Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Shroom Amongst the Stars: MATANGO: AKA Attack of the Mushroom People (1963)

A bunch of Japanese libertines on a yacht get lost in a freak storm (ala Gilligan's Island) and wind up marooned on a strange island populated only by a derelict cargo ship run aground along the rocky coast and.. a population of growing, giggling, intelligent super-fungi. The derelict ship's log reveals the mushroom in question has harmful "nerve" effects, but man, is it filling and delicious! Those who take a nibble soon go insane and like to frolic in the rain with their red-capped brethren. PS- there's nothing else to eat on the whole damned island.

The best scenes in the film involve the mushroom people with their pitch-shifted slow mo laughter and the amazing, corrosively sexual sight of the mushrooms growing out of the moss, larger and larger, breathing in and out, like inflatable penis dolls. Whoa, was that too much association for you? Grow up, these are Japanese! The first girl to get in the groove talks about Japan's familiarity with "the laughing mushroom" and tales of how local natives would take them and dance by the fire.  You know what Cibo Matto sang:

We were born in the 60's
You made war with the Vietnamese.
We love LSD! We die easily!
Can we just say c'est la vie?

Do I digress? Cibo Matto are my age, they know the drill. We were born in the late 1960s and we're still wondering where the hell the party or the war or the drugs all went. MATANGO, dig, was made even before the party really started even for the hipster parents of Cibo and me, 1963.

Alas, those awesome scenes of the breathing shrooms are only a small portion of the film. The psychedelic aspect is kind of subsumed into the horror of transformation, as those who eat the fungi become the fungi, but wait... not to kill the others, but to kill their souls... slowly... and rather than explore that change we concentrate instead on the intolerant last man standing, the narrator relating his story in the Ishameal-esque framing device. Thus we sidestep many lightshows and hallucinations (though there are a few) to focus on quick-moving, exposition-filled narrative, one familiar to horror fans: a yacht with class-related tensions between crew and rich hedonist owner; a freaky sudden hurricane-level storm; an uncharted, seemingly uninhabited island; mounting sexual tension; and hidden monsters. True to horror movie form there's a lot of exploring - we spend quite a bit of time looking around moldy freighter interiors, and fighting over dwindling food, the lack of nutrition bringing out the worst in everyone, except for some reason the square hero. but there's lots of great outdoor rain scenes of everyone digging roots or hoarding turtle eggs. And then the monsoon rains come, and the shrooms grow big.

Overall, the greed and "collapse of decency" elements trump the trippy stuff more than I, personally, would like; on the other hand, the end more than makes up for it all with a blatant pro-drug message that succinctly damns modern society as being far more corrosive and wrong than any entheogenic Japanese version of ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS mind-meld (and this was 1963, a solid four years before the Summer of Love-- did I say that already? And I quoted Cibo Matto? Dude, my brain...).

I remember seeing this on late night UHF TV a lot in the 1970s, in a butchered, dubbed edition known as ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE at a cool all-night slumber party with the kids upstairs working the Ouija and the truth or dare and the parents swinging and swapping below and us all welcoming the dawn together, so it has a special spot in my heart, even though I was too young and disinterested to follow it. But seeing MATANGO now on beautiful widescreen DVD, I wonder what the hell was going on in that old Philadelphia local TV UHF version? Was it on purpose that it made no sense? Then again, I was very young, and usually half-asleep; the slow-mo shrooms seemed to us to be following American GIs into their tents, which means the lateness of the air combined with the stamen's lacivious breathing infatable motion to hypnotize me into a moldy funk. If you were ever funky like that, you'll want to score yourself some MATANGO.

PS - It would make a 'good' triple bill with SHE DEMONS and MESA OF THE LOST WOMEN! Don't ask me how I know... Oxnard


  1. Any film that manages to illicit a reference to Cibo Matto has to have some worth!

    Great review!

  2. I plan on buying that Mantango Il Mostro poster, hanging it in my living room, and lying to all of my friends that I found a limited edition Swamp Thing poster from overseas. While most of my friends won't care, I'll have the satisfaction of knowing that I tricked the people closest to me. And isn't that what life's really about?

  3. Gringo, everyone knows the Swamp Thing has those prominent dimples and didn't start sporting psychedelic fruit until Alan Moore took over the series, long after (?) the film came out.

    Chris, thanks for backing me up on the greatness of Cibo Matto. The Japanese, always three jumps ahead of us on the absurdist pop culture gamescape.

  4. Whoever touched up the pic of
    the girl at the top did a good job.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...