. Doctors at the hospital where he was taken gave him no chance to survive through the night.
The hospital staff were shocked, then, when the following day while redressing Manning’s wounds, a nurse discovered that his horribly burned skin had completely healed, with no scarring, overnight. The doctors, Paul Linstrom and Eric Coulter (William Hudson and Larry Thor) suspect the plutonium used in the nuke had something to do with Manning’s miraculous recovery. But, the radiation has done more than just heal Manning. It has also caused uncontrolled cellular growth. This sounds like cancer, but it’s not. In Manning’s case, the cellular growth is even and perfect, causing him to increase in size about eight to ten feet a day. The army wastes no time in whisking Manning away to a remote location in order to study the situation and possibly find a cure.
Meanwhile, Manning’s fiancé, Carol Forrest (Cathy Downs), who was not told that Manning was being taken away, manages to track down the army facility and forces her way into his treatment.
Manning is distraught over his condition. As he continues to grow, he becomes more and more frantic, and somewhat suicidal. He is beginning to lose his mind. Also, the doctors have discovered that one part of Manning’s body is not growing evenly. His heart is lagging behind. Unless they find a cure for his condition, Manning will, in a matter of days, outgrow his heart’s ability to pump blood. But before that can happen, Manning finally snaps, leading to a climax as Manning rampages through the streets of Las Vegas.
Gordon developed quite a bit as a filmmaker between King Dinosaur and this, his fourth feature film. He looked to have had more of a budget to work with in this film, but more money can’t buy a better sense of pace. This film does drag at points, which was something for which Gordon was notorious, but at times it is also, dare I say it, an engaging drama. The sets are cardboard, the premise is devoid of all logic and actual science, and there are still moments where Gordon was just padding the runtime, but Gordon manages to instill some empathy for Manning in the audience. And then it all comes to a screeching halt.
It’s great that Gordon and company came up with a good idea. But while the beginning and climax of a giant monster flick presents itself somewhat easily — first act create the monster, final act kill the monster — it’s the in-between stuff that is the hard part, and Gordon just couldn’t bring it home.
It’s not completely his fault. Sure, the introspective musings Manning goes through as he bemoans his condition weren’t written by Shakespeare, but Gordon should have been able to count on a less hammy performance from his lead, even if a picture like this would not have been able to attract top talent.
Other aspects of this film betray Gordon’s lack of resources. The special effects, with the exception of the sequence where Manning is injured, are pretty awful. Gordon used process shots, and Manning never really integrates that well. In some shots, Manning is partially transparent. And then there’s the finale in Vegas. Here is a 60-foot tall man marching down Fremont street and trashing casino signs, and literally dozens have turned out to watch. It’s a tell-tale moment of shitty filmmaking. That being said, the payoff after having to endure Manning’s ersatz philosophizing is decent enough. It looks silly, but it’s a giant half-naked man trouncing Vegas. That’s good stuff even if it looks like crap, and continues the Hollywood tradition of targeting landmarks for destruction by big baddies.
Bert I. Gordon films are an acquired taste. One really must have the shitty movie gene. There isn’t one film of his that isn’t harmed by slow spots and egregious efforts to pad the runtime. But in this one, Gordon showed flashes of being a storyteller. It wasn’t enough to get this flick out of the gutter. Alien: Resurrection is a better film than The Amazing Colossal Man.