The Manster (1959)

Rating: C

Dir: George P. Breakston, Kenneth G. Crane
Star: Peter Dyneley, Terri Zimmern, Tetsu Nakamura, Jane Hylton
a.k.a. The Split

This is a little unusual, in that it’s an American production, but one filmed in Japan. While there had been some crossovers, the approach tended more often to be taking a Japanese film and adding footage for the US market, such as inserting Raymond Burr into a re-cut version of 1954’s Godzilla. This takes American actors and actually films them on location in Japan, alongside local players like Nakamura and Jerry Ito, who both appeared in Mothra. The effects and soundtrack also come with a “Made in Japan” label. It’s quite ambitious for what is, in many other ways, very much a B-movie.

Journalist Larry Stanford (Dyneley) is sent to interview reclusive scientist Dr. Robert Suzuki (Nakamura) at his laboratory on the side of a volcano. What he doesn’t realize is the doctor decides to make him the subject of some frankly questionable medical experiments, regarding triggering evolutionary change chemically. Surreptitiously dosing Larry, Dr. Suzuki sets his assistant, Tara (Zimmern), to keep tabs on the unwitting writer, who begins to change, both in his personality and then physically. The former leads to a break-up with his wife Lynda (Hilton); the latter… well, an itch in his shoulder develops into an eye (top), then an entire second head. Worse, it’s an “other half” which compels Robert to kill almost anyone who crosses his path, from a Buddhist priest to a psychiatrist.

It’s basically a small-scale “monster on the rampage” film. This is perhaps most comparable to The Quatermass Experiment, not least in the way the victim conceals his hand, the obvious early manifestation of his ongoing metamorphosis. The Fly from the previous year is another influence, though the protagonist here is considerably less sympathetic. Right from the start, he seems creepily enthusiastic about whoring his way around Japan. Lines like, “You know, doc, I don’t know which I like better, Japanese sake or Japanese geisha,” have not aged well, and nor has telling Linda, “Maybe it’s because I never put you in your place before, never slapped you down when you needed it.” Yeah, hard to care much about Larry thereafter, even if it was the Manster talking.

The special effects, especially for the second head, are not great. As in, they make Zaphod Beeblebrox from the BBC TV version of Hitchhiker’s Guide, look like the work of Industrial Light and Magic. Things generally work better before the head shows up, or at the end, when it becomes its own functioning entity (despite leaving Larry with his own, apparently intact, shirt). The performances help, with Nakamura good as the scientist prepared to do anything. There’s a particularly nasty revelation about the creature he keeps in a cage. It’s salutary to remember less than 15 years before this was made, Japanese scientists were doing especially brutal human experiments. Probably a bit of stretch to suggest this is a nod to Unit 731 though.