Originally screened in 1959, The Manster was a co-production between the United States and Japan. In Japan, the film is classified as a tokusatsu, a movie that features special effects. Although considered campy by many who have seen the movie, The Manster is actually a pretty decent flick, one that suffers from too much talk and some overacting (but this may be the Japanese influence) but also has a good storyline and attempts to create some moments of horror.
A variation of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story, The Manster also precedes concepts explored in Altered States, made 21 years later. The movie stars Peter Dyneley (the voice of Jay Tracy for the Thunderbirds television series) as Larry Stanford, a hard-working news reporter assigned to Japan while his fiancé waits for his return in America. Standford’s latest assignment is to interview Dr. Robert Suzuki (Tetsu Nakamura), who is using cosmic rays to trigger spontaneous evolution (or de-evolution) in human subjects.
Unknown to Stanford, Suzuki believes that Stanford is the ideal specimen for his latest experiment. He drugs the poor man and then injects him with a serum that, coupled with cosmic rays in the atmosphere, will tap into Stanford’s dormant inner monster and bring it to the surface. Indeed, this primitive, aggressive creature begins to emerge from Stanford’s body, slowly and painfully splitting him in two.
Also unknown to Stanford is that Suzuki has experimented with other subjects, including his poor wife and his brother Genji, who he is forced to murder when the experiment fails. Aware of all this horror is the doctor’s assistant, Tara (Terri Zimmern), who is loyal to him because the good doctor rescued her from a previously bleak existence (it is implied she was a prostitute, but this is never clear).
Stanford’s “split” takes time to manifest, so screenwriter and director George Breakston pads the time with melodrama involving Stanford’s editor and fiancé, who has come to Japan because of her concern for the man. There’s also a romance between Tara and Stanford that feels forced, but as soon as Stanford begins to change, things get interesting. Will Stanford survive the “split”? Watch the movie and find out.
The Manster has some intriguing moments, such as when Stanford melodramatically strips off his shirt to reveal an eye peeking out of the front of his shoulder. Later, Stanford sports a second head, while he himself becomes much more primitive. Along with the physical changes come psychological ones, and Stanford begins murdering the innocent, such as Buddhist monks and women.
The principal problem with this movie is that it has a few too many talky moments and that sometimes the melodrama gets so intense it spills over into outright comedy. The overacting by some of the actors is just too much. I also found it particularly amusing that everywhere the police go they blaze lights and sirens all the way, even if there is no emergency. A subplot with Police Superintendent Aida (Jerry Ito) contributes nothing to the plot, other than to have the cops on hand during the film’s climax.
Despite these and other flaws, The Manster is worth watching for its ideas and for its special effects, which are pretty good, given the film’s low budget. This movie is certainly much better that films that followed, such as The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant and The Thing with Two Heads.