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DVD Review: Matango – Attack of the Mushroom People

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Matango Party Mushroom Fondue Recipe No. 1963

Have an insatiable appetite for radiation-laced mushrooms and 1960s Japanese horror-fantasy? Why not invite everyone over for a Matango Mushroom Party? It's fun and nutritious! Just get out the fondue pot, light up some tiki torches, and follow the instructions below for a groovy party your friends will never forget.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 lightly greased DVD player
  • 1 fresh copy of Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People
  • 1 fondue pot
  • 3 cups Velveeta cheese
  • 2 cups Tenshi cheese, cut into small cubes
  • Enough shiitake mushrooms to feed 10 to 15 horrorheads
  • Enough beer, wine, and saki to inebriate 10 to 15 horrorheads

DIRECTIONS:

While the cheese is melting in the fondue pot, put on Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People. Make sure everyone has their  beverage of choice and is comfortably seated. Get the shiitake mushrooms ready while they enjoy this Gilligan's Island meets Lord of the Flies — with fungus — cinematic delight. Whenever any of the characters onscreen munch on a mushroom, have everybody yell "Matango!" and dip their mushrooms into the melted cheese. Yummy. You'll have more fun than mimes at a karaoke party!

Inspired by the chilling short story, "A Voice in the Night", by William Hope Hodgson, a crew of seven soon-to-be castaways are enjoying a nice sunny day aboard a wealthy man's yacht. There's the professor, the professor's demure girlfriend, an alluring actress in a big hat, a mystery writer, a disgruntled skipper, some tough guy who never takes his sunglasses off — must be a gangster — and Gilligan. Just kidding about Gilligan.

MatangoBefore the bikini-clad, ukulele-strumming actress can launch into her next song, with lyrics that consist of the words "lalala" dubbed over and over again, a storm (luckily for us) suddenly whips up. As the sea starts getting rough, the tiny ship is tossed and the skipper yells for everyone to come on deck and lend a hand. Everyone, that is, except the two women aboard. Apparently '60s women were pretty helpless when it came to helping out during crisis situations. While the idiot writer gets tangled up in the rigging, and things go from bad to really bad, the not so brave and sure skipper yells for everyone to go back down below deck. Apparently '60s guys were pretty helpless, too.

The lack of courage and seamanship from the not so fearless crew lands them, and the boat, on the shores of a mysterious island covered in dense, swirling fog. Uppermost in everyone's mind is the need for food, so they start foraging. As they continue to move deeper into the island, they find water and another, much larger, ship run aground.

The writer, obviously not so dumb after all, stays with the girls while the others board the ship to investigate. A greenish, reddish fungus is everywhere, and the sure-footed skipper slips on the slimy stairs to land on his poop-deck. "It's weird," says one of them.  They soon discover that it's a research vessel. There are Geiger counters and mutated specimens in jars, so they assume the missing crew was doing radiation research of some kind. Oh, and there's that big crate labeled "Matango," too. When they pop open the lid, they find a giant mushroom inside, one definitely too big for a fondue pot. But where's the crew?

MatangoFinding their courage, the girls board the ship. Of course, they're the first ones to notice that all the mirrors in the staterooms are missing. Meanwhile, in the captain's quarters, a red, powdery fungus is piled deep across the entire room. Before anyone can sneeze, the professor covers his mouth and nose and grabs the logbook.

More searching yields a few canned goods, but those won't last. The once cheery group of seafaring friends is now reduced to the basic necessity of staying alive. They need food badly, and so they start assigning tasks. The wealthy guy slides by on that one while the others go about their business. The writer builds a signal fire and starts daydreaming a nightclub flashback, a nifty gimmick to get more scantily-clad girls singing into the movie. Two others go hunting with a rifle and come across the broken mirrors in a neat pile, which begins to creep them out. As they watch, a bird does a sudden one-eighty and flies away. "Even the birds don't want to hang around here," quips one of them. Walking a little farther, they come across mushrooms. The logbook was pretty explicit about not eating any mushrooms on the island, so they just look longingly at them. A shadowy figure ahead of them causes momentary panic, but they gather their wits and head back to the research ship empty-handed.

After cleaning down a stateroom or two with the carbolic acid they found aboard the ship, they bed down for the night. Outside, the incessant rain falls, dampening more than just their spirits. The action kicks in when one of them sneaks off to horde some of the canned food, only to run into a very knobby-looking, potato-headed individual. As he runs, falls, and screams (I thought only girls did that in horror films?), the others race to see him and — gasp! — Mr. Potato-head. Discretion being the better part of valor, they all rush the other way and lock themselves in the sleeping quarters. A brief glimpse of the intruder ends with the girls' screams. Come morning, they all think it was just a hallucination brought on by their hunger and dire predicament.

The continued bleakness of the fog, the rain, and the lack of food starts to bring tempers to flash point, and their once friendly relationships are deteriorating into every person for him- or herself. The writer drinks some courage and heads off, with the rifle, to find Mr. Potato-head. He doesn't find him, but he does find lots of tasty, juicy mushrooms. Will he eat them? Yes! (Matango! Don't forget to dip.)

When he returns, they have to lock him up because he wants to shoot everybody. Making matters worse, the skipper takes off in the repaired S.S. Minnow with the remaining canned goods. As the others continue to fight among themselves, the actress lets the writer out. Once again, he goes for the gun and they have to wrestle it away from him. Having no other recourse, they banish them from the tribe and send them into the jungle.

More rain, more fog, more bleakness, and more — growing larger by the minute — mushrooms; apparently they enjoy the hot, wet island climate. The wealthy guy has just about had it when the alluring actress shows up, as pretty as ever. "I haven't been hungry since I left," she coyly says. He eagerly follows her to the mushrooms. He sees the writer is already chowing down, and starting to turn lumpy, but he gives in to his hunger and starts munching. (Matango! and dip, everyone)  "Oh, by the way," she tells him, "you'll become a mushroom, too." But he doesn't care because, as he eats the mushroom, a wave of euphoria comes over him, leading to even more creative use of flashbacks with scantily-clad women dancing in a nightclub.

Only two are left now, the professor and Maryann — oh, sorry, I meant to say his girlfriend. He sees the boat that the skipper sailed off in bobbing up and down offshore. He swims to it and finds a message written by the skipper: "I died at sea." Wondering if the skipper wrote that before or after he kicked the chum-bucket, the professor heads back to the research vessel.

MatangoMore potato-heads show up, and as he tears off one fungus-filled arm in his desperate struggle against them, they carry off his girlfriend to the magical mystery mushrooms. He races to save her, but it's too late; munching on a mushroom (Matango! and dip!), she smiles in euphoria at him. He tries to drag her away from the really big mushrooms with arms and legs that sprout up, surrounding them, but to no avail. Eventually, he has to flee alone, back to the boat and away from that hellish island (although there is one more Matango! and dip! moment to savor).

While there may be layers of metaphor and allegory lacing this story, I haven't got a clue as to what those might be. On the other hand, the weird color spectrum of the lighting, the sets, especially the research vessel, and the surrealistic surrender to a mushroomy fate to be shared by all, all blend together to create an effectively off-beat and unsettling entry in the horror-fantasy genre.

While the commentary track on the DVD is disappointing — Akira Kubo spends too much time discussing everything else but the film — the interview with Teruyoshi Nakano, the assistant SPFX director makes up for it. He discusses how the director, Ishiro Honda (Mr. Godzilla), unwittingly placed an order for one very expensive front projector, Toho Studios' first, and how it was used to layer in the background for the boat and the omnipresent fog. He also reveals the secrets to making edible prop mushrooms out of rice pastry. Additional extras include trailers, soundtracks, and Masami Fukushima reading from his story adaptation.

The film's originally vivid TohoScope format is beautifully captured in this edition, too. Start heating up that fondue pot now and grab a copy of Matango! You'll be glad you did.

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