The Manster/Nightmare/The Split/The Two-Headed Monster/Kyofu (1960) -***
You want weird? Okay-- you’ve got it. Today, we’re going to talk about The Manster, which would have been my favorite Two-Headed Guy movie of all time, had it not been for The Thing with Two Heads, the incomparable early-70’s blaxploitation take on the Two-Headed Guy theme. This is the oldest example of the genre that I know of, and it is also the most imaginative and probably the craziest, which is less than shocking considering where and how it was made. Most people consider The Manster to be either a Japanese film or a Japanese-American co-production. The reality is actually a bit more complicated than that. The movie was filmed in Japan by producer/director George P. Breakston, for release through United Artists. The crew was, for the most part, American, while the cast was split about 50-50 between Japanese and American actors (though the Americans have, for the most part, the more significant roles). Breakston seems to have had a US audience in mind, because the film’s flavor is very much that of a late-50’s American sci-fi/horror flick, broadly comparable to The Werewolf and its kin. On the other hand, The Manster exhibits the almost total disregard for logic that is more often associated with Japanese kaiju eiga.
The story concerns the activities of a mad scientist named Robert Suzuki (Tetsu Nakamura, from Mothra and Yog: Monster from Space), who for no reason that is ever elucidated has been messing around with the human genome. What Suzuki wants to study is evolution and mutation, and he has discovered a chemical whose effects mimic those of the high-intensity cosmic rays that his theory credits with inducing the mutations that make evolution possible. I’m a bit unclear on the character of his early work, but when we meet him, his project is clearly quite advanced, because his first action in the film is to destroy a creation of his that went berserk, escaped from his hidden lab on the slope of a volcano (why am I getting the feeling that this will be important later?), and killed a number of nubile young women in the village at the mountain’s foot. The beast in question is an ape-like creature which Suzuki calls by the name Kenji. Apparently, the thing had once been Suzuki’s brother, which should tell you something about the kind of guy the doctor is. This Japanese Frankenstein also has another monster in his basement, a female mutant called Emiko (she looks a lot like the closet monster from the previous year’s The Brain that Wouldn’t Die), which will later be revealed to have begun life as Suzuki’s own wife! It’s enough to make you wonder why his beautiful white assistant Tara (Terri Zimmern), whose accent suggests France or perhaps Germany, stays with him; you’d think she’d worry about waking up one morning as a monster herself.
But even if Suzuki has such designs on her, it’s quite clear that they won’t be coming to fruition for a good long time. The doctor has great need of her just now, because he has found a new test subject in the form of American journalist Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley, who would go on to provide the voice of Jeff Tracy on “Thunderbirds”). Stanford and Suzuki meet when the reporter comes to visit the lab to conduct an interview. A few suspiciously personal questions from Suzuki apparently establish Stanford’s suitability as a guinea pig, and the doctor slips his guest some drugged Scotch to put him under. A few minutes and an injection of some unknown chemical later, Stanford awakens (he thinks he merely fell asleep while waiting for Suzuki to emerge from his lab with some photos because he wore himself out climbing the mountain), finishes his interview, and goes back to Tokyo.
It now comes out that Stanford is due to return to the States for a much-needed reunion with his wife, Linda (Jane Hylton, of Circus of Horrors). The prolonged separation forced on the Stanfords by Larry’s job has not exactly been good for their marriage, and both are eager for the chance to spend some time together. It is thus all the stranger when Larry ends up missing his flight back home to hang out with Suzuki and Tara, who have recently begun taking him out to Geisha parties and co-ed bath houses. Okay, Tara’s pretty hot, but it’s still awfully suspicious that Stanford would succumb so easily to temptation when his wife is but a single plane trip and a few days away. Do you think that injection Suzuki gave the reporter could have anything to do with it?
Goddamned right. Over the next couple of scenes, we see Stanford becoming an ever more irresponsible, womanizing, drunken degenerate, to the extent that even his boss, Ian Matthews (Norman Van Hawley), begins to worry about him. Matthews gets in touch with Linda one night, and the two of them arrange for her to fly to Japan in an effort to straighten Larry out. Bad move. When Larry comes back to his hotel room to find Matthews and Linda waiting for him, he has Tara in tow, and he responds to Linda’s ultimatum that he must choose between her and Tara by making an ostentatious show of choosing his new mistress.
But it isn’t just Larry’s personality that’s changing. He soon notices a large, scaly, rough patch on his right shoulder (right around the spot where Suzuki shot him up), and the further out of control Larry goes, the bigger the scaly spot gets. Eventually, Larry begins having blackouts, and if he had any idea what he was doing during his lost hours, he’d see how much trouble he’s in. The blackouts conceal Mr. Hyde-like rampages, in which Larry prowls the streets raping and killing attractive young women, and on one occasion, even a Shinto priest! Then one night, Larry feels a stabbing pain in his shoulder. He rushes to a mirror and pulls open his shirt to see something that will surely make him wish he hadn’t been so curious. Part of the changed skin on his shoulder has split open to reveal an eye! This is actually enough to get Larry interested in seeing that psychiatrist that Ian has been pushing on him, but by the time he gets to the doctor’s office, it’s already too late. Larry’s not hallucinating, and that eye has by then grown into an entire second head, about the size and shape of a large coconut. The scene in which this new head emerges is probably my favorite in the whole film.
Two-headed Larry naturally kills the psychiatrist when he finds him, but not before his victim had placed a call to Police Superintendent Aida (Jerry Ito, another face we’ll see again in Mothra, and in Message From Space as well), the cop in charge of investigating Larry’s killing spree. Aida is of course too late to save the shrink, but he gets in touch with Ian Matthews, who believes that Larry may be the man Aida’s looking for. Aida then stakes out Linda’s hotel room (at Matthews’s suggestion), and arrives just in time to prevent the woman’s murder. A rather lengthy and surprisingly exciting chase follows, in which Aida, Matthews, Linda, and a large contingent of cops hunt two-headed Larry down in the streets of Tokyo, pursuing him first to Tara’s apartment, and then to Suzuki’s mountain lab. (Okay, back at the beginning of this movie, it was suggested that Suzuki’s lab and the volcano that it sits on were way the fuck away from anything like a city. Now, we’re being asked to forget about that, and believe that Larry could get there on foot, and that Aida and his entourage could follow him there with a minimum of difficulty. I don’t know about you, but I, for one, am not falling for it.)
And here is where it gets even crazier. Larry attacks the lab, interrupting the now-conscience-stricken Suzuki’s attempt to commit seppuku-- he’d rather do the job himself, thank you, just like he did for Tara. But Suzuki had the opportunity to give Larry a second injection before he died, an injection of a new serum that should, if exposed to sufficient heat, allow the monster sharing Larry’s body to separate from him and form a body of its own. And fortunately for Larry, that volcano picks this moment to erupt, raising the temperature of the mountain air substantially. (See? Didn’t I say I had a feeling Suzuki’s lab was located on the slope of a volcano for a reason?) The monster does in fact separate from Larry, taking the form of a shortish man in an extremely shaggy monkey suit, and Aida, Ian, and Linda arrive on the scene just as Larry wrestles the beast to the rim of the caldera and tosses it in. Never mind the fact that everybody who was in a position to exonerate Larry of his responsibility for those murders is now dead, and really never mind how any of the remaining characters might hope to survive the volcanic eruption that will soon be turning the mountainside on which they stand to a river of molten rock. Larry has his body back, and as far as The Manster is concerned, that’s all that matters.
You know, for a big bunch of shit, this movie is really cool. Not only do we have mad science, killer monkeys, and serial murder all in one film, we also have a contender for the titles of The Original Two-Headed Guy Movie and The Original There’s-A-Monster-Growing-Inside-Of-Me Movie! And not only that, we also have the grand-daddy of all those 60’s-vintage collaborations between American and Japanese filmmakers-- the progenitor of such unforgettable films as Frankenstein Conquers the World and its even sillier sequel, War of the Gargantuas. The Manster is by no means an easy flick to find at the video store these days (at least not in my area), but it is out there, and you owe it to yourself to check it out should the opportunity arise.