“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a mushroom trip…”
A little over a year ago I was at a get-together with my girlfriend’s family, and found myself in a conversation with a lovely, horror loving couple, Ed and Toni. At some point Ed asked me if I’d ever seen ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE, and went on to say it was basically the horror version (possibly part inspiration?) of GILLIAN’S ISLAND. To say I was immediately curious about the film would be an understatement. I loved GILLIAN’S ISLAND as a kid, and I would often come up with horror scenarios for the characters after watching episodes.
It took me some time after my chat with Ed and Toni before seeing MANTANGO (aka ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE), but it was worth the wait. This 1963 film was written by Takeshi Kimura, directed by the legendary Ishirō Honda, and was loosely based on William H. Hodgson’s short story, “The Voice in the Night.” Starring Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Kenji Sahara, Hiroshi Tachikawa, and Yoshio Tsuchiy the movie really is about a trip on a yacht that wrecks off the shore of a seemingly deserted island…and yes, the characters feature a skipper, his mate, a professor, a wealthy man, and a celebrity among others.
As the group makes their way across the island they discover vast growths of strange mushrooms, and eventually come across a shipwreck on the shore. Exploring this ship they find evidence that whoever had been onboard was likely conducting nuclear experiments, possibly the cause of the mutated mushrooms. The longer they’re on the island to more certain individuals begin to unravel. At first they all agree to not eat the mushrooms, but as food is in sort supply some fail to keep that promise. The result is distrust between the members of the group and, once the mushrooms begin to alter the mind and body, upgrades to terror and paranoia. Honda always said the film was about drug addiction, and how people can loose themselves in their addiction. That social commentary does come across in the script, however, the DOCTOR WHO-like make up effects for the Mushroom People has this film far more memorable as a 1960’s slow burn, monster movie to me.
I enjoyed the movie, but I’d actually love to see an update of this plot idea. While MANTANGO is beyond tame by today’s standards, I think a reimagining/remake could really ratchet up the body horror. Using modern practical and visual effects, as the mutated ‘shrooms take over from the inside out, it could be as dramatic a difference as John Carpenter’s THE THING was from THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. If you’d like to take the (longer than three hour) tour with these castaways over a 90 minute runtime as well, you can currently find the film listed as ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE on Amazon Prime.