First published back in 1978, 70’s pulp author Phil Smith’s novelisation ‘The Incredible Melting Man’ was a paperback adaptation of William Sachs’ wacky screenplay from the 1977 B-Movie of the same title. The screenplay drew heavily from the likes of Robert Day’s movie ‘The First Man Into Space’ (1959) as well as Irvin S Yeaworth Jnr’s ‘The Blob’ (1958).
It was a magnificent achievement for mankind. Three astronauts had travelled to Mars in Prometheus One, and were now finally returning from their extraordinary trip. But something had gone wrong. Something horrific that had killed two of the astronauts and left just Steve West as the sole survivor of the expedition.
After landing back on Earth, West is quickly swept off into quarantine at the nearby hospital. But Steve is no longer entirely himself. And it’s not long before the astronaut is out of his room and viciously killing his first unsuspecting victim.
The brutally savaged corpse of West’s first victim, a nurse who shows signs of having flesh bitten off as well as having been remorselessly beaten to death, is soon found on the premises. The hunt is now on for the capture of the escaped astronaut.
General Perry is desperate to get Steve West back into quarantined custody before he can kill or infect anyone else with whatever it is that has seemingly taken over his body and mind. Perry calls up the aid of West’s closest friend, Dr Theodore Nelson, who together with the very capable Dick Loring, will help in bringing in the escaped lunatic.
But the situation is far worse than they first feared. After examining specimens of the escaped astronaut’s blood and cells which were left behind during his savage escape on the nurse, it becomes clear that something alien has gotten into the cell structure of Steve West and is gradually breaking down his body. Hour by hour, the astronaut’s flesh is gradually decomposing. Furthermore, the highly contagious element that is dissolving his flesh is driving him to kill and consume the flesh of his victims.
The longer they take in locating and capturing the infected astronaut, the more chance he has at killing and infecting those around the facility. The General is adamant in keeping the situation under wraps. Not wanting the detrimental public exposure to blow up around this critical situation.
But time is not only running out for the General, but for Steve West himself. As he hides in the nearby woodland, he watches as his body is slowly melts away. And, with his mind a confused mass of conflicting emotions, he struggles to restrain his overriding desire to kill and consume the flesh of his victims.
Steve West is now a very dangerous walking time bomb...
William Sachs’ original screenplay for the story of ‘The Incredible Melting Man’ was very much written to accommodate and showcase the very talented Rick Baker’s gut-churning special-effects and make-up. Indeed, the crux of the script was almost purely aimed at shovelling in the most outrageous and over-the-top scenes of gruesome gore and horror. And it worked...obviously in a very B-Movie fashion. But the question is - how would that same storyline transpire into a paperback?
The answer – surprisingly well! Okay, so the novel’s not going to win any literary awards anytime soon, but what Smith has managed to bring to the table is an utterly thrilling and absolutely compelling B-Movie yarn, with a hefty pace and enough scenes of vividly described gore to keep any splatterpunk-hound happy.
Predominantly written from the point-of-view of our hapless protagonist-cum-antagonist, Smith is able to explore and exploit the gradual changes and slow deterioration of the unfortunate astronaut as the foreign element that has infiltrated his body gets to work. The result is a near-constant gory diary, on numerous occasions really wallowing in the delightful details of West’s dissolving state.
Although the novel is pretty much exclusively built up of cardboard cut-out characters who come and go with little impact other than the delivery of another victim or playing out another required element to the plotline, Smith does nevertheless spend some time in fleshing out the principal character of Steve West, just enough to allow the reader to feel a mild hint of sympathy for his horrifyingly drawn-out demise.
It’s important not to go into the novel expecting too much from it other than a pulpishly gruesome read from start to finish. It delivers this in absolute abundance, but falls flat on its face on all other scores. Okay, so I very much doubt that Smith even had in mind to attempt any degree of characterisation, any clever subplots, challenging depths or slipping in any thought-provoking questions for the reader to ponder. And we wouldn’t really want these elements included in such a gloriously pulpish title as ‘The Incredible Melting Man’. And as such I feel it is wrong to judge the novel with such things in mind.
Smith’s tale excels on the one and only account that it set out to achieve - depicting a story of stomach-churning gore with a slice of good-old-fashioned exploitative horror thrown in for good measure. It’s utterly over-the-top but unlike the likes of ‘Eat Them Alive’ (1977) still manages to maintain a reasonable semblance of a ‘proper’ novel.
The novel runs for a total of 159 pages.
© DLS Reviews