Thursday, March 12, 2020

Frankenstein's Daughter (1958)



I finally got around to watching this absolute clunker of a B-movie last weekend.  It's difficult to find any redeeming features in this farrago: the script is leaden, the direction perfunctory and production values poverty stricken.  As for the acting, well, it matches the rest of the film in terms of quality.  Although clearly inspired by AIP's teen orientated horror films like I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Teenage Frankenstein and How to Make a Monster, this independent production, made for cheapjack distributors Astor, sits several rungs below any of them.  On paper, it must have looked a sure fire hit, offering not one but two monsters in a clear attempt to outdo the AIP films.  Unfortunately, they are pretty terrible monsters, lacking any of the charm of AIP's somewhat rickety creations.  Still, unlike some 'Frankenstein' films of the era, it doesn't just take the good doctor's name in vain - it features an actual member of the Frankenstein family as a protagonist.  This is Oliver Frankenstein, grandson of the original Frankenstein, hell bent on following in the footsteps of both his grand father and father in creating a monster.

Unfortunately, the family has fallen on hard times, with this Frankenstein being forced to work as an assistant to the local elderly eccentric scientist in a California town.  Instead of a castle and laboratory, we is forced to pursue his experiments in a dank cellar in the scientist's house.  The first of these involves slipping the scientist's experimental anti-ageing elixir into the old man's niece's drinks, causing her to transform into a buck-toothed monster that terrorises the neighbourhood.  The girl has no memory of her antics when she transforms back and the local police are left baffled.  Frankenstein, meanwhile, has been constructing a body in his basement - assisted by the Igor-like family retainer who is now working as the scientist's handyman - for which he now only needs a head.  An opportunity to acquire one arises when one of the scientist's niece's girlfriend spurns Frankenstein's advances - so he runs her over, stitching her horribly maimed head onto the body.  His logic in creating a female monster is explained thus: "now we're aware the female mind is conditioned to a man's world. It therefore takes orders, where the other ones didn't."  Of course, mayhem follows with the monster killing Frankenstein's enemies on his orders, while the local police bumble around.  There are various plot convolutions to pad the running time out, mainly involving Frankenstein trying to convince the niece that she is suffering delusions, after she sees the monster.

While, on paper, all this sounds like it might be insane fun, the film's makers lack both the resources and the talent to realise any of its campy potential.  It doesn't help that the monster itself is dire.  Despite being consistently referred to as 'her'. it doesn't appear even remotely feminine, clearly being played by a male stunt man.  This, apparently, is because the make up man didn't realise that the creature was meant to be female (despite the film being called Frankenstein's Daughter).  To be fair, the script itself is confused on this point, with Frankenstein himself never making clear the gender of the body he has built: is it a male body with a female head grafted on, or are they both female?  Either way, it is a pretty poor monster, lumbering around throttling people before finally setting itself on fire.  It lacks any character and never engages the viewer's sympathies, with the potentially interesting question of how a once beautiful teenage girl might react to finding herself transformed into a hideous monster of uncertain gender left unexplored.  Most of the film was shot at the producer's house, with only a few cheap and dismal looking studio sets.  Some of the outdoor scenes were filmed on famed silent comedian Harold Lloyd's estate because, well, his son Harold Lloyd Jr plays one of the teens.  Like I said, a dismal clunker which doesn't even fall into the 'so bad it is good' category.

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