Based on Hodgson’s well-known short story, “The Voice in the Night”, MATANGO is an odd little film. Produced by Toho Studios in 1963, it has gone on to achieve cult status and remains popular today.
MATANGO was directed by Ishiro Honda, who also directed such Toho classics as the original GODZILLA, RODAN, MOTHRA, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS and many others. The script was written by Takeshi Kimura who allegedly threw out the original adaptation written by Masami Fukushima and Shinichi Hoshi. Kimura would later consider MATANGO to be his best work and it reflected his dark and gloomy personality.
The film was nearly banned in Japan due to the fact that the characters makeup as they become mushroom was too reminiscent of survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In following years, it would be considered that the mushroom eating was symbolic for drug use which, considering the color scheme and the often psychedelic episodes, is extremely likely.
At some point between 1963 and 1965, Toho had the film dubbed in English in Hong Kong, conceivably for international distribution. However, MATANGO was never released theatrically in America but did enjoy a limited UK release under its original name. In 1965, American International Pictures syndicated a version on 16mm color film to television. AIP changed the film’s name to ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE which, for many people in the US, remains the name under which it is best known. Despite the change in title, AIP left the movie virtually intact.
The filmed version deviates from the original story in several ways. The original, doomed couple is now replaced with a group of seven diverse people who are caught in a storm during a pleasure trip on a private yacht. The characters include the skipper, his assistant, a writer, a university professor, and a celebrity who has brought along his female guests (a professional singer and a student). Because of this assortment, some have made connections between this movie and the television sitcom, GILLIGAN’S ISLAND.
After landing on a deserted island, they find that the land is overgrown with mushrooms which they worry may be poisonous. They discover a mysterious, wrecked ship on the shore which appears to have only been there for a year despite the fact that the sails are rotted and the interior is covered with mold and fungus. After cleaning the ship, they surmise that it may have been involved in some kind of nuclear testing which has caused the giant mushrooms and other mutations.
As their food supply dwindles, they begin to fight with each other and anarchy develops. Eventually most of the party succumb to eating the fungi which is highly addictive. They eventually discover that eating the fungi changes people into the giant mushrooms who attack the survivors. Finally, the professor escapes but it is too late for him as his face is already being covered with the fungi.
In many ways similar to such horror films as INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, MATANGO has an overwhelming feeling of crushing doom. The feeling that there is no escape permeates much of the last half of the film and the climax reveals that, even though you think you have survived, you are wrong.
However, it seems to have increased greatly in price recently indicating either a greater demand or dwindling supply.
If you’d like to watch the complete, dubbed version of the film online, you can do it here for free:
MATANGO remains an excellent film and worth watching by any fan of William Hope Hodgson. Now I need to find some of those great toys!–Sam Gafford