EDITOR’S NOTE: The first part of this originally ran in Drive-In Asylum.
When American International Pictures started hyping The Incredible Melting Man, they went all out. And by all out, I mean they gave in to the sinister urge to varnish the truth. A poster for the film had this statement on it: “Rick Baker, the new master of special effects, who brought you the magic of The Exorcist and gave you the wonder of King Kong, now brings you his greatest creation, The Incredible Melting Man.”
The poster upset William Friedkin so much he tore it off someone’s wall. Sure, Baker had assisted Dick Smith on The Exorcist, but he admitted, “I really didn’t do anything creative, I just did labor” in a public apology for a publicity campaign that he had nothing to do with.
That said — Baker’s effects for the film are perfectly goopy, gory and great. He created a skull-shaped flesh-painted helmet that Alex Rebar would don, then Baker would cover him with more paint and Dick Smith’s recipe for blood — methyl paraben, corn syrup, water and powdered red and yellow food coloring (and a few ounces of Photo-Flo), ending up with such a mess that Rebar would need to peel the costume off at the end of each shooting day.
I knew none of this as I grew up in Western Pennsylvania. One day in 1977, I was simply looking at Halloween costumes in a Revco drug store at the Shenango Valley Mall. As I gazed at the various Imagineering makeup kits — like THE FACE made with FLEX-O-SKIN — I came upon a sight that would possess my every waking moment for the next several months.
The Incredible Melting Man makeup kit.
I stood, mouth agape and frozen in fear, like how the characters in an H.P. Lovecraft story act when their mind is decimated by an elder god (or how a librarian in a Fulci movie simply sits and waits for a spider to eat his face). Then I started screaming and ran from the store. I paced outside, waiting for my parents and brother to emerge (back in the 70’s, parents would simply sit their kids in front of the toy department or magazine rack while they shopped, because we didn’t know about abductions yet). The entire ride home, I kept replaying the image of that face melting away, convinced that because I had touched the box that my own visage would soon fall apart and I’d die, a mess in the back of my parent’s stationwagon.
I had no idea that The Incredible Melting Man was a movie. All I knew was that I lived in mortal terror and my nightmare would never end.
When I finally saw the movie, I discovered that maybe I was afraid for no reason.
Directed and written by William Sachs, this was intended to be a parody of horror films but ended up being a straight scare movie and suffered as a result. It’s still a blast and Baker’s effects are pretty great.
Poor Colonel Steve West (Rebar). His mission to Saturn ended with both his fellow astronauts dead and his face and hands melted off. He spends most of the movie randomly showing up and killing couples, as well as getting his arm chopped off by an axe before suffering that most bleak of all movie big bad deaths: he’s mopped up by a janitor the next morning.
The horrifying visuals that haunted my childhood dreams aren’t nearly as frightening as I thought they would be. Years of not watching this was just wasting my time. I’m goign to mentally send young Sam a message and tell him to get that makeup kit.
Rainbeaux Smith shows up as a model and that’s usually all it takes for me to watch a movie.