Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Come Prepared

The time has come for 2009's curtain call, and with its completion comes an end to a decade that was inordinately full of strife and rank idiocy. We at the Hyper Kitchen look forward to the arrival of 2010 (the year we make contact), and the promise of better times ahead. Still, to mark the passing of this decade that still defies all attempts at naming, we sought a monster that embodies the last ten years. Without further dalliance, we return to the world of dreck cinema to bring to you: the Incredible Melting Man.

The eponymous star of a movie unleashed by American-International Pictures in 1977, the Incredible Melting Man was once handsome mustachioed astronaut Steve West; leader of a NASA mission to the rings of Saturn. After an ill-defined space catastrophe kills the rest of the crew, West returns to Earth in a injured, comatose state. He awakens later and finds that his body is rapidly deteriorating into slime. Crazed by his condition, West escapes from the hospital and goes on a rampage, as he now needs human blood to keep himself from completely decomposing. In a blink of an eye, he transforms into a drippy, skull-faced monster that "gets stronger as he melts." A bunch've cops, along with West's old friend Dr. Ted Nelson, try to thwart the slime-covered fiend. In a climax that somehow blends tragedy, absurdity, and pure unpleasantness, the Incredible Melting Man liquifies into a puddle of red glop that is subsequently mopped-up by a janitor the following morning. In the closing credits, we hear that NASA (aparently unaware of the whole fiasco) plans to send another team of astronauts to the rings of Saturn

Will they never learn?

The flick was essentially a more gruesome (and arguably more inept) version of 1959's First Man Into Space. It did feature special make-up effects by the now world famous Rick Baker, along with a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo by Jonathan Demme, but beyond that, the Melting Man is not really incredible at all. Just another guy covered in slime.

Would you like to know more?
-Watch this trailer. It will show you everything you need to know.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


In 1976, Harold McCluskey was a chemical technician for the Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant of Washington state. He was sixty-four years old at the time. The plant had been refining weapons grade plutonium since the days of the Manhatten Project, supplying some of the radioactive material for the atomic bombs dropped on Japan.

On August 30th, McCluskey had just returned to work after a four month strike had halted production. During a fairly routine day, McCluskey noticed smoke at his work station and tried to run. Unfortunately he wasn't quick enough and he was caught in an explosion. Shrapnel-like flecks of cracked resin and broken glass were hurled into McCluskey's face and neck, along with a hot blast of nitric acid. Worse yet, McCluskey had been exposed to americium 241, a radioactive waste-substance that was produced by the plutonium refinement. The americium sank into his skin. McCluskey was found by his fellow workers and immediately taken to an on-site emergency center. Once there, it was discovered that his contamination was far greater than anticipated.

McCluskey had absorbed 500 times the "occupational standard" of americium 241, and consequently posed a severe exposure risk to all other people. They had no choice but to hold him in strict quarantine, while he underwent an intense decontamination procedure. The doctors working on him had to wear protective uniforms. He was called "the Atomic Man."

After a gruelling five months, McCluskey's radiation levels had been depleted by 80% and he was finally released. Having heard of his scarred face and fearful of lingering radioactivity, McCluskey's community shunned him. It took the insistence of the local minister to convince even his friends that it was safe to be around him. He also had to adapt to vision problems stemming from eye injuries he sustained in the explosion. A lawsuit for one million in damages failed, although he did receive a $275,000 settlement and paid medical expenses. Throughout all of this, McCluskey was stoic. Remarkably, he remained a proponent of the nuclear industry until he died at age 75 of a heart attack.

Meanwhile, 53 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste remain on the site of the deactivated Finishing Plant. McCluskey may not be the last "Atomic Man" from Hanford, although it's doubtful that any successors will live as long.

Would you like to know more?
-Read this account of McCluskey by the doctor who treated him.
-Read this timeline of Hanford area plutonium manufacturing

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Sheep of Skull Valley

Skull Valley, Utah, is a tiny Indian Reservation about fifty miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Its sparse population is largely comprised of the Goshute Tribe and was once the home of the Skull Valley Livestock Company. The area is a remote, desert town. The only major landmark is the nearby US Army science facility referred to as the Dugway Proving Ground. First constructed in 1941, the facility was the site of top-secret weapons research programs.

The place was a hell-hole.

The primary avenues of research were the development of chemical, biological, and radiological weapons. Artillery loaded with nerve agents and blister agents were test fired, and pools of nerve agents were incinerated in massive open pits. Cultures of anthrax were grown and tested on animals. So-called "dirty bombs" were constructed and deliberately detonated. Nuclear reactors were assembled and allowed to melt-down, all to study the effects. The experiments numbered in the thousands. It was thought that the barren desert environment afforded them the space to conduct these dangerous, horrific tests without any risk of accidental contamination.

On March 13th, 1968, a routine test was conducted without incident. VX nerve gas was sprayed out from a jet in a designated area twenty-five miles away from Skull Valley. The jet returned to the Proving Ground and the researchers continued with their work. Unknown to anyone, the switch-off valve in the spray nozzle had been broken. The jet had continued to spray VX into the air even after it had departed from the designated test site. Later, phones around the base were ringing off the hook.

It took several days to determine how many sheep had died, but the total is thought to be 6,400. The US Army admitted they had been experimenting with nerve gas, but initially denied any responsibility for the deaths. With the nature of the Dugway Proving Ground exposed for all to see, the public backlash was considerable. Then President Nixon issued a ban on open-air chemical weapon testing the following year, and the US Army Chemical Corp was close to dissolution. However, the Proving Ground remained in operation. The full findings from the Army's investigation of the event were not declassified until 1998.

The U.S. General Accounting Office has since acknowledged that additional radioactive and bacterial contamination from the Proving Ground is likely, although it is impossible to determine how many people in Skull Valley and elsewhere were harmed. Meanwhile, the Proving Ground has been recently used by US Army Special Forces to train troops for the War in Afghanistan.

Would you like to know more?
Read "Nobody Here But Us Dead Sheep" from Life Magazine, 1969
Read "Skull Valley's Nerve Gas Neighbors
-Read "Toxic Utah"
-Listen to this story from All Things Considered, 1998

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Shadow over Antwerp

The cryptozoological specimen to the right is known as a Jenny Haniver. While it may look like it washed up out of some nightmare, it's actually just a skate-fish (modified through a little creative taxidermy). Hanivers have been traced back to 16th century Antwerp, where sailors would carve up skates into little monstrosities and sell them to visitors from abroad. Some were made to look like tiny dragons and others resembled terrifying aquatic angels. Some were even billed as the preserved bodies of demons. The most common, however, looked like grotesque little people. They were all passed off as genuine creatures; strange fish from the deepest depths of the ocean.

Today, Hanivers are valued for their connection to sailing folklore and for their novelty value. Along with the Jackalope and the Fiji Mermaid, they belong to a proud tradition of creature-making.

Would you like to know more?
-Read this article about Jenny Haniver and other aquatic creatures
-Purchase your very own Jenny Haniver for a mere $75.

At first sight