There’s noth­ing more frus­trat­ing for some­one who loves movies than see­ing a good premise squan­dered through unin­spired film­mak­ing.  This is a com­mon type of heart­break for schlock fans, who know all too well that the gulf between con­cept and exe­cu­tion can be hard to bridge, par­tic­u­lar­ly at the low-bud­get lev­el. However, that does not soft­en the blow: wit­ness­ing a beau­ti­ful­ly bizarre con­cept get man­gled always hurts.

And that brings us to The Incredible Melting Man. If there was ever a wet-dream idea for mon­ster movie fans, this is it.  It begins with astro­naut Steven West (Alex Rebar) fly­ing to the rings of Saturn.  Unfortunately, some­thing goes wrong when his ship nears their des­ti­na­tion and West returns a changed man:  his flesh is melt­ing, he super strong and he’s dement­ed.  When he awak­ens in a gov­ern­ment med­ical facil­i­ty, he quick­ly breaks out and begins a cam­paign of ter­ror, feed­ing on the locals to replen­ish his ever-melt­ing flesh.  Meanwhile, Dr. Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning) and cranky General Perry (Myron Healey) try to track him down before the sit­u­a­tion goes pub­lic.

The plot is a basic, ser­vice­able affair on paper and in the right hands it could have made a crack­er­jack lit­tle shock­er.  Unfortunately, The Incredible Melting Man was an idea that end up in the wrong cre­ative hands.  The writer and direc­tor here is William Sachs, a b-movie direc­tor bet­ter known for pseudo-sci­en­tific exploita­tion doc­u­men­taries like The Force Beyond and the space-spoof Galaxina.  He even man­aged a minor dri­ve-in clas­sic with the youth­sploita­tion gem Van Nuys Boulevard.  Nothing on that resume sug­gests he had the skills nec­es­sary to make a sci-fi/horror shock machine — and The Incredible Melting Man goes wrong in so many ways it is baf­fling.

For starters, we nev­er get to know Steven West before the mis­sion so there’s no sense of tragedy or loss when he becomes a mon­ster.  Even worse, none of the inter­est­ing angles of the premise are explored: Dr. Nelson talks inces­sant­ly about fig­ur­ing out West’s con­di­tion but the film nev­er even tries to address what hap­pened to him, what caused his con­di­tion or if it can infect oth­ers.

Instead, Sachs wastes all the run­ning time on bad­ly writ­ten dia­logue sce­nes and char­ac­ters wan­der­ing around aim­less­ly.  Even at 84 min­utes, the film feels ridicu­lous­ly padded with throw­away sce­nes, repet­i­tive footage of the mon­ster stum­bling around and tons of forced com­e­dy.  The worst is a long, excru­ci­at­ing­ly un-fun­ny scene in which a pair of senior cit­i­zens decides to stop and pick some lemons (!) en route to their des­ti­na­tion.  The two per­form­ers are wretched, the dia­logue is cringe-wor­thy and the whole escapade is scored with the kind of boun­cy ‘com­e­dy music’ you’d expect from an old car­toon.

Uneven act­ing just makes things worse.  Healey does a solid job of por­tray­ing a crusty bureau­crat but DeBenning is as wood­en as he is bland — his non-emot­ing dur­ing a scene where he watch­es the mon­ster attack and kill a friend is unin­ten­tion­al­ly hilar­i­ous.  B-movie vets Janus Blythe, Rainbeaux Smith and direc­tor Jonathan Demme (!) all make cameos but nev­er get the time — or the mate­ri­al — to make an impres­sion.

Behind the cam­era, Sachs’s thor­ough­ly inept direc­tion makes the action a chore to watch: he often frames onscreen action too far away for it to make any impact, lacks the sense of tim­ing nec­es­sary for build­ing sus­pense and makes bizarre choic­es like staging a big dia­logue scene in front of noisy machin­ery. The final blow is dealt by ter­ri­ble edit­ing, which often abrupt­ly cuts back and forth between sce­nes in a way that dis­rupts all dra­mat­ic flow and reduces the action to inco­her­ence.

Even sce­nes that don’t suf­fer this inter­cut­ting fail to work.  For exam­ple, there is a scene where the mon­ster attacks a char­ac­ter inside a house: the char­ac­ter is shown mov­ing around a house in long shot.  He sud­den­ly starts to move through the room, with no sound or visu­al cue to moti­vate him.  This is fol­lowed by an abrupt cut to an open­ing door reveal­ing the mon­ster… but nev­er a shot of the char­ac­ter open­ing the door!  The edit­ing is full of weird laps­es in judg­ment like this and it makes watch­ing the film a brain-twist­ing chore.

The only thing The Incredible Melting Man has going for it is the make­up effects by a young Rick Baker, which are suit­ably gooey and gross.  Unfortunately, Sachs and crew man­age to waste this asset by nev­er show­ing West grad­u­al­ly suc­cumb to his con­di­tion — he imme­di­ate­ly goes from slight­ly dis­fig­ured to look­ing like a melt­ing can­dle in the first fifteen min­utes and con­tin­ues to look that way until the end.  Baker designed four stages of decay for the char­ac­ter but they either weren’t all shot or were just edit­ed so bad­ly that they fail to make sense.

In short, The Incredible Melting Man rep­re­sents the bot­tom of the bar­rel for 1970’s mon­ster movies — and it’s a painful reminder of the tor­ture a view­er can endure when the wrong film­mak­er gets his hands on the right idea.  Like the hero, it comes apart before your very eyes — and what’s left behind is pos­i­tive­ly grue­some.