Release Date(s)1977 (September 27, 2022)
Studio(s)American International Pictures (Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
The Incredible Melting Man is an example of what happens when competing visions for a film are never resolved. Film is a collaborative medium, but it always works best when all of the collaborators are more or less on the same page. That wasn’t the case with The Incredible Melting Man, as even the publicity department realized when they cut the film’s trailer, which opens with the following narration:
“Rick Baker’s creatures for The Exorcist, King Kong, and Star Wars are the height of motion picture magic and mystery. Now Baker has created the first new horror creature: the Incredible Melting Man.”
When your only selling point is the makeup effects, you’ve already lost the plot.
Writer/director William Sachs had originally conceived of the project as a campy homage to classic monster movies, styled after comics like the notorious E.C. books Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, or The Haunt of Fear. The producers, however, wanted a straightforward horror film, and so they interfered with Sachs every step of the way, even staging reshoots to add more footage without his approval. They also inverted the structure of the story, which Sachs had intended to be more mysterious, only revealing the origins of the creature at the end. Instead, the film opens with astronaut Steve West (Alex Rebar) being exposed to radiation on a mission to Saturn, and when he returns, everything starts to fall apart for him—literally so. West goes on the run, pursued by Dr. Ted Nelson (Burt DeBenning) and Gen. Michael Perry (Myron Healey), but it’s a race against the clock to find him before he melts away completely. The Incredible Melting Man also stars Ann Sweeny, Lisle Wilson, Johnathan Demme (yes, that Johnathan Demme), and the lovely but tragic Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith.
Needless to say, there’s no consistency in the tone of the final film. There are flashes of the kind of tongue-in-cheek story that Sachs had wanted to tell, such as during the scene where an elderly couple makes a fateful roadside stop. There are also moments where Sachs shot exaggerated camera angles, and even a split screen that mimics the look of multiple panels on a comic page. The actors deliver their frequently ridiculous lines with appropriately Leslie Nielson-esque levels of gravity. Yet it’s clear that the producers were far more interested in the marketable makeup effects that were created by Rick Baker. Despite the breathless tone of the ad copy from the trailer, the makeup is adequate, but not particularly innovative. There’s an impressive bit of splatter when a severed head falls over a waterfall and smashes on the rocks at the bottom—although there’s no explanation for why the head floats like a boat to reach that point! Still, the absurdity that Sachs intended does come through at times, especially during the finale, where the Melting Man finally meets his ignominious fate. The Incredible Melting Man may not be the camp classic that Sachs set out to make, but there’s still plenty of enjoyable schlockiness to be had here.
Cinematographer Willy Kurant (credited as Willy Curtis) shot The Incredible Melting Man on 35 mm film using Arriflex 35BL cameras with spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. This presentation of the film was derived from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, and the results display noteworthy improvements over previous versions. There’s a surprising amount of clarity in the final image, with better resolved fine details—for an example, look at the backlit shot of Rebar in the Saturn capsule at the beginning of the film, where his backlit facial hairs are sharper than before. The ugly-looking stock footage that the producers added to the film looks as ugly as ever, and there are a few opticals like the split screen shot that are less well-resolved and grainier than the surrounding material, but those flaws are inherent to the original production. Similarly, the slow-motion shot of the nurse running toward the camera displays some density fluctuations, but that’s because Sachs shot it normally, and the producers created the slow motion effect by step-printing in post production—the fluctuations are just a part of the poor-quality optical work that they did. There is light damage visible, mostly in the form of scratches, but nothing too distracting. The high dynamic range grade (only HDR10 is included on the disc) doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but it does offer deep black levels, and some intensely pure whites—almost too much so, as they verge on being blown out in some shots, though they never quite go over that edge. The improved contrast also brings out details that were previously lost in the shadows, which adds to the overall clarity of the image. The film runs at a consistently high bit rate, so the grain is managed well throughout. The Incredible Melting Man will never be a pretty film, but this is as pretty as it has ever looked.
Audio is offered in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. It’s fairly strong for a mono track, though some of the ADR stands out like a sore thumb. The score by Arlon Ober is every bit as tonally inconsistent as everything else in the film, but it’s still reasonably well recorded and reproduced here.
Vinegar Syndrome’s 4K Ultra HD release of The Incredible Melting Man is a two-disc set that includes a 1080p Blu-ray copy of the film. The insert is reversible, featuring new artwork designed by Chris Barnes on one side, and the original theatrical poster art on the other. There’s also an embossed and spot gloss slipcover available directly from Vinegar Syndrome, limited to the first 6,000 units, featuring the Barnes artwork. The following extras are included, all of them in HD:
DISC ONE: UHD
- Audio Commentary with William Sachs
DISC TWO: BD
- Audio Commentary with William Sachs
- It’s a War (31:07)
- Just Show Up (15:02)
- Interview with William Sachs and Rick Baker (19:37)
- Interview with Greg Cannom (2:56)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (1:48)
- Still Gallery (:55)
The commentary with William Sachs was originally recorded for the 2013 Shout! Factory Blu-ray release. He apologizes up front if there are any gaps while he struggles to remember the details of what had happened 35 years earlier. He explains the differences between his conception for the film and what the producer wanted, pointing out the footage that they added, and how they restructured things. He admits that he’s going to bitch and moan a bit, and while he does do that, it’s certainly understandable given what happened. He’s got plenty of interesting stories to tell, but as talkative as he can be, there are indeed several lengthy gaps. Still, it’s a fun commentary overall.
It’s a War is a new interview with Sachs, who freely discusses his personal background, including his childhood and his military experiences, before eventually talking about his entrance into film school (he does ask listeners to be patient with him). He feels that they never taught him the most important thing about filmmaking: how to survive the business. Having control of your own project is the best way to go. He also tells stories about shooting Spooky House and Galaxina, as well as other projects that he worked on. He finally gets around to The Incredible Melting Man with only a few minutes left to go, but that’s not a bad thing, since it means that there’s very little overlap between this interview and the commentary track. Just Show Up is a new interview with second unit script supervisor Sandy King, who talks about her own background briefly before spending much more time talking about making The Incredible Melting Man. She has a lot to say about doing a professional job regardless of the kind of film that you are working on.
The Interview with William Sachs and Rick Baker was originally produced for the 2013 Shout! Factory Blu-ray. Sachs and Baker were actually interviewed separately, and then cut together for the featurette. It’s clear that the disagreements between Sachs and the producers extended to other members of the crew, since Sachs describes his script as being a comedy, while Baker says that it didn’t read that way, and the comedy happened inadvertently while shooting. Sachs is relatively sanguine about the experience of making the film, despite any issues that he may have with the finished product, but Baker is far less complimentary. (Unfortunately, the indignities that Sachs suffered during the production extend to this interview, as his name is spelled “Sacks” in the opening and closing titles.) The Interview with Greg Cannom, also from 2013, is a far too brief conversation with the makeup artist, who served as one of Baker’s assistants on The Incredible Melting Man. (Rob Bottin also worked on the film.) Cannom was brought in during the reshoots, and he describes them as being a learning experience for him.
The only noteworthy extra missing from any of the previous releases of The Incredible Melting Man is the Super 8 Digest Version of the Film that was included on the 2014 UK Arrow Blu-ray and the 2017 Blu-ray from ’84 Entertainment in Germany. (The latter disc also included both widescreen and open matte versions of the film, plus an alternate German cut.) So, it’s safe to say that this is the definitive release of The Incredible Melting Man, especially since all of the grue is now crystal-clear in 4K resolution. It’s not the kind of film that anyone would have ever expected to own on UHD, but if there’s one thing that Vinegar Syndrome keeps proving, it’s to expect the unexpected in the wild and crazy 4K market.
- Stephen Bjork