My earliest memory of seeing FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER was somewhere back around 1972 when I was ten years old. I was living in Queens, New York and back in those sweet days I used to bounce between TV stations to catch a Saturday night horror film on either Channel 5's "Creature Feature" or Channel 11's "Chiller Theatre."
Well, "Chiller" won out on that particular evening. It was the heart of summer and my street was having a festive block party. I can still hear the sounds of music and kids laughing and playing, as someone would frequently run inside and ask me why I wasn't outside joining in all the fun. As much fun as I knew the family and neighbors were having outside, I couldn't have cared less; I was riveted to an old-fashioned television set watching FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER and adding this night to my memory banks. I'm sure they've all since forgotten their block party.
It's strange to think that this film was only 14 years old in 1972! This would be today's equivalent of watching, say, David Cronenberg's remake of THE FLY ('86)! Since we weren't yet too jaded by gore and splatter, I found some genuinely powerful moments in FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER: There was blood on the victims, a dismembered hand, and mangled and meaty body parts. The icing on the cake was a shot of a character's face virtually melting away after being splashed with acid.
The 1958 feature seemed very relative to me at the time. My Queens block looked very much like the residential streets in the movie, and the basement laboratory could very well have been my own cellar, had I dressed it up with some test tubes and a large table. The added fact that the story was about teenagers (okay, so they looked more like thirty-something's) also gave me a point of identification. The backyard barbecue scene again struck a chord, and was particularly appropriate on this evening where a noisy shindig was actually occurring a few feet away, just outside my own screen door.
The movie starts with a pre-credits sequence: Sandra Knight is prowling the neighborhood in cheap (but effective for '72) monster make-up, with bushy eyebrows and decaying buck teeth. One of her girlfriends (the sultry Sally Todd) is just getting home from a date with her boyfriend and screams at the very sight of her. FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER has begun.
The next morning, Knight awakens as a normal-looking girl with no memory of what went on the previous evening, though when she meets Sally Todd for tennis, her friend insists that she saw some sort of monster last night. The revelation triggers memories of bad dreams for Knight, and she soon thinks that she might have been the creature in question.
Meanwhile, Knight's Uncle (played with hilarious ineptitude by the always-funny Felix Locher) is experimenting with a formula to render man ageless. He has an assistant named Oliver Frank (short for Frankenstein, of course) who is supposedly aiding him, but would rather see the old man dead so he can have full use of the lab to concentrate on his own masterful experiment. Donald Murphy plays Oliver, and he's one of the most detestable snakes ever to slither down the Frankenstein Family Tree. He's a joy to watch at work, as he uses the "nutty old man's" formula on his own niece by spiking her nightly glasses of fruit punch, thereby turning her into the monster of the opening scene!
Later, Oliver connives his way into a date with Sally Todd and tries in vain to make out with her, only to be slapped across the face by the stuck-up vixen: "Hey," Oliver protests from Lover's Lane, "you agreed to park here with me!" Soon he has a better idea: he gets even by mowing her down with his car as she tries to run away!
Taking her body to the basement lab, Oliver decides to use her head on the carcass he's assembling behind the old doc's back. When the automation comes to life, it's actually a male actor (Harry Wilson) who portrays her with a burned-up face. Reportedly, nobody bothered to tell makeup artist Harry Thomas that the monster was to be female, so he solved the dilemma by smearing some lipstick on its kisser. I think it's one of the best monsters from the 50s.
Meantime, the old doc keeps getting in the way and so Oliver tries to frighten him into having a heart attack by strangling him. Before the old coot can fire Oliver for this, the police barge in and take the doc to jail when Oliver squeals that his boss has been stealing supplies from a medical facility. Now free to work alone, Oliver starts sending his creature on a killing spree.
Amidst the rampages of Frankenstein's Daughter, we are treated to the aforementioned backyard barbecue. Still wondering where Sally Todd went, the other teens enjoy the music of Page Cavanaugh and His Trio. The band treats us to two 50s gems: "Daddy Bird" and -- my guilty favorite -- "Special Date." I have since memorized all the words, and it's a riot!
As we reach the climax, Oliver Franks seizes Sandra Knight and takes her to the laboratory; "You've always treated me as a monster," Oliver rants, "now you're going to be one!" But Sandra's boyfriend (played by a straight-faced and disinterested John Ashley) intervenes to save the day in a fiery finale.
With lovable horror clichés, gooey monsters, and funny dialogue, this is a classic of its type from director Richard Cunha. It's a lightly-paced thrill ride from start to finish and one of the best teenage monster movies of them all. It's easily Cunha's masterpiece (if such a word applies here).
The DVD presentation is just beautiful! It follows the same quality transfer as the Wade Williams videotape, with a clean and crisp black and white picture. There's no doubt about it, this is the best that the film has ever looked...I know, since I've owned every tape from the Admit One edition of 1985 to the Elvira/Rhino cassette copy.
The mono sound needed to be pushed up on my system, but this is a common trait of many DVDs at this point anyway. The cardboard sleeve folds out to reveal a wealth of production information, with new facts and figures previously unknown. It was here that I learned that the whole feature was shot in just six days!
There is a welcome theatrical trailer, an EXCELLENT still gallery of previously unseen production photos of the cast and crew! I have never come across many of these shots in my 38 years of magazines and movie book collecting. It's a treat to see Image giving us more extras, as this was something lacking from them early in the DVD game. THANKS, GUYS!!!
One minor -- and I stress the word minor -- quibble is the front cover. While I adore nearly ALL of those Wade Williams eye-catchers, I never understood the idea behind this one. A phony silhouette of a normal woman in a nightgown in front of expensive-looking machinery has nothing to do with this movie, and I don't get it.
Having said that, let me conclude that this is a blessed holy treatment bestowed on a small production that is starting to gain status as a cult classic. At its worst, FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER is a harmless and funny exploitation farce; at its best, it's one of the most underrated monster classics of the 50s. (Joe Lozowsky)
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