The Incredible Melting Man (William Sachs, 1977)
[originally posted 1May2000]
I waited twenty-two years and change to see the end of this movie. When it was released, I clamored to go see it so loud my mother, for once, actually relented, on condition. She called the drive-in and asked if there was any nudity or swearing in the movie (violence was okay, nudity and swearing were no-nos. And my parents wonder why I’m a conservative). The guy who answered the phone said the R rating was all violence-related, and so we went. Twenty minutes into the movie, there’s about thirty seconds of bare breasts, at which point I was forcibly (and somewhat loudly) removed form the theater by my mother. For obvious reasons, seeing the rest of this film has been a priority for me ever since. And that was before the name Rick Baker (who did the FX) meant anything to me.
So I finally saw the ending.
The Incredible Melting Man is actually a very bad late-seventies TV movie, or would be if blood, breasts, and beasts were allowed on TV in 1977. It should be noted that those thirty seconds, supplied by seventies softcore mainstay Rainbeaux (yes, Rainbeaux) Smith, are the only nudity in the film. And the young and not-so-lovely Miz Smith isn’t the only person duped into doing this mess of a flick who had a somewhat long and storied career—Sachs (who fits the profile himself, having gone on to direct Van Nuys Blvd., The Last Hour, Judgment, and a few other forgettable if enjoyable flicks) managed to hornswoggle some names which had been. or later became, huge. Oddly, one of those is not star Alex Rebar, probably best known as the male lead in Amityville IV: The Evil Escapes.
In any case, Rebar plays Steve West, the only survivor of a space accident somehow involving the rings of Saturn (you’re never told quite how) and radiation, the main effect of which is to cause him to slowly liquefy. The only thing that can keep him alive is, of course, massive quantities of human tissue. Thus, our boy can only survive (after escaping from the very badly-secured military hospital) by eating people. Not that it ever makes him any prettier.
His main nemesis is Dr. Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning, whose finest moment came in Nightmare on Elm St. 5), an old friend of TIMM’s, who’s caught between wanting to do the right thing by his pal and following orders from one of the major stars in this film, whose career was obviously well on the way down by this point, Myron Healey. Healey, in his day, was as well-known and well-loved as Edward G. Robinson, but has since faded into obscurity. But if you took a quick look at the over 100 films credited to Healey, you’d know a good number of titles, I think—Laramie, True Grit, South of Rio, etc. etc. ad nauseam. Healey, as a general, is at odds with the sheriff of the town where TIMM is running loose– the screen debut of Michael Alldredge (V, Scarface, Iron Eagle, About Last Night). You get the idea. There’s only one other name that absolutely needs mentioned in here– the one decent scene in this film (next paragraph) is prefaced by the murder of the actress’ boyfriend, played, in one of only five appearances he ever made in front of the camera, by Jonathan Demme. (His roles never got any better, by the way.)
The movie isn’t completely awful. Rick Baker, who’s won a closetful of Oscars, but is probably better known for those movies in years he got passed over (It’s Alive!, Squirm, Star Wars–yes, Star Wars, The Howling, Videodrome, Captain Eo, Wolf, and the one Oscar he got that was actually deserved–Life), is at his best when he’s working on a shoestring busget, and it shows here; few people can make Vaseline as terrifying as it is in a couple of scenes in this movie. And the effects aren’t the only good thing here; there’s one scene, just one out of two hours of film, that is absolutely stunning. Right after Jonathan Demme gets offed, his girlfriend (scream queen Janus Blythe– if you never saw The Hills Have Eyes, go rent it NOW) discovers his body. We never see his body, we only see Blythe’s wordless reaction, a descent into complete hysterical madness that is a true sight to behold.
As for the rest of it, well, you might as well watch one of the “classic” monster movies on TV in the seventies–Invasion of the Spiders, perhaps, or one of the killer bee flicks. They have about as much plot and better writing. * ½