Friday, July 1, 2011

Molecular Man Terrifies The World!

The H-Man(1958)
Director: Ishiro Hondo
Cast: Yumi Shirakawa, Kenji Sahara, Akihito Hirata

Toho studios were most famous for their giant monster epics like Godzilla(1954), but occasionly produced some truly bizarre and offbeat horror films from time to time. This film appears to be cash in on the success of The Blob, which was released the same year and dealt with a killer gelatinous mass from space. The H-Man is a home grown horror, spawned by Hydrogen bomb testing in the pacific which breeds a monster that dissolves and absorbs it's victims. It's all rather gruesome and creepy and a very different film than what would be expected from the studio and director that gave us Godzilla and friends.

The plot is designed like a crime drama, with a narcotics ring being investigated by a group of detectives, led by Inspector Tominaga(Akhito Hirata, the scientist who killed Godzilla in the 1954 movie) and he discovers his main lead is nothing more than a gooey mound of clothes! His wife, a nightclub singer named Chikako Arai (Yumi Shirakawa) becomes a key suspect and she claims to have seen a liquid monster kill the gangsters. A scientist, Dr. Masada( Kenji Sahara) arrives and makes a report about strange mutations caused by hydrogen testing and a story from some sailors of a ghost ship with a monster that relates to Chikako's story. The police don't believe, but when the creature disrupts a sting operation at the nightclub and slains several officers and gangsters, the military is called in to burn the creature out, by dumping gasoline into the sewers and sending squads in armed with flamethrowers. However, Chikako is captured by one of the gangsters and is taken into the sewers, where she is rescued by Masada and Tominaga, just as the flames consume the H-Man and rid Tokyo of the menace.

The H-Man is one of the most disturbing monster films of the period, right up there with Fiend Without a Face(1958) as being one of the most gruesome and unsettling sci-fi films of the 1950s. The effects are for the most part, excellent, as the strange greenish slime climbs over walls and under doors, and eventually onto victims. Some of these images are tough to shake, especially as the H-Man is shown melting down it's victims in gruesome detail. Just the image of the clothes sinking in and losing shape is enough to give you the willies! And what was up with that detective who tried to hit the H-Man? What the hell was he thinking anyway?

The ads for this included this priceless gem: "see a stripteaser stripped....of flesh!" and man, I never could forget that one. Does it happen? Well, we get several shots in the nightclub of a bunch of cute Japanese girls in bikinis for some quick 1950s titilation and then one of the cuties does get corned by the H-Man, as it slides up her leg. I'm glad they didn't show much. It's always a bummer when the babes bite it in these movies.

The cast perform adequately, with several familiar faces from other Japanese monster movies and they fill all their roles appopiately. Kenji and Akhito make a good team and Yumi is pretty yummy as the woman in distress, even ending up pretty scantily clad by the film's conclusion as the gangster who took her hostage had the bright idea of telling her to strip so they'd think the monster got her. (Boys, remember that ploy)

The direction is typically effective by Hondo and he shows an eye for building atmosphere, especially during the ghost ship scene as the sailors reveal in flashback what horrors they found. This is easily the most effective moment of the film and the scariest. The faded color photography working to distill a mood that was not common in many of the Japanese monster flicks of the era. Plus, those laboratory scenes are just plain creepy. Seeing those frogs turned into bubbling messes and I guess, becoming "H-Frogs" are really weird and I ahve to give credit to the filmmakers for allowing all this awesomely bizarre stuff to happen!

It's anti-nuclear stance is pretty powerful and alot more striking than many Hollywood films of the time and as a result, much more terrifying. Plus, the monster is very cool and the death scenes are just gruesome enough to keep the horror buffs happy. It works as both an effective crime drama and monster film and that's pretty unique, really. The science fiction elements are hard and thought-provoking and that's what the best in the genre are meant to do, which is make us think a little bit about our world and our place in it. I'm not trying to make this thing more complex than it is, but it does attempt to approach it's subject on an intellectual level and that's more than can be said of alot of the genre offerings to follow.

Out of all the Toho monster films of the 50s and 60s, The H-Man is one of the most seldom discussed and analyzed and that's a pity, because while it may not feature as much on-screen destruction and thrills like the others, but it's a damn fine horror film and truly worthy of reappraisal.

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