Friday, February 10, 2017

Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster

Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster
Robert Gaffney

After the Kennedy assassination in 1963 and with the Vietnam War becoming more and more of a reality for the average citizen, the 1950s era of invading monsters menacing girls was slowly on its way out, to be replaced with creatures that were more human in nature. Maniacs like The Sadist (1963), the lush horror of Hammer Studio’s take on classic monsters, and Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations were in vogue. Coming in at the tail end of the of the atomic age of SF film and into the more personal works of the 1960s, Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster displays some curious elements from both eras.

The plot itself is straight out of the pulp SF playbook: All the Martian women (save one apparently) have perished in a civil war, so a mission has been sent to Earth to capture women for use in repopulating the dying planet. The Martians shoot down a space capsule thinking it is an attack, this capsule contains one Colonel Frank Saunders. Frank is the weird twist in this movie, he’s a machine that thinks he is a person. Frank survives the crash of his rocket, but ends up on the wrong end of a Martian death ray. It melts half of his face; Frank becomes Frankenstein, and goes on a Martian killing rampage. What’s unusual here is Frank’s horror at the realization of what he is. A potential square-jawed science hero becomes the misunderstood monster of the film, but still retains his narrative place as the protagonist that must stop the alien invasion.

"All I'm saying is, do not fall sleep when you're frying chicken..."
The film itself contains a number of strange flourishes, freeze frames, lengthy surf rock numbers with some very pointed lyrics, some excellent meltly face make-up for Frank, and a supremely goofy looking Martian space monster named Mull. Far and away the most memorable part of this movie is Lou Cutell’s performance as Dr. Nadir, henchman to the Martian Princess. With his bald cap, pointy ears, and exceedingly arch delivery, Dr. Nadir is a glorious force that takes Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster from minor b-movie curiosity to minor camp masterpiece.

You can find a washed-out print online to watch for free, but Dark Sky Films has released a nice cleaned-up DVD version. It is not a beautiful looking film, and the cleaner image makes the copious stock footage used for the military and space scenes stand out that much more, but I think at the very least, Frank’s melting robot face, and Dr. Nadir's questionable make-up job need to be seen in all their glory.
I'm an imp. No, I mean literally. I am an actual for real imp. I'm not messing around."
I think if this film had been made even two or three years prior, it would have been a very different beast. Between the throwback plot, some minor yet effective body horror, and the deliberate camp (at least on actor Lou Cutell’s part), there is an awareness to Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster that gives it just enough of an edge to be something worth checking out. It’s not a popular or well-regarded movie, but it has become one that I find myself rewatching often.

Bonus: Here's a really fun read about the creation of Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster from one of the writers, George Garrett.

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