Saturday, February 17, 2018

Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (Futurama Entertainment, Vernon-Seneca Films, 1965)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The first film shown at last night’s Mars movie night ( was a true oddity from 1965 called Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster ( lists the title as Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster, but that’s just an overly literal reading of a badly lettered title card) produced by Futurama Entertainment Corp. (“‘Entertainment’ — that’s a matter of opinion,” I couldn’t help but joke as the final credits rolled) and Vernon-Seneca Films, directed by Robert Gaffney from a story by George Garrett. Apparently the original screenwriters — Garrett, R. H. W. Dillard and John Rodenbeck, the last two uncredited — intended the film as an out-and-out comedy — and a deliberately funny version would have been considerably better than the one we have — but the producers wanted a “serious” horror/sci-fi film. They got something that was funny, all right, but purely by unintention, a mess of ill-matched footage that makes Plan Nine from Outer Space look like a deathless masterpiece by comparison. After some blurry stock scenes that purportedly represent an alien spacecraft in orbit around Earth, we cut to a plywood set supposedly representing the ship’s interior and a curious gnome-like creature with big, pointy ears talking to a woman who appears to be in command of the operation. The gnome-like creature is the appropriately named “Nadir” (as in “low point”) and is played by Lou Cutell — I couldn’t help but joke, “At the top of the list of science-fiction film characters with pointy ears is Mr. Spock in Star Trek, and at the bottom is this guy” — while the commander is listed as “Princess Marcuzan” in the closing credits but is never addressed by anything more than “The Princess.” She’s also played by Marilyn Hanold, who can’t act but at least is marginally enough better than the rest of the cast that we don’t think she flunked out of drama school on her first day. She, Nadir and their crew are preparing a secret plan that involves kidnapping Earth women and mating with them because a nuclear war back on their home planet — which the official synopsis says is Mars but that’s nowhere stated in the movie itself — killed off all their own women. When the Princess announced that the war killed off all their women, the one woman in our audience asked, “Then what are you?” — though it’s possible we were supposed to assume she’d already gone through her species’ version of menopause. The same woman in the audience laughed when I joked, when the Princess confronted one of the blonde, bikini’ed Earth girls they’d kidnapped, the victim would say, “You don’t fool me! You’re Harvey Weinstein in drag!” 

Meanwhile, NASA is planning its first manned mission to Mars — well, sort-of  “manned”; they’ve built a one-man spaceship and to fly it, scientists Dr. Adam Steele (James Karen) and Karen Grant (Nancy Marshall) have bio-engineered a creature from bits and pieces of recently deceased humans but controlled by an electronic brain inside — and the scene in which they cut their creature open (he’s malfunctioned and frozen up at a press conference introducing him, which director Gaffney represents by an oddball freeze-frame) and it looks like somebody left a computer circuit board in the middle of the merchandise at a meat market, is the grossest in the film. They call their creature “Frank Saunders” — as in “Frankenstein,” get it? — and duly shoot him off in his rocket to Mars, only the people in the spaceship that’s orbiting Earth from wherever decide it’s a human counterattack and shoot it down. It lands over Puerto Rico (as if the island didn’t have enough problems!) and the Princess and Dr. Nadir send out three goons from their spaceship who wear metallic spacesuits and hold ray guns that look like hand-held vacuum cleaners to hunt down the intruder — who in the process of crash-landing has badly burned half of his face and lost all his morals, since he spends most of his time cornering people on the beach and killing them at random. The pity is that Robert Reilly, who plays Saunders, was a quite handsome and striking-looking man in his opening scene and it’s a pity that thereafter we see him only with a lot of crud stuck on half his face to make him appear “monstrous.” While all this is going on Drs. Steele and Grant do a lot of riding around Puerto Rico (or actually Cocoa Beach, Florida, where the film was shot) on a Vespa motor scooter (one wonders if Vespa got product-placement money — or if they offered the filmmakers a bribe not to include their product in the film?) listening to a pop-rock song called “To Have and To Hold” by a group called the Distant Cousins, produced by Bob Crewe (who was best known as a principal songwriter for the Four Seasons: he wasn’t a performing member but he and Bob Gaudio, who was, wrote most of their hits). It’s not all that great, but the film’s other song, “That’s the Way It’s Got to Be” by The Poets (another Crewe-produced group), is a nice little piece of proto-psychedelic rock and the film brightens up considerably when it appears on the soundtrack. 

Alas, that’s about the only good thing you can say about Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster: it’s the sort of movie in which the stock footage has better production values than the new shooting, and there’s a reason why you’ve never heard of anyone in it. In fact, I found it so dull I literally fell asleep halfway through it and have no idea how it turned out — though I’m sure the ending had something to do with Mull, one of those tacky monsters endemic to bad 1950’s and 1960’s sci-fi films whose costume looks like it was made of carpet samples and who was on board the alien spacecraft as a sort of enforcer and hit person (or thing), confronting Frank Saunders on a beach somewhere (just about every exterior in this film takes place either on a beach — James Karen and Nancy Marshall even get to copy the famous seashore embrace of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity — or on a road leading to a beach) and having it out with him in a final confrontation reviewer “Space_Mafune” called “disappointing.” As an out-and-out spoof Frankenstein mission cMeets the Space Monster might have been genuinely entertaining — one of the gags from the comic version that never made it into the film was that Frank Saunders’ legs had come from a recently deceased tap dancer, so he’d have broken uncontrollably into a tap dance every time he heard the song “Sweet Georgia Brown” — as it was it was just another dumb thing that probably got shown mostly at drive-ins to teenage couples who were too busy necking (or more) to notice how bad the movie was!