Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster
Review Date: January 19, 2007
Released by: Dark Sky Films
Release date: 5/30/2006
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
is one of my ultimate “desert island” films. As a young man of about thirteen, I stumbled upon the old out-of-print Prism videotape and quickly fell in love with the movie. From that point on, I made a regular Friday night ritual of watching it for several years to come. Yes, I know, that’s rather pathetic sounding, but at least it kept me away from the drugs, alcohol and partying that some of my classmates were discovering on those same Friday nights. But as I became old enough to watch a more diverse range of entertainment without the strict parental interference that defined my youth, I ended up losing track of the movie until the day that the screener disc arrived in the mail. So how does it hold up on DVD? Unfortunately, not very well. Keep reading for details...
We open in an alien spaceship orbiting above Earth. The ship is captained by the bald-headed, pointy-eared Martian scientist Dr. Nadir (Lou Cuttell
), and in addition to its extraterrestrial crew, the ship is also inhabited by the cold and ruthless Princess Marcuzan (Marilyn Hanold
). The spaceship represents one of the last groups of living Martians left, with their civilization having been recently destroyed by a nuclear war. The vessel's mission is to survey Earth, and then to land and capture as many human females as possible in order to acquire breeding stock for the repopulation of the Martian race. However, as the ship hovers in orbit, its long-range sensors detect what appears to be a ballistic missile attack being launched from the planet’s surface. Concerned that it may be aimed at them, Dr. Nadir uses the ship’s defenses to blow up the rocket in flight.
As it turns out, the missile that the Martians destroyed was a NASA mission launched from Cape Kennedy. We flash to southern Florida where we are introduced to scientists Dr. Adam Steele (James Karen
) and his assistant Karen Grant (Nancy Marshall
), as well as General Frank Bowers (David Kerman
) of the Air Force. They are accompanying Colonel Frank Saunders (Robert Reilly
) to a NASA press conference where they will announce the impending launch of an expedition to Mars, which will be manned by Saunders alone. However, the press conference doesn’t go quite as planned: after answering some initial questions from reporters, Saunders suddenly freezes up, unable to speak. Adam rushes him into a back room where, muttering about the humidity of the Florida climate, Saunders’ head is opened up to reveal electronic circuitry inside. Colonel Frank Saunders is actually an android!
Adam is able to restore Saunders to normal functioning, and the launch of the Mars mission goes ahead as planned. However, just like before, Dr. Nadir interprets the launch as a potential attack and orders the rocket destroyed. But he and Marcuzan are surprised when they discover that the missile’s “pilot” has ejected and is drifting back towards Earth. Realizing that the rocket was not a military attack, Marcuzan orders the spaceship to land on Earth and kill Saunders before he can report the presence of the Martians. Touching down near the escape capsule’s landing site in the rural backcountry of Puerto Rico, several Martian soldiers are dispatched to track down Saunders. They are able to shoot him with a ray gun, but all it does is disfigure his face. The android escapes and, fearing imminent detection because of it, Marcuzan orders her troops to begin kidnapping human women before that can happen (the Martian who let Saunders escape is fed to Nadir's pet mutant Mull, the "space monster" of the title). Meanwhile, the disfigured Colonel Saunders, with his electronic circuitry badly damaged, embarks upon a killing spree throughout the countryside. Steele, Karen and Bowers are summoned to Puerto Rico with the military in an attempt to capture or destroy their malfunctioning creation. Will the chaos be stopped in time, or will the Martians succeed in their plan while Saunders keeps slaughtering innocent bystanders?
Bad horror and bad sci-fi movies, particularly those from the 50's and 60's, can be fitted into two general categories. There's the bad movies made by men who had an earnest desire to produce a quality film, but were hampered by a lack of time, a lack of money and their own lack of talent (Ed Wood and Andy Milligan). Then there's the movies that were produced by greedy hacks who cared little about the quality of their product, operating with the cynical assumption that no matter how bad it turned out, somebody would still pay to watch it (Jerry Warren). Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster
seems to fall into this latter category. The film's executive producer was Alan V. Iselin, one of the same men writing the checks for the previous year's Horror of Party Beach
. Watching the film for the first time as an adult, I was struck by how incredibly cynical a movie it really is when you break it down piece by piece, particularly in the way it tries to get away with outrageous amounts of stock footage and unconvincing special effects. But yet, despite this cynicism it is still remarkably enjoyable.
The movie is one of the most threadbare American science fiction productions of the 1960’s. The Martian spaceship is given elaborate enough decoration, but that fails to obscure the fact that the set was obviously constructed with scant time and money, and the exterior model of the ship seems too small for the interior as constructed. The movie features a significant amount of travelogue footage of both Puerto Rico and Florida (those of you with large TVs should check out the scene where James Karen and Nancy Marshall drive through the streets of San Juan on a moped - there are plenty of hapless locals who can't help but stare at the camera). During the scene at the beginning where the protagonists drive to NASA headquarters, the editor throws in plenty of pointless shots of seemingly every burger joint and tourist attraction in south Florida. And of course, there's the already mentioned stock footage, much of it either from NASA or from the U.S. military (and, judging by the uniforms and weapons carried by the troops, some of it may date back as far as the Korean War). The footage is actually blended in fairly effectively, but the very cheapness of the film as a whole prevents any suspension of disbelief. If everything else in the movie is so cheap and shoddy, then there’s no reason to believe that this isn’t old newsreel stock footage.
I have always been an admirer of James Karen as an actor, believing that the gruff, cantankerous sounding performer has had his talents wasted in overly small roles in too many movies like Wall Street
(his memorable supporting roles in genre films like Return of the Living Dead
and Invaders from Mars
being a welcome exception). Well, here’s a reversal of the problem. Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster
is a movie which wastes James Karen in a starring role that is bland and colorless. As Dr. Adam Steele, Karen gets plenty of screen time, but is given no chance to be anything other than the standard movie leading man (and it's hard to take anyone seriously as a hero when they spend most of the movie riding around on a moped). But at least Karen has an actual screen presence, even in a role as thankless as this. His co-star Nancy Marshall has almost zero screen presence in comparison. The part doesn't require her to do much of anything other than stand around with a blank expression on her face and occasionally talk like a mindless bimbo, and Marshall fully lives up to that requirement. Really, the best roles in the movie - mostly because they get the best lines - go to Lou Cuttell as Dr. Nadir and David Kerman as General Bowers.
Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster
should find a spot in the library of every "bad" movie fan. However, for those of you reading this who already have an older VHS release (particularly of the Prism tape from the mid-1980's), you'll want to hold onto your tape because this DVD is missing footage. A rough breakdown of the cuts follows:
- After the protagonists arrive in Puerto Rico, there is a chunk of footage missing from a sequence where Karen and Adam go into the countryside searching for Saunders. On the VHS version the couple's moped gets bogged down in some mud. They try to get it working, but abandon it and then procede on foot. There's a dialogue scene between the two, and then they find Saunders in a cave after he is chased by two hunters with shotguns. On the DVD, it shows them bogged down in the mud, but the footage of them abandoning the moped is missing, as is the dialogue scene that follows and the scene with the hunters.
- After the two find Saunders, Adam has Karen go back to get help from the military. She is able to get the moped working again, but on the way back she is captured by the Martians and taken aboard their ship. Before her capture there is a shot of her on the moped that is missing from the DVD, and after she is caught the scene where the aliens drag her back to their ship is noticeably longer on the VHS.
- Not long after, there is a scene in which Adam leads a somewhat repaired Saunders to look for Karen. The DVD is missing a lengthy shot of the two of them, as well as some military stock footage that goes along with it.
The cuts are rather strange, and it looks almost as if the DVD transfer may have been culled from a version of the movie that was shortened for TV release. However, if it makes the guys at Dark Sky feel any better, the Prism VHS features cuts to a scene in which Adam, Karen and Bowers discuss the destruction of Saunders' rocket and whether he might have survived. The scene is uncut on the DVD.
Time has not been kind to this poor little movie. The anamorphic 1.78:1 presentation (not 1.85:1, as is advertised on the packaging) is marred with flaws. Scratches, specks, splices, blemishes and vertical lines are a frequent viewing companion, and they're not just apparent during the stock footage, either. The movie itself looks beat up. However, the transfer on this release does at least have the benefits of a sharp image coupled with excellent clarity and contrast.
However, I'm not going to waste time with any excessive complaining about the video quality (it's certainly better than the past tapes have been). Clearly the movie was not stored or treated properly over the past forty years. I'm disappointed with the quality, but not particularly angry.
The Dolby 2.0 Mono soundtrack is full of frequent hissing and popping, with average to poor fidelity most of the time. There are also plenty of jumps in the audio, apparently the result of all the splices. The soundtrack is clear enough to understand the dialogue, but is otherwise mediocre.
Optional English subtitles are included.
There isn't much in the way of on-disc supplements. There's a theatrical trailer, and a very brief still gallery.
The best extra is actually the booklet that comes with the DVD, featuring extensive liner notes by George Garrett and R.H.W Dillard, two of the film's writers. They discuss the creative process that led to the early versions of the script (which was originally intended as a comedy) and how the producers insisted that they change it into little more than a straight horror/sci-fi thriller.
After six years of waiting, I'm happy to finally own Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster
on DVD. That being said, I only have lukewarm feelings about this release. I don't mind the image quality - which again, is better than past versions - or the lack of supplements, but I am aggravated by the missing footage. For viewers who have never seen the movie the cuts are hardly ruinous, but for me they are highly disappointing. It's always difficult when a fan's sentimental favorite turns up on DVD in a cut or otherwise flawed version, and for me that's the case even with a movie as inane, stupid and downright bizarre as Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster
Movie – D+
Image Quality – C
Sound - C-
Supplements – C+
- Running Time - 1 hour 16 minutes
- Chapter stops
- Not rated
- 1 Disc
- English subtitles
- Still gallery
- Liner notes