What we have here is a different type of mutant monster. It’s part man, part monster. In other words, a manster. The unlucky title creature of this 1959 horror thriller is Larry Stanford (Peter Dyneley), a brash American reporter who hopes to land a front-page story about some startling new developments in the field of medical experimentation. Well, he gets his front-page story all right. You could say he IS the story.
Larry becomes an unwitting guinea pig for the evil Dr. Suzuki (Tetsu Nakamura) who drugs his tea and injects him with a mutation serum. First, Larry experiences a personality transformation. He becomes a surly alcoholic with an insatiable lust for women including the doctor’s lovely assistant, Tara (Terri Zimmern). Another side effect is worse; he develops a hairy right claw that wants to kill, kill, kill…..and does. Even Larry’s own wife, Linda (Jane Hylton), isn’t safe from her husband’s crazed behavior.
Then, things really get weird. Is that an eyeball emerging from Larry’s left shoulder? Pretty soon he’s sporting an extra head that looks like an angry pineapple but his own head ain’t so pretty either unless you like fangs and excessive facial hair. The slobbering is a nice extra touch. We won’t reveal anything else except to say some seductive geisha girls and an exploding volcano are also in the mix.
The Manster, which was also released under the alternate title The Split in some regions, followed in the wake of such successful Japanese science fiction thrillers as Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1956) and Rodan (1956) and may very well be the first Japanese-American co-production. The film was a collaboration between producer/writer George Breakston, director Kenneth Crane (Monster From Green Hell, 1958), and uncredited co-director Akira Takahashi who later moved into acting and made a name for himself in a Japanese movie genre known as “pink films” (soft-core pornography like Boko!, 1976). As a result, The Manster was filmed in English, using a mixture of American, British, Canadian and English-speaking Asian actors. It certainly stood out from the sort of giant mutant monster flicks Toho was releasing at the same time.
The star of the film, Peter Dyneley, has one of those faces you’ve seen before but just can’t place. He’s been in everything from MGM costume epics like Beau Brummell (1954) to Bob Hope comedies (Call Me Bwana, 1963) to Charles Bronson westerns (Chato’s Land, 1971) to action exploitation films like Death of a Snowman (1976). He’s an unlikely choice for a leading man and in The Manster he comes across like a sleazy used car salesman, not an international reporter for a major newspaper. Whether he’s insulting his boss or furiously repelling his concerned wife, Larry deserves that second head and all the trouble it causes.
Dyneley’s performance actually works better if you think of him as a man having a mid-life crisis; his boozing, whoring and general don’t-give-a-damn-behavior seems perfectly right for a man going through a major life change. That usually happens when you sprout a second head. For some reason, this concept spawned two infamous 70s horror flicks – The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant (1971) featuring Bruce Dern as the resident mad scientist and The Thing with Two Heads (1972) with Ray Milland AND Rosey Grier in the title role. In 1989, yet another two-headed protagonist was prominently showcased in How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989), a black comedy about the you-know-what profession starring Richard E. Grant as the mastermind behind a pimple cream campaign.
Even if The Manster didn’t have Dyneley’s hilariously off-the-mark performance, it would be required viewing for fans of exotic schlock. It’s the bizarre makeup effects, the unpredictable plot turns, and the space age pop soundtrack by Hiroki Ogawa (is that a theremin under the title credits?) which gives the film an unearthly quality. My favorite scenes are the touching farewell between Dr. Suzuki and his former wife who is now a failed experiment (nice makeup!) in his basement laboratory and the climactic battle between the “two heads” which ends in the most startling sequence in any grade B horror film.
George P. Breakston, who co-directed The Manster with Kenneth G. Crane, was a former child actor from such films as Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1934) and Boy Slaves (1939). He switched over to producing and directing films in 1948 with the jungle documentary, Urubu, which he helmed with Yorke Coplen. His track record as director is decidedly undistinguished and low-budget as represented by such forgotten genre films like Oriental Evil (1951), The White Huntress (1954) and The Boy Who Cried Murder (1966).
Crane was a fellow kindred spirit who also toiled in B pictures, but mostly as a film editor (Flight That Disappeared, Guerillas in Pink Lace). In addition to co-directing The Manster, he only helmed two other films – Monster from Green Hell (1957) and When Hell Broke Loose (1958) starring Charles Bronson – and shot some new sequences for the English-dubbed, American release version of Ishiro Honda’s Half Human (1958), which featured an Abominable Snowman-like creature.
The Manster was originally released in the U.S. on a double bill with Georges Franju’s macabre masterpiece, Eyes Without a Face (1959), which was re-titled The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus in its English dubbed version. The Franju film is pure poetry while The Manster is slapdash surrealism making the double bill the weirdest two-headed tag team of them all.
A quintessential cult film from the early years of Japan’s horror/fantasy genre boom, The Manster has been available on VHS and DVD for years in acceptable to poor video transfers. Your best purchase option is probably the Blu-ray edition from Shout Factory that was released in August 2017 and presents the film in widescreen format for the first. There are no extra features except for a photo gallery.
*This is a revised and expanded version of an article that originally appeared on the Turner Classic Movies website.
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