Sunday, May 11, 2014

Monster Team-up Reflection #14: Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster

For those in my age range, Robert Gaffney's 1965 "Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster" (aka, "Duel of the Space Monsters", "Mars Attacks Puerto Rico", et al) was a familiar sight back in the day, frequently viewed at weekend matinees, drive-in theaters and as the '70s rolled around, on UHF stations. (In fact, it was through the latter that I discovered it as an impressionable youth, one rainy Sunday afternoon.)

Also in its time, the movie came across as rather hip in style and theme, particularly with the Frankenstein Monster, wherein the Shelley homage, played by Robert Reilly, isn't the creation we generally think of, but actually a cyborg: composed of donated organs and lots of circuit-laced metal.

In fact, this Frankenstein has been specifically designed for NASA, to be sent on mission to Mars: an endeavor otherwise considered too risky for real astronauts, or so his creator, Dr. Adam Steele (James "Return of the Living Dead" Karen), claims. In any event, Steele's Frankenstein goes by the official name, Colonel Frank Saunders, and beyond growing abruptly catatonic at a press conference, he appears essentially normal, even graced by a calm, logical demeanor.

When Frank is launched into space, the Martians are coincidentally heading toward Earth, in hopes of capturing women for mating purposes, since the consequences of an atomic war have left their female population virtually extinct.

The Martians shoot down the cyborg's craft, which crashes in Puerto Rico. Poor Frank is then pursued and wounded by the invaders, leaving one side of his face a grid of exposed circuitry and his "brain" a nonsensical mess. This unfortunately leads him to kill anyone who crosses his path. The Martians, meanwhile, continue to round up Earth beauties, having no qualms disintegrating one fellow for simply standing between them and his bikini-clad girlfriend.

The actual masterminds behind such sadistic stunts are Marcuzan (actress/Playmate Marilyn Hanold), a veritable Princess of Mars, and Nadir (Lou Cutell), her bald, pointy eared, right-hand man (whom the other male Martians resemble). The insidious duo do a fine job of stealing many a scene as they tenaciously plot and scheme.

As the mayhem continues, Steele and his lovely assistant (Nancy Marshall) track Frank down and reprogram him, while the military boldly intervenes, bombing the Martian's quasi-saucer. Frank soon forges ahead, unwittingly ending up on the ship and is ultimately able to release the women the Martians have gathered. It is then that Frank encounters a large, hairy beast (acclaimed character actor, Bruce Glover, who also plays a Martian henchmen). The creature is called the Mull and is apparently part of the invader's back-up task force.

The inevitable monster brawl is punch-filled and eerily smoke-veiled, building adequate tension as Frank gradually makes his way toward the diabolical Marcuzan and Nadir and a sad but satisfying conclusion. 

The space monster suit is a particular stand-out, far more effective than most CGI specimens could hope to be, and Frank, once deformed, proves a most chilling, lumbering sight, thanks to Reilly's performance, while Karen punctuates the story with a likable determination. Cutell, however, may be the most memorable presence, with his rolling eyes, salacious leers and Jon Lovitz-type delivery, flavoring scenes with just the right dose of tongue-in-cheek.

With this said, "Frank Meets Space Monster" never truly takes itself seriously, but never dares to turn insipidly silly, either. Additionally, it's worth noting that the film's Florida and Puerto Rico exterior shots (of which there are many) give the adventure an exotic warmth (and all magnificently captured in crisp black-and-white). Also, one fun scene features the same poolside setting used in Arch Hall's caveman epic, "Eegah": a nice nod that discerning fans will surely relish.

Arguably on the downside, the movie is a tad padded with stock footage, but it's all nicely edited and accompanied generally by cool, mod-music, which will likely stay in one's head long after the credits have rolled.

Some will say it's good that frivolity like "Frank Meets Space Monster" is rarely produced these days, but I say, it's a shame there aren't more movies made in this unpretentious vein. This one was clearly constructed by folks who knew how to do it right, and for would-be, low-budget movie makers, it should be eagerly embraced as a proverbial blueprint.

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