PURE TERROR MONTH: The Manster (1959)

Thanks to Dustin Fallon from Horror and Sons for this entry. He’s always been a big promoter of our site and has been instrumental when it comes to getting writers for this project. I’ve always had fun writing for his Halloween projects and am so glad that he repays the favor. 

The Manster is a 1959 film written by George Breakston. Breakston started his career as a child actor in the 1930’s, eventually moving into producing and directing in the 1950’s. However, for this film, Breakston shared directorial duties with Kenneth G. Crane. While Breakston had primarily directed jungle-themed action flicks up until that point, Crane had already established something of a genre film pedigree, having directed 1957’s Monster from Green Hell and edited the US release of Ishiro Honda’s 1955 film Jū Jin Yuki Otoko (released in the States as Half Human in 1958). The Manster was first released in Japan in 1959 as The Two-Headed Killer, but re-titled for its 1962 American release.

The film opens to find the women of a small Japanese village attacked by a large ape-like creature. This is followed by a scene featuring a scientist who is arriving at his lab to look for the escaped creature, whom he refers to as “Kengi”. In the lab is a large cage containing a heavily deformed woman, whom the scientist sadly tells that he is unable to safely release. The creature soon appears, and it is revealed that not only was this beast once a man, but that he was actually the scientist’s brother!! The scientist, a Dr. Suzuki, releases a noxious gas from a large machine and even shoots the beast a few times in order to stop it. He tosses the corpse of the creature that was once his brother into an incinerator, which both saddens and angers the caged woman.

Some time later, and presumably not too long after the opening events, an American reporter arrives at Suzuki’s laboratory. The reporter, a man named Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley, who is probably best known for providing the voice of “Jeff Tracy” on The Thunderbirds), has been assigned to write an article covering Suzuki’s research on the effects of cosmic rays in evolution. The assignment is to be his last before returning home to his wife in New York, whom he has not seen for months.  However, once Suzuki discovers that the man is in Japan alone, he seizes the opportunity to use Stanford, albeit without the man’s consent or knowledge, as the latest guinea pig in his series of genetic research experiments. Suzuki offers Larry a sedative laced drink and, once unconscious, injects him with an experimental chemical agent.

 Larry later awakens from the stupor, but the doctor admits nothing of what he has done to the American. Suzuki gives the reporter a few non-incriminating photos from earlier research and experiments, the creature that was once known as “Kengi” clearly omitted from the included images. Larry departs, believing his story to be completed. That is, until a few days later when Suzuki rings Stanford’s Tokyo-based office to say that he is in town and would like to meet with Larry for some drinks.

Before his night out with the scientist, Larry calls his wife back home in the States. The couple express just how much they miss each other, and how they can’t wait for Larry to finally be back home. However, Larry’s words of love and devotion are seemingly quickly forgotten as he is next seen kissing up on a geisha at a small get-together organized by Suzuki. Stanford becomes increasingly inebriated as the night progresses, quickly becoming just another slobbering drunk who can’t keep his hands off the ladies.

Stanford succumbs to the spell of this new carefree way of living, even delaying his return home so that he can enjoy more of the moral degradation that he’s been lead into. He begins to ignore calls from his office and from his wife, instead spending his free time with the geishas that Suzuki arranges or out getting sloshed off of sake with the scientist at bath houses. Suzuki even initiates a romance between Stanford and his assistant, Tara, in the hopes of further distracting the man from his obligations at work and at home in order to observe the results of his secret experiment. It’s during one of these mineral baths with the lovely Tara that Larry first begins to feel the effects of Suzuki’s injection, although he has no clue what is happening to him nor why.

Larry moves from spending his free time with geishas to spending all of his time with Tara, drunkenly stumbling from evening to evening, out on the town with the woman. However, one evening turns particularly sour for Larry when he and his new “lady-friend” return to his hotel room to find his wife waiting for him. Suspecting that infidelity may be behind his delayed return home, Mrs. Stanford offers her husband an ultimatum: return home with her or stay in Japan with Tara. Unfortunately, her ploy backfires.

Larry leaves the hotel with Tara, returning the woman to her home. Tara informs Larry that she would be willing to commit to a relationship with him, but not while his current marriage is still… well, “current”. Larry returns once again to the hotel, this time to officially end his marriage. However, upon returning to the hotel room, the effects of Suzuki’s serum begin to physically manifest in full. The married couple get into a heated argument, with Larry prepared to choke out his wife before she flees from the room in terror.

Confused, angered, and unable to control the changes coming over him, Larry wanders the streets of Japan. He comes across a small Buddhist temple, killing the priest that waits inside. He later awakens on the floor at Tara’s home, and despite now wearing the dead priest’s prayer beads, he remains completely oblivious to his earlier act of evil. Any attempt to recall the events from earlier are dismissed once Tara decides that sex is more important.

Larry continues to wander the streets, frequently losing control to the force taking over him and murdering more women who have made the mistake of walking at night unaccompanied. Meanwhile, Dr. Suzuki sits proudly by, unconcerned by the side effects or repercussions of what he has wrought. By this point, Tara has developed feelings for the American, and vocally disapproves of the doctor’s methods. Granted, it’s far too late to actually change things now as Larry has already become a hairy, 2-headed monstrosity with a propensity for killing.

From here, The Manster devolves into a marginally tedious “chase film”, with the Japanese police force attempting to track and stop the creature once known as “Larry” to little success.  The prop used for the beast’s other head is pitifully ineffective, except for perhaps the scene in which we can see it up-close and making facial expressions. Granted, this scene actually features a person in facial appliance playing the role, but the effect is still quite laughable, even by effects standards of the era.

Meanwhile, Suzuki prepares a counter agent to inject the “Stanford monster” with, should it return to the lab. And “The Larry’s” do indeed soon return, destroying the lab and killing Suzuki in the process, but not before the doctor can inject the man. This conclusion coincides with the eruption of a volcano near the lab. There would seem to be some semblance of humanity left within Larry, as he has the decency to save Tara from the lab. Well, maybe “decency” isn’t exactly the right word to use, seeing as the Manster backhands the woman into unconsciousness first, and how he’s only saving her so that he can mate with her later on.

The two halves finally do split apart, allowing the “real” Larry to revert to his normal self. The other half’s first and only act of independence is to toss Tara into the open mouth of the volcano, only to be pushed in itself mere seconds later. Larry is carried away to seek medical assistance, but thankfully, the local police have full intention of filing charges against Larry for his crimes. The film attempts to end with an uplifting monologue from the editor character in which he tells Mrs. Stanford, as well as the audience, to believe in the inherent “goodness” of Larry’s spirit, as well as that of all men. While that is all well and good, Larry still murdered a bunch of people. That fucker’s gonna fry!

Ultimately, The Manster is a surprisingly sleazy, yet moderately entertaining take on the “Jekyll and Hyde” tale. Performances are respectable, even if the dialog is a little thin. Unfortunately, the film’s selling point, which would be the titular “monster”, is more than underwhelming. Arguably more damning, even at just over 70 minutes long, poor pacing makes the second half of the film drag.

While, overall, I do enjoy the film for what it is, this one may be a “tough sell” for many. The Manster, in my humble opinion, while watchable, is not one of the stronger films on this box set.

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