Matango (1963) Review by: Adam Bezecny

Does anyone remember that one episode of Gilligan’s Island with the Japanese sailor, who was somehow still in his thirties, despite the fact that the show was set in the ‘60s, and he thought World War II was still going? How he put all of the castaways in a cage and was all racist-like? Remember how, looking back, that episode was nice when you were a kid but is kind of embarrassing now?

Matango may be like a bad episode of Gilligan’s Island but there’s not a lot of shame in it.

I mean, seriously, look at it! Ship goes down in the South Pacific with a captain and his red-shirt first mate, a scientist, an actress/singer, the Japanese equivalent of a goodie-goodie Midwestern girl, and even though there’s no Mr. and Mrs. Howell they’re all rich bastards! It’s flawlessly logical. Then the mushrooms show up.

Why Gilligan’s Island? What the heck can an American sitcom which was still airing when this film was released have to do with a horror movie about an island full of psychotropic mushrooms that turn people into other mushrooms? It seems completely idiotic but there’s a steering hand beneath it. My theory? Gilligan’s Island, despite being silly and somewhat idiotic, and certainly lacking in the realism department at times, is human at its heart—the crew consists of regular people. I mean, we never hear if Ginger was in any good movies (or she could just be out-and-out lying about the whole “Oh, I’m a famous actress” shebang), so she’s not necessarily a celebrity—so the Howells are the most distant people in the show. And there’s no analogue of the Howells in Matango, so it’s more relatable! We can learn to care about these characters as they descend into the maelstrom of madness, mayhem, and mushrooms.

Well, except for the crazy egg-sucking guy. He’s just creepy.

But I digress.

Of course, I neglect my own fact that they’re all rich bastards, so maybe it’s not so human—but all the same one naturally feels a biting sense of sympathy for anyone who has to be subjected to hallucinations of gritty, shadow-shrouded strippers and nonstop alien laughter. “Based on a William Hope Hodgson story”, eh? Willy H. was never this crazy.

Is Matango worth it? Well, it’s long enough to fit three episodes of Gilligan’s into it, but it has the action of about half of one. The ending sequence isn’t half-bad, although that weird dancing sequence is a bit much—the dark, booming laughter of the mushroom people at the end, though, always gives me chills. Still, it’s a little boring and focuses more on the characters than the horror.

But that’s what being human is all about, right? Pick this one up just once. It’s in public domain so you can see it online (with subtitles, no less) —the quality’s about as good as it gets, which is a shame. I’m sure if you take mushrooms everything looks better—but if you start growing a rubber mushroom suit, get the hell away from me.

– Adam “Mudman” Bezecny