Director: Richard Gaffney
Dark Sky Films/MPI

With a title as ridiculous as its premise, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER is another one of those self-made schlockers that’s simply irresistible for those of us who relish trashy Z-grade pictures. One of the producers, Alan V. Iselin, had already saturated drive-in screens with the exploitable double bill of HORROR OF PARTY BEACH and CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE, and this one belongs in the same grouping. During an era of colorful 007 spy flicks and flashy Hammer horrors, the slapdash production values of FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE MONSTER are truly out of place, and for that alone, it stands out and it still remembered fondly by monster fans who marveled at it on Saturday afternoon TV.

NASA scientists Dr. Adam Steele (cult film legend and former Pathmark spokesman James Karen) and Karen Grant (Nancy Marshall) create a very human-like android who is identified as Capt. Frank Saunders (Robert Reilly) during a press conference. From Cape Kennedy, Frank takes off on a mission to Mars, as to not endanger the life of a living astronaut, and of course, everything goes wrong. Frank’s capsule is shot down by an invading alien ship, causing him to crash in Puerto Rico, where the aliens soon land as well. Frank’s circuits are badly damaged when he is blasted by one of the invaders’ toy ray guns, resulting in a disfigured and maniacal “Frankenstein” on the loose. In the meantime, the aliens, lead by the dwarfish, pointy-eared Doctor Nadir (Lou Cutell, later the “assman” in a memorable “Seinfeld” episode and more recently seen in WEDDING CRASHERS) and the glamorous Princess Marcuzan (Marilyn Hanold, who you might remember from THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE or as a toothy vampire amazon in the Three Stooges short, “Space Ship Sappy”) are seeking out human women to interbreed with the survivors of their dying planet, and the sunny beaches and backyard pool parties offer plenty of bikini-clad babes to choose from.

Known as DUEL OF THE SPACE MONSTERS in England, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER is a thoroughly enjoyable relic that’s well-paced for its brief running time, despite the inclusion of mucho NASA and wartime stock footage. As unconventional a “Frankenstein” film as they come, the film is sort of a cheat in that respect, with the posters promising a more Karloffian figure than what’s delivered in the final product. But with a horribly mangled half-face and scorched astronaut suit, Frank is a memorable movie monster, especially when he’s seen hatcheting a beachside resident, assaulting a young couple’s automobile in the middle of the night, or fighting off the aliens with the one spark of decency he still has in him. Lou Cutell’s grimacing Nadir, with add-on Spock ear tips and a bald cap that looks like it was left over from a grammar school production of “Annie”, adds a dimension of perversion and unintentional chuckles to the proceedings, especially when seated next to statuesque Marilyn Hanold’s domineering head-dressed Princess. Bruce Glover (father of Crispin, and later appearing in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER and WALKING TALL, and still very busy today) not only appears as one of the pointy-eared, bald-capped aliens (the rest of the bunch sport visor helmets, obviously to save on make-up expenses) but also plays Mull, the skull-faced and lumpy “space monster” of the title, uncredited no less. Caged up for most of the running time, he is finally let loose at the end to do battle with Frank, he can best be described as an A-for-effort tribute to the cinema creatures created by the late great Paul Blaisdell.

Though mostly filmed on location in Puerto Rico, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER had its interiors shot at the long-gone Seneca Studios, which was located in Hempstead, NY, minutes from where I type this review. Most of these scenes represent the interior of the spaceship, with its cool 1960s retro electronic panels, secret jail cells and female-lined converter belts, and naturally, looks a lot bigger inside than the full-scale orb that represents its exterior. Another characteristic of the film is its inclusion of two soundtrack tunes, both genuinely reflecting mid 1960s pop. Both songs are heard periodically (and impromptu) throughout; "That's the Way It's Got to Be" by The Poets resembles a guitar-driven track by Johnny Rivers and "To Have And To Hold" by The Distant Cousins is a cross between The Beatles’ “And I Love Her” and The Dave Clark Five’s “Because.”

Although Dark Sky Films’ release of FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER is an easily recommended purchase, it doesn’t look nearly as good as their HORROR OF PARTY BEACH or THE FLESH EATERS since the 35mm elements where obviously not in as good of shape. Presented in its original 1.85;1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, the framing is much more complimentary to the film than previous open matte video incarnations and TV broadcasts. Not counting the inferior-looking stock footage padding, the black and white image is truly well defined, with really deep blacks, but there are frequent lines and scratches on the print source, as well splices which sometimes sever spoken words. The apparent print damage also accounts for some missing footage, most noticeably a short sequence where two trigger-happy hunters are chasing Frank through a field. Overall, the DVD is preferable to the old Prism VHS tape, which was also trimmed of some footage. The mono audio is sometimes scratchy and hissy, but far from the worst you ever heard, and optional English subtitles are included.

Extras include the wild original theatrical trailer, as well as a brief still gallery. There’s also a hefty booklet which contains revealing essays from screenwriter R.H.W. Dillard and one-time director Richard Gaffney which shed some light on the production and release history, as well as quotes from various reviews of the film. It’s too bad that cast or crew members, most of which are alive and well, weren’t contacted for a commentary or video interviews, especially the highly identifiable James Karen (who at 80+ is still as active as ever). (George R. Reis)