If you only associate Ishirō Honda with rubber suit Godzilla movies, you’re missing out on A) some other really entertaining kaiju movies like the mournful War Of The Gargantuas, and B) some equally entertaining non-kaiju movies like Matango (released in the U.S. as Attack Of The Mushroom People).
I first saw this as a wee lad in Pittsburgh one rainy Saturday afternoon on something called Science Fiction Theater. No, not the TV series from the 50s. This was a local afternoon movie show that had a really creepy opening. I still remember the intro music, and even thinking about it now weirds me out a little. I’ve tried to find footage of this as well as Scorpio from Thing Theater, but to no avail.
Anyway. The movie itself is loosely, and I do mean loosely, based on the William Hope Hodgson story “A Voice In The Night.” Strange fungi that have various degrees of effect on the surrounding flora and fauna (including people) is a frequently recurring theme for Hodgson, and Matango is in fact the second adaptation of the story. The first was for the TV series Suspicion and is said to be truer to the source material.
But that doesn’t take anything away from Matango which is a groovy standalone flick. It’s told pretty much as an extended flashback by a doctor named Kenji Murai. It’s basically the story of a day trip gone awry. Y’know, like Gilligan’s Island but with radiation-spawned killer mushroom people.
Like I said, this is a really loose adaptation. Like, as in the source material, there’s a boat. There’s a mist. There’s a pervasive fungus (which in the story is not specifically mushrooms) that covers and deforms everything that comes in contact with it. Come to think of it, “The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrill” is kind of a cross between this and The Blob.
But I digress.
Anyway, beyond that, Matango heads off quickly in its own direction. As is so often the case, the specter of radiation looms large. It’s worth noting that, according to Wikepedia at least, Matango was very nearly banned in Japan, the country of its very origin. Supposedly the makeup effects too closely resembled the results suffered by survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.
In any case, there’s a link deduced between nuclear testing and polluted water on the island, the combination of which results in nightmarish mutations at every turn. Still, not to worry. Stay away from anything that looks weird, and ration the food until help arrives, yes? Well, yeah unless someone in your party gets paranoid and starts raiding your supplies.
As one does.
Naturally they have no choice but to start chowing down on the mushrooms despite a warning from one of the group members, a writer named Yoshida, that the mushrooms might be poisonous. I dunno about y’all, but I don’t fuck around with mushrooms. If they aren’t from the supermarket, I don’t even wanna touch ’em.
You don’t have to do much readin’ up to find out how many painful, grim, and frankly disgusting (not to mention sometimes fatal) effects one can suffer from a single bad shroom. Supposedly there’s one that’s so toxic it’ll kill you just by touching it to the tip of your tongue. I’d rather starve to death.
Not so with our intrepid holidaymakers. One by one they start to dive right in on (or get abducted and are fed some of) the treacherous toadstools. The good news, such as it is, is that they are definitely not poisonous. The bad news is that they are instantly addictive and immediately start taking over your mind and body. You don’t even get any good hallucinations for your trouble. The upshot is that most of the folks on the yacht get turned into mushroom people.
The big reveal comes at the end when (spoilers) Murai turns toward the camera to reveal that he too has fungal growths which may or may not imply one of those end-of-the-world endings like “The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrill,” The Ruins, or even the god-awful Life.
And with that, we conclude with this shiitake for today. I’m gonna head out for beer and pizza. Pepperoni, thanks.
BODIES- only 2 (everyone else becomes a mushroom person)
Stream- Flix Fling, Prime, Tubi
Rent- Flix Fling