A midnight movie that almost seems to revel in its own badness, The Incredible Melting Man ('77) has one solid thing going for it (Rick Baker’s super gooey gore SFX), and a whole slew of problems that cause it to be nigh unwatchable without some form of intoxicant on hand. There’s a reason this film’s appearance on MST3K lead to one of the famed series’ best episodes: there’s just so much fodder for filmic abuse that one can’t help but crack wise while viewing it.
Originally conceived as a parody of '50s drive-in creature features and EC Comics, The Incredible Melting Man jettisoned the more satirical ideas contained in its script (at the producers’ behest) in favor of a more straight-faced tone. The problem with that approach is the fact that the only thing that remained was a truly shitty sci-fi film about an astronaut (Alex Rebar) who returns from space with an ailment that literally causes him to disintegrate, layer by slimy layer. Inspired by a jar of “glop” brought home by his mother one day - not to mention Night of the Living Dead ('68), as the working title was The Ghoul From Outer Space - director William Sachs stages his micro-budgeted tale of laughable terror with about as much attention to craft and subtlety as an Independence Pictures, Inc. production.
Even Baker himself admits that when he first read the script (in a gorilla suit on the set of Dino de Laurentis’ King Kong ['76]), his instinct was that “he probably shouldn’t do it”, as it struck him as a bit of a step backward career-wise. Baker even went as far as to present a salary he thought was “outrageous” to the film’s producers, thinking they’d never go for it. He was wrong, and the results are actually incredibly impressive from a "pure splatter" perspective:
There's also a weird sense of ambition to The Incredible Melting Man that's rather surprising. Sachs - who started his career as a self-confessed “movie doctor”, dubbing Italian schlock pictures so that they could be imported into American theaters - and editor James Beshears implement a De Palma-style split screen at one point, and the outer space sequences (composed of public domain archival footage) do attempt an intergalactic set up far beyond the reach of the reported $250,000 budget.
However, the performances and otherwise choppy cutting lead to loads of unintended comedy. Sachs praises fans of the movie for having “more imagination” than its critics (an exact quote from the retrospective features on the Blu: “you’re not sitting down to watch Schindler's List here”). Yet there also seems to be a lack of recognition for the fact that MOST folks like the movie because it’s so ineptly made (first time this writer ever saw it: on 16mm at 3 AM during a 24-Hour Horror Thon in Philadelphia, with an audience that was DYING of laughter).
To be honest, kids who grew up loving Dick Smith's book of do-it-yourself monster makeup (and who are probably now in their 40s) found plenty to love in The Incredible Melting Man. Baker really goes for broke with the various stages of Steve West’s transformation into a plasma puddle, and the movie does have a certain C-Level charm that trash aficionados will cherish. For the rest of the moviegoing public, they’re probably better off sticking with its Mystery Science Theater appearances, as The Incredible Melting Man is only going to frustrate and horrify for reasons beyond its intention without a laugh track and a quart of tequila.