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Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster: "The lucky ones are dead."

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Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965)

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I am hardly an accountant, pumpkins, but even I know the books must be balanced. Or maybe it's karma that has to be balanced.

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Something has to be balanced.

(Or is is starve a cold, feed a fever?)

Anyway, it has occurred to me that, in my last few reviews, I have been complimentary, effusive, enthusiastic, laudatory and, worst of all, nursing an addiction in regards to using a thesaurus. I know that it's statistically possible that I'd experience a small string of films I consider watchable, but it's been bothering me. What's more, not only do I consider it my sacred duty to steer all of you towards shmoozy films, but warn you of films to avoid as much as possible. That is, after all, the reason the Film Critic Guardians of the Universe gave me my power ring. This means I must put aside my planned commentary on "World Without Sun" until later.

So I took it upon myself to do a little research and come up with a film that is bad . . .

No! Scratch that. This film goes light years beyond bad. If it was SyFy Channel bad then that would be a considerable improvement, but this even worse. This film is an out and out Atrocity. I have seen "Plan Nine from Outer Space", "Robot Monster" and Adam Sandler, and I've got to tell you that, compared to this film, the examples I cited represent the pinnacle of Western Art.

Pumpkins: I present to you "Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster".

And yeah, the film is about as good as the title.

I mean . . . Mother Mary and Joseph: Young Son and I could get a smart phone, whack ourselves over the heads with crowbars, throw boiling lye in our eyes, go out and record footage of ourselves for editing into a feature film and, compared to "Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster", you'd consider yourself royally entertained. You know me, pumpkins. I try to find at least one redeeming quality in every film I report on. And I stand aside to no one in my love of genre films. But in this case I absolutely cannot do it. I may have finally located what I thought was the unattainable: an absolutely worthless movie.

(How this film escaped "Mystery Science Theater 3000" is going to be one of those eternal mysteries; like Stonehenge, Adam Sandler and the Nazca Lines.)

THE PLOT: NASA is trying to launch a successful one-man mission to Mars (the film's budget apparently not being up to a multi-man crew. Hey, it was either another crewman or lunch at the Taco Doofus. You make the call). Previous attempts have blown up moments after launch, so NASA is trying again with a spaceship flown by Colonel Frank Saunders. What Is Not Known To The World At Large is that Frank Saunders isn't human but is, instead . . . an android!

Well, unfortunately for NASA (as well as the audience), they're sending up space missions at a time when Earth is being observed by a spaceship from . . . Mars! Yes! Not only that, but it is carrying the Martian Princess Marzipan---I mean, the Martian Princess Marcuzan! Sorry. She and her crew have escaped from a Mars devastated by nuclear war, and have come to Earth to . . . wait for it . . . Acquire Earth Women For Purposes Of Creating A New Martian Race!

(DUH Duh duhhhhhhh . . .)

Princess Marcuzan wants her little expedition (for obvious reasons I'm not referring to it as a snatch job) to remain secret and unobserved and so, in order to maintain complete anonymity, she's having her crew shoot down every space rocket that might come near. Like I said: complete anonymity. Not too surprisingly the Martians are responsible for shooting down the Mars flight attempts, and they do the same to the rocket carrying Colonel Saunders. He survives the experience, though, and crash lands in Puerto Rico. Or just manages to. When he emerges from his capsule his circuits are damaged and half his head is fried.

("Colonel Saunders" . . . "fried". And if I didn't point it out then one of you would have.)

Princess Marcuzan and her crew land on Puerto Rico (and, unfortunately, do not sing "America" from "West Side Story"). The Princess is concerned that the survivor from the rocket might tattle on the Martians, so she sends her minions out to hunt for him. And, as long as they're outside and everything, they might as well grab whichever young lovelies they encounter.(using their thinly disguised Wham-O Air Blasters to destroy assorted boyfriends and other interfering males). One of the prizes they acquire is Dr. Karen Grant: a scientist who was one of Colonel Saunders' designers. She and Professor Adam Steele have come to Puerto Rico to search for the android and, instead, they Run Afoul of the Martians. Meanwhile, as all this is going on, the damaged Colonel Saunders is shambling about, making vague electronic noises and beating up everyone he meets.

Whew!

(I wonder if Colonel Saunders was a chicken colonel? There! That should take care of all the KFC jokes.)

Well, pumpkins? What can I say?

Let's plod on. Made in 1965, "Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster" was directed (and I'm really abusing the term here) by Robert Gaffney. Other than this movie his only directing credit was a 1962 documentary short entitled "An Answer". But he was the cinematographer for Ron O'Neal's "Super Fly T.N.T.", so I guess that's something.

I guess.

But saying that he directed "Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster" is like saying my Mom drove in the Indianapolis 500. Which is to say: he didn't. Maybe I'm being persnickety here, but I tend to believe that motion picture directing involves more than just pointing the camera at something and rolling.

Not only that, but can one really say a movie was directed when it seems that at least half of the production is composed of stock footage? "FMTSM" is mainly composed of footage from NASA and the U.S. military. As Zapod Beeblebrox once said: ten out of ten for style, but minus several million for good thinking. In the first place, if you've ever seen a lot of classic NASA footage (and, as a space buff, I can assure you that I have), then you know why NASA scientists study long columns of numbers rather than watch the footage. It's grainy and usually not all that thrilling.

In the second place: footage from the military is many things. Exciting and dramatic, however, are not on the list.

And if that wasn't bad enough, Gaffney also re-uses some of what he actually filmed. Either that, or Puerto Rico has a lot of lookalike hedges for Martian minions to spy through.

Then we have the cast. Oh my!

Princess Marcuzan was played by Marilyn Hanold: June 1959 Playmate of the Month. And here's where I introduce a new rule, pumpkins, so write this down in your Uncle Mikey Guide to Movie Watching. The rule goes: if a Significant Role in the film is being played by a Playmate of the Month/Year, then Avoid At All Cost! Now to give Hanold credit she not only appeared in "The Brain That Wouldn't Die", but she also did a "Batman", a "Bewitched", a "Have Gun Will Travel", and she was an "Amazon" in "In Like Flint". But if you're waiting for her to play Hecuba or Lady Macbeth then I'd pack a big lunch. Her "acting" in "FMTSM" involved little more than a lot of staring directly into the camera, and you can almost see her eyes move as she's reading the lines off the cue cards.

Not that she was by any means alone in this. Lou Cutell plays the rather appropriately named Nadir: Princess Marcuzan's assistant. Looking like something Mr. Spock would find in the bottom of a trash dumpster, Cutell spends the movie reading cue cards along with Hanold, as well as exercising his small collection of evil leers and sly expressions. If he had demonstrated any talent he would've been interesting. As it was he reminded me of several people I knew in my senior year of high school. As with Hanold, Cutell also enjoyed a rather eclectic career in entertainment. Not only did he appear in an episode of "Seinfeld", but he makes a brief appearance in "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" in the role of Amazing Larry.

You'd never know it by watching "FMTSM", but James Karen (Professor Adam Steele) is a member of the Actor's Studio. After "FMTSM" his career had nowhere to go but up: making appearances in "All the President's Men", "Hawaii Five-O", "Lou Grant", "The China Syndrome", "MacGuyver" . . . on and on and on. With this in mind I'm writing off his work in "FMTSM" as a learning experience. I certainly wouldn't include it on a resume. In a scene where he and Colonel Saunders (now called "Frank") are trying to sneak up on the Martian spaceship, Karen keeps telling Frank to "Quiet . . . quiet . . . quiet . . . they'll hear you". All the while Frank isn't making any noise other than a mild dial tone.

In fact there're a whole lot of odds and ends floating around "FMSTM". Nancy Marshall (Karen Grant) had an uncredited role in "To Kill a Mockingbird". Robert Reilly (Colonel Saunders/Frank) did a "Flipper". Most interesting of all (at least to my way of thinking) is that one of Princess Marcuzan's minions (guys running around in NASA spacesuits, except when they remove their helmets and look like knockoffs of Nadir) was played by Bruce Glover who, among other things, had the role of Mr. Wint: one of the . . . shall we say . . . sexually unmoored assassins from 1971's "Diamonds Are Forever".

With better material, and a director who knew which end of a camera to use, this ensemble of disparate types might've accomplished something. Not much, but at least something. Unfortunately they had to play the cards which were dealt to them, and "FMSTM" tries to live down its reputation from the word go. After opening with an initial attack by the Martians, we get a scene where Frank (in full uniform) is being driven to NASA in a car along with Karent Grant, Adam Steele and a few military types. We know they're on their way to NASA because we see practically every space-related landmark along Cocoa Beach (except for Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden). Along with some jazzy music (more on that later) we're offered the following scintillating dialogue:

"What do we do if this guy fouls up today, Professor Steele?"

"General we've checked everything out. I'm confident that nothing will go wrong."

"I hope so. Well, we'll have to try it your way. We've already lost three boosters in a row." (Pause) "How're you doing, Miss Grant?"

(Miss Grant doesn't answer, and it's back to the impromptu tour of Cocoa Beach.)

I have been trying to nail down precise information behind the alledged writing of the screenplay, but it's sort of vague. I mean a "X-Files" sort of vague. One of the writers, George Garrett, was also supposedly the poet laureate of Virginia. Yeah, let that one sink in for a bit. The other two writers . . . R.H.W. Dillard and John Rodenbeck . . . have extreme little in regards to their background. Then again, if I had written something like "FMTSM" I would've dyed my hair, changed my name and gone off hunting for a one-armed man. Add to this Gaffney's living dead sense of filmmaking, and I hope you people will appreciate the efforts I've gone through on your behalf.

Oh, and the music? Oh yes, we have a soundtrack. Music (and "effects") were courtesy of Ross Gaffney (innocently presuming that the similarity in last names between him and the director is sheer coincidence), and he provided the movie with no clear direction in regards to where he wanted us to go in terms of listening. He would open with creepy spacy music, then jump to neo-Henry Mancini jazzy knockoff, then insert a groovy song, then more spacy music, more neo-Mancini, another groovy song, some beach party music (for the scene when the Martians crash a pool party to swipe some bikini'd morsels) . . . so forth and so on. Sort of a scattergun "let's try everything and hope something works" approach. The "groovy songs" were courtesy of both The Distant Cousins and The Poets. There was a Manchester group known as "Distant Cousins", but they were recording much later than when "FMTSM" was made. "The Poets", on the other hand, also appeared on episodes of "Shindig" and "The Beat Room". Listening to the songs my ear kept picking up echoes of Quicksilver Messenger Service but, so far, I've been unable to determine a connection.

Oh yes. Almost forgot. There was a Space Monster in the film. Among the things the Martians bring to Earth is a creature named "Mull": a furry actor wearing some sort of fright mask who shambles about and, eventually, gets into a fight with Frank (the titular "Frankenstein" of the story for those of you trying to stay awake). Gaffney and his cinematographer (Saul Midwall) try to get all artsy and dramatic while filming the Mull, but they would've accomplished more had they just let the beast work like everyone else and read off of cue cards (first card: "Growl". Second card: "Growl". Third card . . .)

(Emote, darling, emote!)

So okay, I've warned you. Yes, yes, yes . . . I've stated that, if one wishes to be a genre film completist, one must occasionally expose one's self to the really wretched examples of cinema. But people: even I won't advise seeing this, and I've tried to give you as much information as possible so you'd be educated without being rendered nauseous. If after this you still feel some curiosity ("no film can be that bad", you're thinking) then there's nothing I can do to stop you.

You've been warned.

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