Friday, October 7, 2016

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Matango AKA Attack of the Mushroom People

Just before I came to post this I got a spam email titled "Truth About Fungus." Make of that what you will.

"Yeah. I ate mushrooms. Now you know."

If we're talking truth in titles, this should actually be called Attack of the Mushroom People in the Last Ten Minutes of the Film. It's an indelible and psychedelic attack, to be sure, but man... it was a lot of pointless bickering and unexpected musical numbers to get there.

Matango was recommended to me back in 2013 when I intimated that I'd watched the most WTF film I'd ever seen. (This was House, or Hausu - the 1977 surreal ghost story by Nobuhiko Obayashi.) I'd never even heard of Matango, but the descriptions made it seem just as full of batshit craziness as House - as hard as that was to believe. Not that there isn't some craziness in Matango - but nothing to the level of 'bananas bananas bananas.'

This scene looks awesome! But it's not actually in the movie.

The Medium
Saw it streaming and dubbed. It wasn't a horrible dubbing job - probably as good as you could get for 1963 - but I'd have preferred to see it subtitled. Everyone's a little too cartoony sounding  - especially given how menacing the music is.

This is an IshirĊ Honda movie, so it's well put together, shot and edited.

The Movie
Despite the title, the vast majority of this film features no mushroom people - we don't even catch a glimpse of one for 43 minutes, unless the crew of 'the yacht' count. It's mostly in a disaster movie template, with a disparate group of people on a (3 hour) tour whose yacht is damaged by a storm. They're forced to take shelter on a deserted island. An island that sports an extraordinary growth of mushrooms...

Which ones do I eat to get smaller?

Most of this film is arguing and petty posturing, primarily among the men. The rich guy is a cowardly dick, the deckhand is a thief and wannabe rapist, the writer only has a tenuous grasp of reality and the Philosophy Professor is expected to do all the Science! because he has a secondary education. The women represent the Whore and the Virgin - but at least the Whore can sing. Which she does. At length.

"Go ahead. Start singing one. More. Time."

I'm making fun of the film, but it IS quite good in spots. The music and lighting is often effective. When the group finds a shipwrecked cargo ship it's eerily covered in mold and mushrooms, inside and out. The way they dressed the set is damn impressive - I could almost smell the mold and had to stifle the urge to cough. There's no sign of the crew - but evidence seems to suggest it was a kind of research ship - maybe engaged in working with radiation.

Skipper, Ginger, Maryanne... wait, two Gilligans? They're screwed.

Despite the mold and the possible radiation poisoning the gang decides to hole up in the larger ship. Unfortunately for our survivors, there's very little in the way of food on board. Soon they're stealing food, hiding food and paying hundreds of thousands of yen for a handful of turtle eggs. There's always the abundant mushroom growth on the island, but the Professor urges everyone to avoid them as there's no way of telling which are poisonous and which are not. Starvation isn't their only problem, however - there's also the question of what happened to the crew.
Spoiler alert: the crew are all mushroom people now. And, at a later point, they attack.

"But I'm sure THESE mushrooms are fine to eat."

The mushroom people and their mushroom garden ARE pretty interesting when they finally show up. Steamy psychedelic colors and a constant high-pitched moaning help create a surreal and menacing atmosphere. Eating the mushrooms is what begins the process, of course, and we've already got an idea of where things are headed because of certain culinary indiscretions on the part of the writer character earlier. Still, the big attack sequence descends into farce fairly quickly, with the professor ping-ponging between stiff and moaning man-sized mushrooms before walking briskly away.

But not without some obligatory gunfire! That always works with mushrooms.

The Bottom Line
This movie should have brought the mushroom people in earlier, or should be a lot shorter. There's some fun to be had with the characters and the ship - I expected a Scooby-Doo-like chase through the various rooms at one point - but it all goes on too long with little resolution. Fun to waste time with on a rainy Sunday afternoon - but not as much fun as your average Godzilla movie.

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