Friday, April 03, 2009

BIJO TO EKITAININGEN from Toho Studios in Japan is known as THE H-MAN here in its English-dubbed version. Famed director Ishiro Honda and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka are the same pair who unleashed GOJIRA (aka GODZILLA) and RODAN upon the unsuspecting world. This time, however, Honda and Tanaka take a detour from their nuclear bomb-created giant stomping monsters and give it a neat little twist. But not TOO far a detour . . . the film opens with a mushroom cloud! Instead of the H-bomb causing giant Tokyo-stomping lizards, this time it has spawned radioactive blob-like creatures that consume human flesh and bone.
The first scene in THE H-MAN finds a gangster waiting inside a car for his partner in crime to show up with the swag. It's night and pouring with rain. This is an important part of the film since it is almost always raining; Honda is combining his H-bomb monster movie with the film noir genre and it works for the most part. As the second criminal emerges from underneath a sidewalk grating, he attempts to put the swag into the trunk of the car (alright. . .BOOT for my UK friends) but he is interrupted by something we can't see attacking his legs. The crook pulls out a gun and starts firing down at the unseen thing while his partner panics and drives of in the car. The first crook, still screaming, runs out into oncoming traffic right into another car. However, when the panicked driver gets out of the car to see whom he's hit, there is nothing on lying on the rain-soaked street but empty clothing. Of course, our crook has been gobbled up and dissolved by our friendly neighbourhood H-Man blob. Or blobs. There appear to be more than one.
Apparently all this has been caused by the ever-present Pacific H-Bomb testing. A ghost ship turns up containing no one on board except more empty clothes. Men who board the ship are attacked by the blob monsters. The police go to the home of the girlfriend of the crook who sped away in the car (played by Yumi Shirakawa: veteran of other Toho productions including RODAN and SECRET OF THE TELEGIAN). The girlfriend is a nightclub singer named Chikako Arai whom the police question but she knows nothing. The police, the singer and a scientist all team up to try to get to the bottom of this blobby madness. The blob creatures can really get around; they flow like water, climb up over windowsills, scale walls and ceiling and even can travel through the rainwashed storm drains at will. Half the time the appear as flowing blobby liquid while the other half of the time they form themselves into a green-glowing humanoid shape right before they engulf an unsuspecting victim. In fact, all this rain in the movie causes the blob creatures to swarm and multiply inside the Tokyo sewer system. In an echo of THEM!, the police venture down into the sewers and eventually battle the blobs with a sort of "greek fire" flamethrower which burns on water. Unfortunately (but de riguer for any Toho monster movie) the entire city is set on fire as a result. Oops.
1958 saw the release of BIJO TO EKITAININGEN; the funny thing is that the same year saw the release of the classic drive-in monster movie THE BLOB as well -- a film which THE H-MAN shares a blobby monster in common. The funny part is that THE H-MAN (according to ole imdb) was released on May 28, 1958 while THE BLOB with Steve McQueen came out September 12th. Hmmmm. Regardless, Honda's decision to combine the Japanese monster movie with film noir works quite well. The only problem is that Honda allows the film noir elements to lapse a good deal in the middle of the picture. Whenever Honda employs the rainy nights and the trenchcoated villains, he is very successful. Sadly, these scenes are interspersed with fairly ordinary "talking in offices" scenes which have really no atmosphere to speak of. A few shadows of venetian blinds on the walls would've worked wonders. As for the "Japanese monster movie" portion of the film, these work extremely well. The blob creature special effects are every bit as nicely done as the American BLOB movie; the only difference being THE BLOB that attacks Steve McQueen is more rounded and solid while the H-MAN blob creatures are more liquid. As more film unspools, we are treated to more graphic depictions of the blob's victims as we see the poor guy engulfed and dissolving to nothing. Very effective! It is also a nice change of pace that Honda has chosen to get us away from the Godzillas and Rodans stomping Tokyo towards a more subtle and creepy creature that silently attacks from a dark corner. Director Honda would make a similar change-of-pace Toho monster movie to even greater success when he made MATANGO in 1963. Phil Hardy, in his Overlook Film Encyclopedia of Science Fiction states: "The plot appears merely as an excuse to string together extraordinary scenes of hallucinatory images as bodies liquify, enclosed within gelatinous blobs. Such scenes, together with the film noir aspects of the gangster plot, make this Honda's most sensual film..." He's got a point there as the blob creatures are more tactile and subtle threat than Godzilla's big foot squashing a car dealership. Hardy calls THE H-MAN " of Honda's best movies". It certainly is up there, probably, but it's definitely not his best; that honour surely goes to 1963's eerily effective MATANGO!
1958 was a huge year for horror movies. Just a cursory glance over the list of films released the same year as THE H-MAN not only includes THE BLOB but also features many other timeless wonders. Just look at this list: Hammer's epoch-shaking HORROR OF DRACULA and THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Mexico's El Vampiro sequel EL ATAUD DEL VAMPIRO aka THE VAMPIRE'S COFFIN as well as LA MOMIA AZTECA CONTRA EL ROBOTO HUMANO aka THE ROBOT VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY, BELL BOOK AND CANDLE, THE FLY, Richard E. Cunha's schlockfests GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN and FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER, I BURY THE LIVING, I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE, Hammer clone BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE, IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (which would later "inspire" Ridley Scott's ALIEN), THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, the quiet little Francis Lederer starrer THE RETURN OF DRACULA (sort of a cross between SON OF DRACULA and Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT), the Quatermass-like Lewtonesque TROLLENBERG TERROR aka THE CRAWLING EYE, the cheezy ATTACK OF THE 50 FT. WOMAN (Harry!......Harryyyyyy!!!), John Agar's delirious BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS, Toho's VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE, Karloff's FRANKENSTEIN 1970, I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, Jack Arnold's SPACE CHILDREN and MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS, and WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST! Surely THE H-MAN is in some mighty fine company and a welcome addition to the monster rogue's gallery. This little known film is a nice change of pace from the usual Japanese Toho productions and, if for no other reason, is a worthwhile look for any fan of Ishiro Honda's monster movies.

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