Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster
Having spent part of the day having needles stuck in my mouth, I don't really feel in any fit state to try and post anything profound today. (If you are wondering, I wasn't exploring the outer reaches of sadomasochism, but rather was at the dentist, having a tooth repaired). Instead, I'm going to prattle on about a film I recently watched. It was no classic and certainly not profound, but Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster is title which has fascinated me since childhood. It was one of those films which were available on Super 8mm in a truncated version and advertised in newspapers in the early seventies. They all had alluring, trashy titles (often changed from more sedate original titles) which captivated the young me. It was also one of those films which occaisionally turned up in the late night schedules, but I was too young to be allowed to sit up and watch it. As I got older it seemed to vanish from public view and, frustratingly, in the pre-internet age there seemed to be very little available information about it, even in the specialist press. However, thanks to You Tube and Google's slack attitude toward other people's copyright, I was finally able to catch up with it last weekend.
I'd love to say that Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster is some kind of lost cult classic. Sadly, it isn't. It's just a cheaply made exploitation flick, apparently financed by the Puerto Rican tourist board, there are so many lengthy and gratuitous sequences of the hero and heroine riding around the island's main attractions on a scooter. Worst of all, neither Frankenstein nor his monster appear. What we instead get is a malfunctioning US android astronaut called Colonel Frank Saunders, who goes berserk and starts killing people after having one side of his face melted by an alien death ray. 'He's become a Frankenstein' wails the heroine. Well, no, if anything he's become a Frankenstein's monster. But there is a space monster - a ferocious mutant the aliens carry around in their spaceship for some unspecified reason. The plot, such as it is, concerns a group of aliens from a dying planet coming to earth to kidnap earth women (their own are all sterile) and mistaking a NASA rocket launch as an attack on their ship. The destruction of the rocket leads to the US sending android Frank on the next mission to try and ascertain what happened to its predecessor. Of course, his own ship meets the same fate, but, using the escape system, makes it back to earth, landing in Puerto Rico, closely followed by the alien spaceship.
It is the scenes on the alien spaceship which fatally undermine the movie. Whilst the scenes concerning the US military and NASA scientists are indifferently acted and poorly scripted, they at least look realistic. The alien sequences are, by comparison, incredibly camp, featuring the alien leader, a Princess and her chief scientist, a pointy eared bald headed character who appears to be the prototype for Mike Myers' Dr Evil in the Austin Powers series. Even when they aren't engaging in abominably bad dialogue - in which every nuance of their plot and situation is painfully spelt out for the audience - they are exchanging camp and archly knowing looks whilst watching the captured earth girls being processed. Of course, it all ends with the usual conflagration as a partially repaired Frank releases the earth girls and battles the space monster as the spaceship takes off and tries to escape. Frank naturally sacrifices himself (thereby redeeming himself for those earlier murders) blowing up the spaceship.
Badly scripted, poorly acted and featuring what feels like hours of travelogue to pad out the running time, Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster does have some redeeming features. It is quite nicely photographed in black and white and features some of the best use of stock footage I've seen in a low budget film. What I assume is official NASA footage of rocket launches is well-matched to the rest of the film in terms of image quality and is consistent - the same type of rockets, for instance, are featured in each launch sequence. Indeed Frank's launch into space is built around some fascinating footage of a Saturn 1B test launch and culminates in a sequence featuring a test of the Apollo capsule escape system. Although not really worth the wait, and despite a misleading title (in the UK it was called, more honestly, Duel of the Space Monsters, although you have to wait until the last five minutes for their 'duel'), Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster was still reasonably entertaining and far more competently put together than most movies of its ilk.