Frankenstein Island (1981)

Frankenstein Island (1981) VHS cover

director Jerry Warren
viewed: 02/14/2018

Jerry Warren may be the worst auteur in the American horror canon. Okay, Ed Wood, Jr. is the worst, but the reason that Warren should be considered is because, overall, his movies are typically intensely boring on top of being bad. Wood transcends into levels of joyous inanity. From what I’d seen thusfar of Warren, he could even make Batwomen boring.

Warren made most of his movies from 1956-1966 before suddenly stopping. And just as seemingly suddenly, in 1981, he reappeared with Frankenstein Island, which I would suggest is his Crapsterpiece.

There’s like 3 or 4 movies-worth of nonsense packed in here. And somehow, in Frankenstein Island he makes his bad movie entertaining with incessant weirdness.

Balloonists crash on this island, inhabited by animal print bikini-clad ladies (who turn out to be descendants of extraterrestrials.) There is also Sheila Frankenstein (Warren stalwart Katherine Victor), who is keeping her 200 year old husband, Dr. Von Helsing alive with blood from Cameron Mitchell, while a bunch of bloodless henchmen wander about. And the visage of John Carradine occasionally looms into view.

Warren employs props, such as actual plastic vampire teeth and a plastic novelty devil’s pitchfork.

The ending is the icing on the cake, a bizarre unsettled moment that makes absolutely no narrative sense at all. Now, this is the kind of bad movie that moves into the sublime, strange and comic, and for once…entertaining.

 

 

Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) movie poster

director Jun Fukuda
viewed: 06/09/2017

I have vivid memories of Godzilla vs. Megalon from 1976. I was 6 or 7 when it came to town and I totally remember the excitement of going to see a Godzilla movie in the theater. I loved monsters and Godzilla was my favorite. I also recall being somewhat disappointed with the movie. I always thought that Megalon was pretty cool, but it seemed like forever waiting for Godzilla. I think I liked Gigan and Jet Jaguar, more or less. Probably before Star Wars, this was my biggest movie thrill.

Over the years, the kids and I have worked our way through the Shōwa period Godzilla movies, but at that point I couldn’t get my hands on Megalon. The kids both fell asleep though this one.

It’s super-silly, even by super-silly standards. That a lost Atlantis-like world called Seatopia is disturbed by underground nuclear testing and sends Megalon and eventually Gigan to attack the surface-dwellers. They put a lot of focus on a robot developer, his pal, and kid brother, roping them into the hijinks. There is a lot of really bizarre stuff in here like the dolphin paddle boat thing the kid rides (which looks pretty cool despite also looking totally non-functional).

But really the weirdest leaps in logic are related to would-be kaiju king Jet Jaguar, who was apparently designed by a kid in a contest and originally planned to be the star of the thing. First, he develops his own will and cognizance, to only a mild surprise of his creator. Then, he magically wills himself from human-size to Godzilla size, which is explained as something he just decided to do.

Really, you should just embrace the whole thing and not really question it.

The fight sequences are indeed reminiscent of professional wrestling, more than most kaiju flicks I can think of. And, you know, as dumb as it is, it’s still moderately entertaining.

Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks (1974)

Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks (1974) movie poster

director Dick Randall
viewed: 09/19/2016

When I sit to write about a film, I do a little research, read up a bit.  I try to get my main thoughts across and generally try not to simply repeat what others have already said.

That said, Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks is a bit of a challenge.

Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks is not as freaky as it sounds.  It does rather inexplicably feature a couple of neanderthals in Victorian Europe.  One who “becomes” the monster, experiments upon by the evil doctor.  It might also prove an object lesson on how to treat your henchmen.  When the creepy dwarf (played by Michael Dunn) gets cast out, he brings back another caveman to wreak havoc and revenge.

Highlighting weirdnesses like that the second caveman, “Ook” as he comes to be known, is billed as “Boris Lugosi” and looks a lot like Avery Schreiber.

This all makes for reasonably good copy, but I’m hardly the first to point any of this out.  All in all, this is pretty fun trash.

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) movie poster

director Terrence Fisher
viewed: 08/01/2016

Hammer’s funny but not exactly timely response to Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman (1956) is the latest entry in my summer of Hammer.  It’s the fourth film in the series, the last one that I hadn’t seen that Netflix still carries on DVD.

People seem to complain about the series, which spanned 17 years and 8 films, the lack of continuity between installments.  But oddly enough, I think that may be one of the series’ unusual strengths.  Rather than picking up where we left off, the films range all around.  Frankenstein is no one-trick pony.  Sometimes he creates a monster or revives his monster, other times he’s trying freeze brains for transposition from head to head, or even reviving a troglodyte!

Interestingly, he does not “create” woman in this film, though you could see where they were going, the Bride of Frankenstein is an element of Mary Shelley’s original novel.  He literally creates a woman (out of parts of other women).  But no, here he’s capturing the “soul” and taking it from one dead guy into his old dead girlfriend’s head, bringing her back to life, and even fixing some nasty facial scars that had diminished her life.

But the soul of the vengeful beau convinces the lovely Christina (Susan Denberg) to hunt down her father’s killers, the men for whom the young Hans (Robert Morris) took the fall for.

Peter Cushing is back as the doctor, supported by the affable Doctor Hertz (Thorley Walters).  And though the film isn’t overly amazing, it’s surprisingly affecting.

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) movie poster

director Freddie Francis
viewed: 07/30/2016

In retrospect, I should have carried on with my exploration of Hammer horror films back when I first watched The Curse of Frankenstein (1957).  Nine years ago, Netflix still had an extensive DVD offering.  They had started culling perhaps, but I probably could have gotten all the films and watched them in order.

Instead, nearly a decade later, I find myself catching as catch can with the Hammer Frankenstein series.  Just last week, I watched Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), the fifth of seven films.  And now?  Hammer Frankenstein #3, The Evil of Frankenstein.

It seems that this is a less popular installment.  It’s the only one featuring director Freddie Francis, cinematographer turned director, who did a sizable amount of work for both Hammer and Amicus in the horror arena.  Mostly, people seem annoyed at the break in narrative between Evil and its predecessor 1958’s The Revenge of Frankenstein.  I don’t have that one available, so I can’t speak to that issue.

Frankly (har har), I liked this one quite a bit.  I’ve seen a bunch of these as a kid and they’re totally jumbled in my brain.  It’s only after re-watching that various elements and images spring to mind.  In this case, Rena the beggar girl (Katy Wild) joggled my memory among other things.  But also, maybe it’s Francis’s visual aesthetic, I thought the film looked really nice as well.

I’ve invented for myself a bit of a “summer of Hammer” here, kind of by accident, but I do plan to follow it on out.  Randomizing order makes things maybe further jumbled, but with six intervening years between Revenge and Evil, it doesn’t seem that odd to have restarted a bit.  These days they probably would have replaced Peter Cushing with the latest young Brit and re-booted the whole damn thing in total.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) movie poster

director Terence Fisher
viewed: 07/26/2016

I always liked declarative titles like Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed or Destroy All Monsters.  Maybe it’s that verb: destroy.  I dunno.  I gets me.  Here.

It’s kind of sad but it’s been almost a decade ago that I set myself the plan to watch the Hammer horror cycles of Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Mummy.  Starting with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), there are only 7 movies in that cycle.  But in the interceding years, for the hundreds of movies I’ve watched, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is only the second of the films (5th in the series) that I’ve watched.

As a kid, I’m pretty sure I’d seen them all at one point or another.

My intent had been to watch them in order, but that didn’t happen.  So I can’t contextualize this one in comparison to the others.  What is interesting about it, though, is that it seems to carry forward on a through storyline from the prior films, all of which starred the inimitable Peter Cushing as the villain Dr. Frankenstein.

Here, in London, he doesn’t even have a monster.  He’s hiding in plain sight, trying to recover the mind of a fellow mad scientist who has actually gone mad.  He’s trying to recover the means to freeze a brain so that it can be transplanted into a new head.  In his pursuit, he forces young man and his fiancee into aiding and abetting his misdeeds.

Like a number of these films, Terence Fisher steers the ship, and the film carries along at a decent clip, never stalling out, keeping things moving.  It’s not overly stylized but largely entertaining.  Many have noted a very untoward rape scene that feels entirely out of place and unnecessary, apparently added at the producers behest and against cast and crew’s desires.  It does indeed make Dr. Frankenstein more deplorable, but it’s just…yeah.

Not sure where Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed falls in quality ranking of the Hammer Frankensteins.  I thought it was pretty good.

The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972)

The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972) movie poster

director Philip Kaufman
viewed: 02/01/2016

Back in 2007, inspired by Andrew Dominik’s great The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, I jumped down a rabbit hole of the cinematic Jesse James.  At the time, Netflix only carried so many Jesse James movies, but I pushed through all I could get my hands on, really, just trying to complete it.  I did, at the time, go through what I could find readily.

Since that time, more movies have trickled out of the woodwork.  Some new films, but probably just more complete lists of films.  Everything from the 1939 Herny King classic, Jesse James to the atrociously hilarious William “One-Shot” Beaudine flick Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966).

Philip Kaufman’s 1972 revisionist version of the James and Younger gang is quite contrary to most depictions of the famed outlaw.  The story is focused on Cole Younger, played here with great charm by Cliff Robertson.  The Youngers aren’t portrayed as the second fiddles of the gang but the real leaders and more noble hearts of the rebellious raiders.  Jesse James is played by Robert Duvall, and he’s not just a scoundrel but an out-and-out psychopath, killing unnecessarily, taking credit for things he didn’t do, and even shamed as being perhaps not as lustily heterosexual as the others.

This is a real contrast to most depictions, which tend to ennoble the gang, stealing from the banks and railroads that they felt had wronged the common man in their expansion across the States.

Kaufman’s movie is full of weird little things, like a long sequence depicting a baseball game (newfangled fad that it was), the character of the very Scandinavian stock of Northfield, MN, the “wonderments” of a steam plow, and a strange hoodoo treatment by an old lady witch.   These are the elements that give the movie character, and its true charms.

Because overall, the film has a weird character, flipping between PG comedy (those Pinkerton detectives forever on their train car, never catching their prey) and a little more seriousness.  Duvall’s Jesse James is quite unlikable, which I assume is intentional.  Robertson, though, is quite good.

It’s an odd muddle of a film, interesting in context of looking at variant depictions of the historical and yet folkloric characters.

The Monster Squad (1987)

The Monster Squad (1987) movie poster

director Fred Dekker
viewed: 01/09/2015

It’s been referred to as a slightly darker Goonies (1985), Fred Dekker’s 1987 kid-oriented horror-comedy, The Monster Squad is certainly one of those movies that probably works best for people who saw it for the first time at the right age.  Had I seen this movie as a 10 year old, I might have thought it was terrific.  I was 18 when it came out, and oddly enough 46 now when I finally saw it.  So, you could say I missed that window.

A gang of kids who love monsters (and exclude girls), talk over the ways to slay Dracula or the Wolf Man suddenly find themselves facing modern reimaginations of Universal’s classic monsters.  Not just Dracula and the Wolf Man, but the Mummy, a Gill Man, and Frankenstein’s monster.  Not as vigilant and psychotic as The Lost Boys’ Frog brothers, they are dealing with a broader spate of monsters, of course.  It makes sense that they should befriend at least one of the creatures (Frankenstein turns out to be a good guy monster) rather than being obsessed with monsters and only wanting to kill them.

The film was co-written by Dekker (whose 1986 Night of the Creeps also nodded and winked at classic horror films) and Shane Black, whose list of works include the first Lethal Weapon movies, Last Action Hero (1993), and more recently has had a real resurgence with writing and directing Iron Man 3 (2013).  It also features some nice creature design work from the late, great Stan Winston (“the Creature” is pretty darn cool).

I did watch the film with my 11 year old daughter, who isn’t as dyed in the wool over classic horror films as I was at 11, but enjoyed the film herself.  My inner 11 year old couldn’t be found to be as enthralled.  It’s a good but not great effort.  There’s a reason it’s a more obscure item overall, but I can see its charms as well.

I’m often struck in watching kids movies from the 1970’s – 1980’s how kids were depicted with so much more un-PC-ness.  It’s one thing to have a “fat kid” in the movie, but another to have him called “Fat Kid” by his purported squadmates (it is a funny joke, I’ll cede that for sure.)  Calling out “faggots” and other things, some of it is good to have cleaned up, but the unwashed and unabashed portrayals of this period are somewhat refreshing even in their potential for offense.

The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein (1972)

The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein (1972)  movie poster

director Jesús Franco
viewed: 08/03/2015

It was actually the addition of Jesús Franco’s The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein to Fandor that primed me for a little Jesús Franco double feature.  I’ve been sporadically watching his films but have kind of keened into him more recently.  This home-made double feature, which began with The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962) turned out to be some prime viewing and a pretty decent pairing.

Both films feature actor Howard Vernon (who was The Awful Dr. Orloff himself), who plays here a strange mystical character Cagliostro who travels around with a nude, caped, blind bird woman (one of the film’s weirdest of the weird elements).  He’s up against Dr. Frankenstein’s daughter, who seeks to reanimate both her father and his silver-skinned monster for….orgies?  Torture orgies?

Apparently shot in Portugal, Franco gets a lot out of his locations and pumps lots of feverish nonsense into an acid-trippy conflagration of ideas and characters.  This film leans more toward the less-polished and outlandish of Franco’s work, but in many ways actually it’s the camp badness that makes the film really interesting.  There are some funny moments, like when splashing acid on someone causes them to lose their limbs.  Or actually almost any scene with the blind bird lady.

I may be still getting my head around Franco and developing my overall opinion, but these two films, quite significantly different in their charms, actually have both added to my interest in the schlockmeister.

Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Destroy All Monsters (1968) movie poster

director Ishirō Honda
viewed: 12/28/2014

My childhood favorite Godzilla movie.  The title itself is just plain awesome.  But the real reason that this movie was a childhood favorite was because it featured “all of the monsters” (more my perception at the time).

It’s not just Godzilla versus so-and-so but it’s got Rodan, Mothra, Anguirus, King Ghidorah, Varan, Baragon, Minilla, Manda, Gorosaurus, and Kumonga!!!

Okay, half of those you’re probably not going to know who they are or where they came from.  Part of what’s cool and funny about the movie is how all of the characters recognize them like movie stars: “Look! It’s Manda!”  (This Manda appeared in Atragon “Undersea Warship” (1963) — I didn’t know.  I’m taking Wikipedia’s word for it.)

I had actually seen this about 10 years ago while on hiatus from the film diary, so I hadn’t written about it at the time.  So, I’d kind of learned that this wasn’t really the “best” Godzilla movie of all time (though it still gets credit for concept and title).

All of the monsters are living on “Monsterland” or “Monster Island” depending on the translation.  That’s when an alien race appears and takes control of the monsters’ minds and has them attack spots around the globe.  Eventually, they besiege Japan, of course.  When the humans take control of the monsters, the aliens bring in space monster Ghidorah and at the end, we get an all out monster battle.  But it takes a while to get there.

I think the best Godzilla movies are typically the ones with Ghidorah (Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) or Monster Zero (1965) or the ones with MechaGodzilla (Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) or Terror of MechaGodzilla (1975)), but this one still deserves some kudos.

It had been a while since the kids and I had watched a real Godzilla movie.  Oddly enough, Destroy All Monsters and Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973) were the two of the original Godzillas that I couldn’t get my hands on via Netflix back in the time we originally were watching them.  Now, those two are on Fandor.  And interestingly enough, Christmas weekend, Roberto Rodriguez’s El Rey television network was having a kaiju-fest, featuring a lot of Godzilla movies, but these two were not on the list.

Go figure.