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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster

The drive-in cinema market was lucrative enough, and comprised enough smaller, independent operators, that indie films were still viable drive-in fodder. Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (FMSM) is a perfect example of a low, low-budget indie production aimed at the drive-in demographic, young adults. FMSM was actually the "A" feature. Futurama Entertainment also released Curse of the Voodoo as the "B". The title of FMSM alone was probably the big draw. Living up to audience expectations was secondary. FMSM appears to have been too obscure to make people's "worst movie ever" lists, but it shares most the usual features that get a film on such lists. Weak or hammy acting, cheap sets, poor effects and abundant stock footage. Nonetheless, it's not without its merits.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A alien ship approaches earth. The bald-headed, pointy-eared Dr. Nadir tells Princess Macuzan that they've picked up signals from the planet, indicating it might have intelligent life. As they approach, NASA launches a rocket. The aliens think it's a missile attack on them, so they destroy the rocket. Two more such incidents are implied. NASA thinks the failures were for lack of onboard control, so prepare to send a Colonel Frank Saunders. Frank is actually an android. His rocket is similarly shot down by the aliens, but his capsule escapes. Frank lands in Puero Rico. The aliens, certain that he's seen them, land nearby to hunt him down. One alien shoots at Frank with his ray gun, narrowly missing, but melting the left side of Frank's head. Malfunctioning, Frank goes into basic survival mode. He kills a couple men who threaten him, but leaves women alone. Frank's creators, Dr. Steele and Karen, and the usual army general, fly down to San Juan to get Frank. The aliens, meanwhile, decide to implement Phase 2 of their plan, which is to abduct earth babes for "breeding purposes." An atomic war on their planet has left them no women. The aliens round up roughly a dozen young women (not all in bikinis). She and Steele found Frank in a cave. The aliens nab Karen as she was on her way to get help. She refuses to tell them about Frank's remote control unit (found in her purse), so they chain her near their monster named Mull. Steele and Frank follow Karen's trail to the alien ship. Steele goes for help, leaving Frank to observe. The aliens nab Frank too. By this time, the military have spotted the alien ship and start blasting it ineffectually. It has shields, but they won't hold if the military use nukes, so Nadir says they must leave. Karen awaken Frank. She tells him to free the caged babes. He does, and Karen too, just before the ship takes off. Nadir releases Mull to fight Frank. They fight, but Frank gets away long enough to blast Nadir, the Princess and the controls with a ray gun. The alien ship blows up in the air. Steele and Karen look happy as they ride a scooter through the streets of San Juan. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
There is a distinctly 50s flavor to the production and story of FMSM which a fan of 50s B sci-fi can appreciate. The over-the-top acting is fun. "And now...Maximum Energy...bwahahaha..."

Cold War Angle
A traditional sci-fi Cold War theme is provided as back story. It is there more out of tradition than an earnest bit of messaging.

Neo-stein -- The average viewer might feel gipped with FMSM. The "Frankenstein" of the title has almost nothing to do with Victor Frankenstein's famous monster. Instead, the android, Frank, is described by Steele in a sort of Frankenstein idiom of being "assembled of parts". (more of an electronic age's version of Shelley's idea) Later, when Steele talks of damaged Frank on the island, he muses that he might go violent. Karen says to herself, "He would turn into...a Frankenstein." The connection is thin, barely enough to justify the title. Clearly, the producers were coattailing on the more famous monster for some ticket sales.

They're After Our Women -- This primal trope was fairly common in Golden Age sci-fi. Usually, it was hinted at or subtle. In FMSM, this deeply visceral theme is inescapable. The tribal elements are blatant. A raiding party of "them" run around capturing our prime females -- quite clearly stated as being for "breeding purposes." The abduction theme isn't couched in visual analogies (e.g. a monster carrying a swooned babe). Instead, we get a raiding party attacking one of our "villages" (the pool party scene). A virile young man (one of our "warriors") is killed. The raiders hold everyone at gunpoint while they cull the best of the babes, then run off with their captives. The lewd leering of Nadir as he oogles our babes, completes the theme that our stolen women were not going to a better life. All this sets the tone for the also-quirky film Mars Needs Women ('67?)

Roomy Quarters -- Like many a sci-fi space ship, the alien craft in FMSM is a small thing, but seems to have in infinite amount of room inside. A control room, corridors, holding cells, the purification lab, and even room for storing a monster. The ship itself appears to be made from a geodesic radar dome, painted silver. The interior sets (shot in studios on Long Island, NY) tried to carry on the geodesic look in painted wood and plywood. The usual array of dials and switches make up the control panels.

Budget Bad Guys -- The make-up for the alien men is amusingly basic. Their bald-wig skull caps have marginally hidden seams. The clay pointy ear extensions look lumpy and obvious. Add some overall white face paint, and viola, you've got aliens. Interestingly, Princess Marcuzon doesn't have white face paint. The egyptian-esque head dress spared her from the ear extensions.

From Playmate to Princess -- Marilyn Hanold plays Princess Marcuzan. This was the big starring role of her acting career. She had a bit part (as Peggy) in The Brain That Wouldn't Die ('62). She was Playmate of the Month in June 1959. Her costume was surprisingly modest, given her assets and the exploitation theme of the film.

Vespa, The Star -- An unintended star in the cast was a little motor scooter. Dr. Adam Steele rents the scooter to go check out Frank sightings inland. Karen rides on the back, arms around him, while the music track plays a romantic 60s rock tune: "To Have and to Hold," by the Distant Cousins. Karen is rushing for help on the scooter when she's abducted. Adam rushes for help on the scooter after she's abducted. The chainsaw-like whine of the scooter's little two-cycle engine makes for a decidedly unheroic noise while he's riding to the rescue. At the end of the film, beneath the end credits, Adam and Karen ride the scooter around the streets of San Juan (behind the camera truck) while romantic rock tune plays.

Odds at Ends -- The writer or director gave FMSM an odd ending. Adam and Karen's hi-tech project was just destroyed in a fire ball. They just learned there are hostile aliens with interplanetary travel. The just learned there are hideous monsters out there in space. But, what the heck, we've got the scooter for another couple hours, so let's go sight seeing "like lovers dooooo" (say the lyrics). This bit of tourism travelogue is reminiscent of touristy sightseeing around Copenhagen in Reptilicus ('63)

Bottom line? FMSM is a low-grade B film (even though it was the headliner) whose cheap costumes, sets and effects will probably annoy viewers who demand quality. The story line isn't particularly deep either. Yet, for fans of cheap 50s sci-fi, those who liked the old serials, or fans of "so bad it's good," will find a little gym in FMSM.

1 comment:

ClassicMovieFan said...

Yes, it is kind of cheesy, but you still have to appreciate the movie and its over the top acting.