70s Memories: The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

Written by William Sachs
Directed by William Sachs
Starring Alex Rebar, Burr DeBenning, Myron Healey, Michael Alldredge, Ann Sweeny
US Release Dec. 19, 1977
RT 84 min.
Home Video Shout! Factory
Classic Horrors rating = 4 (out of 10)

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Oh, Incredible Melting Man, how bad are you? Let me count the ways…  Your budget is so low you can’t even afford to use stock footage of Saturn; instead, you use public domain images of the sun and a moon satellite.  Your script is so weak that the entire plot, according to Mystery Science Theater 3000, is that “a guy is melting.”  And you are ranked among the Bottom 100 list of films on the Internet Movie Database.  Yes, you are indeed a bad movie.

I knew that when I saw it at the Enid Drive-In, perhaps the last 1970s horror movie I remember seeing there. I never watched it again… until now.  Guess what?  It didn’t get any better with age.  The sad thing is, I watched it recently on a Shout Factory Blu-ray and it looked incredible.  But isn’t there a saying about a pig in lipstick?

I’m going to be a little more generous than MST3K and IMDb by saying I think there’s the kernel of a decent plot at the heart of The Incredible Melting Man. A “guy” goes to Saturn, is exposed to a solar flare through the rings of the planet and returns home to find he’s become a monster.  However, nothing is done with that plot.  Steve West (Alex Rebar) escapes the hospital and goes on a killing spree.  That’s it.  Why does he do it, though?

Dr. Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning) and General Michael Perry (Myron Healey) are hell bent on finding him. Why, though?  Twice, there are clues about some reason they need to locate him by the next morning.  I guess that pays off in the end, but it’s not emphasized enough throughout the movie to make the story interesting.  And it’s not so urgent a matter that the two can’t stop and share a lovely dinner with Nelson’s wife, Judy (Ann Sweeny).

I don’t have as much trouble with the movie’s plot as I do with its execution. Boy, is it badly directed and edited!  Scenes drag on and on.  A nurse runs down a long hallway… in slow motion.  A decapitated head floats down a stream… all the way down.  And we see characters climbing stairs… every flight?  Really?  Writer/director Williams Sachs seems to know nothing about building suspense.  Short scenes propel a movie forward.  Long scenes grind it to a halt.

The Incredible Melting Man is an odd mix of a movie. Supposedly, it was intended as a parody of horror films, but during its production, it was decided to take a more serious approach.  The “funny” scenes that remain seem out of place.  Instead of adding humor, they add a stink to the entire production.  For example, a sequence where Judy’s mother and “friend” stop to pick lemons on the way to the aforementioned dinner is physically painful to watch.

And with an overall serious approach, lines that might ordinarily provide a little comic relief are instead simply groaners. For example, “You mean he’s radioactive?” with the response, “Just a little bit” is just plain stupid in the context.  Conversely, serious lines become hilarious.  After tracking West with a Geiger counter, Dr. Nelson finds evidence in a tree that he’s been there, “Oh, God, it’s his ear!”  Yep, it melted right off of him.

The makeup by Rick Baker is somewhat impressive. However, there’s no progression in the melting process.  West is constantly dripping at the same rate and then all at once collapses in a heap next to a trashcan to completely disappear.  (Sorry, spoiler.)  It’s like his body is not just melting, but also producing fluids.  Otherwise, he’d be gone in the first five minutes.  (Supposedly, Rebar refused to wear makeup that would have shown a gradual progression.)

It also bugs me that Dr. Nelson keeps learning so much about the state of The Incredible Melting Man during his pursuit. “He’s getting stronger all the time.”  “His mind is so decomposed now.”  “He seems to be getting stronger as he melts.”  How the hell does he know this?  Sure, there’s a string of bodies in his wake, but Nelson has no real evidence on which to base his statements of fact.

There are a couple scenes in The Incredible Melting Man that I actually enjoy. Remember the head that floats down a stream?  Well, it eventually reaches a little waterfall and tumbles over the edge, cracking like a melon when it hits the rocks below.  That’s the best special effect in the movie.  And in the finale, someone is thrown over a railing to land in some electrical wires.  He slides between the wires in a gruesome shower of sparks.

But then, here’s how the movie ruins a perfectly good moment. To get maximum effect, I would think a single quick shot of the burning body on the ground would be enough.  Not here.  The camera lingers forever… and then we see it from another angle… and another.  I’m afraid the filmmakers know nothing about how to make a genre movie.

On paper, The Incredible Melting Man is no worse than any number of 1950s B-movies about irradiated monsters roaming the countryside. That fact alone makes the advertising slogan used to promote the movie absolutely senseless:  “The First New Horror Creature.”  What does that even mean?  If it implies originality, forget it.  With this movie, there is good news and bad news.  Good news first: it’s only 84 minutes long.  Bad news: it’s 84 minutes long.

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