Friday, December 2, 2011

Matango: The Brady Bunch Connection

The sexy, sexy Italian one-sheet for Matango.
 This is the other old TPN post worthy of rescue (and re-editing).

In this article we're  going to discover why "The Brady Bunch" owes so much to Godzilla.

I had the pleasure of watching a Netflix DVD loaned to me by Chris, my business partner: Matango (1963). It was known in the US as Attack of the Mushroom People. It scared the living crap out me when I was a wee lad watching  "Chiller Diller Matinee" on Channel 44. Remarkable to see this film fresh and uncut, in 2.35:1 TohoScope, bright Fujicolor and subtitled Japanese. The channel 44 version was the one we ALL saw as kids: A heavily edited, clumsily dubbed, 16mm pan-and-scan print, run through a (no doubt) crummy film chain-- it was so washed out my recollections if it are in black and white.

This film was directed by Ishiro Honda, The Kaiji Eiga (Giant Monster Movie) master who directed Godzilla, Rodan and countless others. Matango is an unusual Honda film, an atmospheric horror movie with people-sized monsters.

Well, of course there's a range of Japanese action figures
available for Matango! The monsters depicted here
are much cuter than in the film.
The things that scared the piss out of me as a kid are still there: the ghastly, faceless mushroom people, the distorted laughter on the soundtrack, the air of gloom and slow death. Justifiably a cult classic.

A have heard all effective horror films play on primal phobias: violence, heights, enclosed spaces. (Daniel's brother Ed once surmised that if someone could realize a fortune if they make a horror film exploiting the number one fear in America: Public Speaking.) Matango works as a horror flick on several levels:

• The scary, lumbering mushroom folk, they're pretty scary in a monster-movie sort of way.

• The fact these fungal folks were once people and the characters are going to turn into them unless they can escape plays into fears of loss of humanity and Self.

Matango plays on fears of germs and filth and disease. The island the principals are marooned on is lush and tropical: the abandoned ship they take up residence in is covered with mold, dry rot and fungus. They manage to clean it, but the mold soon returns. For the fastidiously clean Japanese audience the film was designed for, the creeping corruption and rot must have been harder to take than the prospect of turning into an ambulatory shiitake.

This film was based on "The Voice in the Night," a short story published in 1907 by pioneering English sci-fi author William Hope Hodgson. Conversely, it has long been rumored that Matango was an inspiration for "Gilligan's Island," that iconic, unlikely comedy series from the 1960s.

Exhibit A: Cast of Matango. Left to right: "Writer," Bombshell,
Chaste Young Girl, Skipper, Rich Guy, First Mate and Professor.
Note the First Mate has a red shirt, as did Gilligan.
After a careful comparison of the two works, allow me to lay such rumors to rest: It was. TV Producer Sherwood Schwartz (who also created "The Brady Bunch") had a motive, opportunity and even tacit permission to swipe the basic premise of Honda's film.

The basic story common to both movie and TV show involves seven people from various walks of life on a short pleasure cruise. They get caught in a storm, marooning them on a deserted tropical island. Schwartz basically took this first half-hour of Matango and pitched it to the network, adding "and then hilarity ensues!" He left off the rising themes of violence, greed, lust, starvation, and death that drives the latter hour of Matango, replacing these with coconut shortwave radios and funny guest stars.

Exhibit B: flashback scene. The dialog in subtitles is that
of the "writer," explaining why his manuscript (on
the table) seems so derivative.
But the cast of "Gilligan's Island" is almost entirely present in Matango: Skipper, First Mate, Professor, Chaste Young Girl, Glamorous Bombshell, Rich Guy. He made one cast change, and a very telling one: Instead of Mrs. Rich Guy ("Lovey" Howell), the seventh castaway in Matango is a writer. He's the first character to, when things begin to get desperate, steal food from the others, and the first to eat the fateful mushrooms. He's a morally weak character who, in a flashback scene, plainly admits to plagiarism.

Puzzling evidence.


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