The bad news: that's not good news.
You see, astronaut Steve West's time over on Saturn has left him slowly melting into glop while simultaneously giving him superhuman strength and an insatiable appetite that only human flesh can sate. Don't bother asking about how he can easily pull victims apart with a rapidly deteriorating musculoskeletal structure; that'll just get in the way of all the ooey-gooey makeup effects! To its credit, this is one of the things the movie does well; Rick Baker's nastily convincing special effects really do look every bit like a man slowly liquifying before our eyes, and the movie is packed with Nausea Fuel and graphic violence that really stood out at the time.
The director, William Sachs, initially intended for the film to be a parody of other sci-fi horror films, but it became more of a straight horror movie during production. Several scenes were re-shot or altered without Sachs's input; some moments from the more comedic original script remain intact, however, resulting in the odd, sometimes-surreal tone of the film.
As one might expect, the film became a classic Times Square grindhouse film, getting noticed by The Phantom of the Movies (Joe Kane) and Joe Bob Briggs, before getting additional fame as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Not to be confused with The Molten Man, a Spider-Man supervillain.
This film provides examples of:
- The '70s: Not mentioned, but the score lifted from The Incredible Hulk, the many turtlenecks, and Judy's tight-waisted flared pants give it away.
- Action Survivor: A random woman is not only one of the few people to survive a close encounter with Steve, but she's also the only person in the entire film who manages to seriously wound him (by chopping off his arm) and drive him away.
- Ambulance Cut: An odd case. Steve's pursuit of his first victim, the nurse tending to him, cuts out just as he's about to catch her, to a very '70s station wagon ambulance, siren blaring, pulling up to the hospital... but one assumes she was found dead at the hospital, so that was presumably an unrelated ambulance in an Establishing Shot. It's just that the prevalence of the Ambulance Cut that makes the moment just slightly dissonant.
- Angrish: HOTCHGKA! (Ted's surprisingly naturalistic cry of pain when tries to pick up a boiling pot.)
- Artistic License – Biology:
- The fisherman's head seems to be made of papier-mache, filled with a liter's worth of red tempera paint.
- Human bodies don't tend to go up like fireworks when they land on power lines...
- Artistic License – Space: Saturn, being a gas giant, doesn't have a surface on which a spaceship can land or from which it can take off. In addition, the Stock Footage isn't of the rings of Saturn.note It's footage of the Sun, complete with Coronal Mass Ejections. However this film gets a pass because that discovery was not made until a few months after the movie was released. It is possibly for this reason that the novelization has Steve traveling to Mars rather than Saturn.
- Black Dude Dies First: Amazingly, the black Dr. Loring is one of the few characters to survive, albeit by virtue of disappearing from the film halfway through.
- So does the unnamed black janitor who scoops the Melting Man’s remains into the trash.
- Body Horror: Good God, yes. While ridiculous, the premise is inherently horrific: imagine being afflicted with a mutation that causes your body to slowly start melting, and nothing but engaging in cannibalism can even temporarily slow it down.
- Bystander Syndrome: As Steve attacks the sheriff, all Ted Nelson does the entire time is simply watch with a deadpan expression.
- Cat Scare: A particularly nonsensical one.
- Contrived Coincidence: As soon as Judy mention's that her mother and her boyfriend Harold are coming over for dinner, they show up on screen to become Steve's next victims. Even worse, he somehow manages to stumble onto them in the middle of nowhere.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: The sheriff is manhandled onto power lines by Steve. Instead of merely being electrocuted, he lights up like magnesium in a microwave.Crow: [as the sheriff] Oh, why did I go on that high-phosphorus diet?
- Danger Takes a Backseat: Steve kills Judy's mother and her boyfriend when he creeps into the back of their car, before they come back from a failed attempt to swipe some lemons.
- Deconstruction: Of '50s monster movies. The film started out as a comedy, which is why a lot of the typical monster movie conventions are subverted. For example, instead of the young couple in a car being attacked by the monster, it's an elderly couple — who are just as randy as teenagers.
- Didn't Think This Through: As the sheriff points out (right before he's killed), Ted apparently never considered what they would do if they ever caught up with Steve.
- Downer Ending: And a bizarre one. Ted might have been able to save his friend if he could have studied him, but then he randomly gets shot by a pair of security guards. Steve kills the guards in retaliation and ends up melting to death.
- Dull Surprise: Ted, when he isn't experiencing severe Wangst.Steve West: Amazing! You've never seen anything 'till you've seen the sun through the rings of Saturn!
- Dying as Yourself: Steve finally recognizes Ted, and when the latter is killed, he kills the guards in revenge. Unfortunately, it doesn't save him, and the real Fridge Horror is Steve now being fully aware of who he is - and melting to death as he does.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: No, seriously, there is no story.
- Gratuitous Rape: The superfluous scene where the photographer assaults his model, Cassandra, is there just to show breasts in the film.
- Gorn: Ugh, the film is dripping with it...
- The Hero Dies: Ted is shot and killed while trying and failing to convince a pair of security guards that the melting monster running amok through their power plant is a man in need of rescue.
- Horror Hunger: Ted speculates that Steve has begun killing and eating people because their healthy cells slow his melting.
- I'm Melting!: Well, obviously. Though it must be said that Steve seems to melt at the speed of plot.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: One bizarre moment, when Ted speaks directly to the camera when consoling Judy, blaming himself for his emotional distance.
- My Significance Sense Is Tingling: Apparently, Judy felt a disturbance as she gets the (correct) feeling her mother and her boyfriend were dead. Justified a little in that she knows there's a deranged killer wandering around out there.
- Neutral Female: Judy. Though to her credit, she does end up shouting at Ted and Perry to put some actual effort into looking for Steve.
- Ted is a good example of a Neutral Male since he stands by and does absolutely nothing while Steve overpowers the sheriff and subsequently tosses him into some power lines.
- Non-Indicative Name: Oh, there's a Melting Man, alright, but that name conjures up images of a '50s Universal-International B-Movie, rather than a cheeseball '70s Drive-In fare, which is what it is.
- Novelization: Yes, there was actually a book based on the screenplay by Sachs, released a year later. Phil Smith actually gives a new reason for Steve's affliction: he was infected by a Martian virus while on an expedition to Mars (rather than going to Saturn).
- Parents as People: Despite being Comic Relief, Judy's mother is either in a relationship or having an affair with a man she's not married to. They joke and snark around with each other in a loving way. Even for The '70s, it was unusual to depict older unmarried couples having an active sex life.
- Say My Name: Ted repeatedly yells "I'M TED NELSON!" to convince the power plant guards not to shoot. It fails.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Judy's mother, when guard dogs start coming after them for trespassing on a lemon grove and trying to steal some fruit.
- Shock and Awe: The fate of the sheriff
- Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet!: The security guards fatally shoot Ted for no apparent reason.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The eponymous character is an astronaut who has been irradiated on his way back from Saturn, and is slowly melting to death. There is no cure for his condition whatsoever, only killing and consuming people stops his pain, even briefly. In the end, during a confrontation at a power plant, his best friend is endangered and the astronaut regains a bit of humanity and saves his life — but said friend is shot to death by a pair of random security guards. The astronaut kills the guards, collapses, and expires. A janitor cleans up what's left of the astronaut the next day and throws him into the garbage. Oh, also? More astronauts are headed to Saturn.
- Slasher Movie: Pre-Halloween, so it hits many but not quite all of the now-standard tropes.
- Sleazy Photoshoot: A photographer is shooting outdoor photos of a model in a tube top and short shorts. After shooting several pics, he tries to talk her into taking her top off. She's not having it and tries to refuse, but he starts putting his hands on her arms to try to calm her down, and then pulls her top down, snapping photos while grabbing her hands so she can't cover herself. Not only is she angered and embarrassed, as she's trying to get away from him she stumbles into the remains of the fisherman Steve killed, traumatizing her even more.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: The sheriff's radio is playing a sprightly country-western song when he finds the corpses of Judy's mother and her boyfriend.
- Super-Strength: Steve demonstrates this as he kills people. Apparently it's a side effect of the melting.
- Super Window Jump: Steve's nurse barrels through a glass door while Steve is chasing her.
- Token Minority: Dr. Loring has the only non-white speaking role, although as pointed about by MST3K's Mary Jo Pehl, this is before tokenism had actually taken hold, making the film quite progressive for its day, depicting an African-American doctor (who isn't even killed), a plus-sized nurse who isn't simply a background character or Comic Relief (though her uniform is a tad... tight), unmarried elderly romance, and even General Perry as fairly laid-back when not engaging in Government Conspiracy, having cold turkey and beer.
- Too Dumb to Live: Ted Nelson. And yes, he doesn't make it.
- Tragic Monster: Steve West seemed to be a nice-enough guy before his mutation, especially given Nelson's positive statements about his friend. But exposure to a radiaoctive blast during his voyage to Saturn caused his skin to start melting, forcing him to hunt down and eat people to stave off the pain.
- Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer shows Steve becoming a pile of goo at the end, but since it was the film's Money Shot, it was probably too good to not tantalize viewers with.
- Vader Breath: Steve emits a labored breathing sound as he walks around.
- Your Head Asplode: After Steve kills the fisherman, we're treated to a scene where his head floats down a stream before going over a small waterfall. It lands on a rock at the bottom, where it bursts like a watermelon.