Saturday, May 26, 1973: Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965) / The Werewolf  (1956)

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Synopsis: A spacecraft from Mars approaches Earth, carrying Princess Marcuzan (Marilyn Hanold), her creepy assistant Dr. Nadir (Lou Cutell) and assorted space-helmeted soldiers. They discuss how the Martian women are no longer fertile, and that to replenish their dying planet, they need to secure Earth women as breeding stock.

They see a rocket take off from Cape Canaveral, carrying a Mercury astronaut inside on a course for Mars. Believing it to be a missile directed against them, Dr. Nadir destroys it, chuckling with glee.

On Earth, a press conference is held with various military personnel, Dr. Adam Steele (James Karen) and his assistant Karen Grant (Nancy Marshall). They introduce a new astronaut, Col. Frank Saunders (Robert Reilly) who will pilot the next space mission to Mars. The reporters are baffled that they have never heard of him before. Asked by the press if he fears going into space after the explosion of the last rocket, Frank says he doesn’t, and he gives a rousing speech to the assembled members of the press.

But when Frank unexpectedly freezes up during the press conferences, he is whisked out of the room. We learn that Frank is in fact an android who is being passed off as a human astronaut, in order to prevent a human from risking his life on the next mission. After fussing with some wires and a vacuum tube, Steele pronounces Frank to be good as new.

The mission launches perfectly, but again, Dr. Nadir chuckles as he destroys the Earth rocket (he certainly does seem to enjoy his work). Frank bails out in a parachute but in doing so is damaged; part of his face has been torn off and he walks with a limp. He encounters a pair of teenagers on a lonely stretch of highway and attacks them. Learning of this, Dr. Steele reasons that with his systems damaged, Frank’s “self-preservation circuits” are causing him to go on a rampage. “Like Frankenstein’s monster!” Karen says.

Meanwhile, the Martian ship has landed and the aliens are busy rounding up attractive young women in bikinis from nearby pool parties and bringing them to the spaceship, where they are inspected leeringly by the Princess and Dr. Nadir to ensure that they meet the specialized “qualifications” needed to be breeding stock for the Martians.

Steele and Grant learn that Frank’s ship has crashed in Puerto Rico and they arrive within hours and begin searching for the missing android. But Karen is captured by the Martians and taken to the ship, where she is placed in a cage next to an ugly, gorilla-like monster….

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Comments: Ooookay. All right. First off, despite the title, this is not a Frankenstein movie. It’s a campy outer-space themed horror movie that was made specifically for the drive-in circuit and sports a rock-n-roll soundtrack. That makes it sound discouragingly like another movie we’ve seen a couple of times  — Monster-a-Gogo, a movie so bad it’s almost unwatchable, but the good news is that Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster is a lot better. Though of course, it could hardly be worse.

Sure, it’s dumb and silly, and it uses miles of stock footage, but it’s not as bad as you’d expect, and it’s even mildly entertaining, if you’re in the right frame of mind.

The plot, such as it is, is pretty ridiculous. It’s not clear why you’d send an android alone  on a six-month trip to Mars when it can’t even go the length of a press conference without malfunctioning; or why you’d want to pass it off as human in the first place; or why you’d deploy an android that will start wandering around and killing people the second it sustains some damage.

Equally baffling is why supposedly advanced aliens are forced to run around the countryside and grab women from beaches and pool parties, then march them to a flying saucer (only women in bikinis can be considered as alien breeding stock, apparently). Is this the only strategy these knuckleheads can think up?

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The cast isn’t stellar, but does seem to be made up of professional and semi-professional actors (except for the kidnapped young women in bikinis, who wisely don’t even try to act). Lou Cutell is the most memorable as the bald, pointy-eared Dr. Nadir. Cutell doesn’t seem embarrassed by the material and simply goes for it in each scene, which is kind of delightful.

Lots of location footage was shot in Puerto Rico, and several minutes are burned on a travelogue-like scene of Steele and Grant riding an Italian scooter through the streets of San Juan.

 

The Werewolf

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Synopsis: A man (Steven Ritch) stumbles along down the chilly main street of the small town of Mountain Crest. He’s wearing a shabby suit and tie but no hat or overcoat. He goes into a bar and has a drink. He seems confused, and is unable to remember if he’s a resident of the town or if he’s just passing through.

The man pays for his drink with a $20 bill — a fairly large amount in 1956 — and as he gets up to leave, the bartender has to remind him to take his change. This catches the interest of the barfly on the next stool, who follows the man out.

On the street the barfly tries to rob the stranger, and pushes him into an alley. A struggle ensues, but it ends with the barfly dead, his throat ripped out, and the stranger vanished. A woman passing on the street saw the stranger for a moment, and she swore the man’s face looked like that of an animal.

Sheriff Jack Haines leads a posse into the woods but the human tracks they follow turn inexplicably into those of a wolf — even though there are no wolves in Mountain Crest.

Meanwhile, in a nearby town, Drs. Forrest and Chambers are visited by the wife of Duncan Marsh. Marsh had been in a minor automobile accident and had banged his head against the steering wheel and the doctors treated him. But as the doctors talk to one another it’s clear they did more than put a bandage on his head. They had injected Marsh with an experimental serum that is designed to turn the man into a primitive beast. They feel such a serum will be necessary soon, as mankind is on the brink of a nuclear war. Only such a throwback creature, they reason, will be able to survive in a post-apocalyptic environment.

Marsh’s wife goes to visit Haines and is stunned to learn that her husband might be implicated in a murder. She assures Haines that her husband is a gentle man and would never harm anyone.

Bear traps are set out at the edge of the woods, with raw meat put out as bait. Eventually Marsh is captured by the posse and kept in a cell in town. But Chambers and Forrest have arrived, ostensibly to help in the search, and they have a plan to get into the cell and whisk their reluctant test subject away….

 

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Comments: I guess it’s a little late to complain, but you’d better stand back because I’m going to do it anyway: why was this terrific little werewolf movie occupying the second slot of tonight’s Horror Incorporated, and not the first? The Werewolf is certainly a lot better than Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster. I can only speculate that it fell to second place because Space Monster was the newer film by nine years; and perhaps also because The Werewolf started out life on the bottom of a double bill with another Columbia outing by Fred F. Sears, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.

On paper, this movie seems like it’d be a throwback to the mad scientist flicks of the 1930s and 40s, with the two amoral doctors exploiting a nice guy who never hurt anybody. They feel their experiments are justified, because they’re expanding the frontiers of knowledge, yadda yadda yadda. We could easily imagine John Carradine or George Zucco sleepwalking through this sort of role.

And had the movie been made 15 years earlier, the scientists would have been at the center of the story. But here they are pushed into the background. It’s all for the best, really — their plan doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. Believing that nuclear war is inevitable, Drs. Forrest and Chambers have decided that the only way for humanity to survive is to be turned into werewolves. They don’t seem to have given their plan enough thought, but who am I to judge?

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You might think that Duncan Marsh would be the protagonist of the picture, but he’s far too sick and agitated for that. Nope, it’s Sheriff Jack Haines, as played by an excellent Don Megowan, an actor with an Old West sensibility that greatly benefits the production. As you might expect, Megowan appeared in a lot of westerns, and he has a no-nonsense look to him that suggests the frontier. Much of the movie functions as a police procedural, as the cops track down the mysterious Duncan Marsh and find out what caused his plight.

For a low-budget picture, The Werewolf has an unexpectedly lush look, with the main street of Big Bear Lake, California standing in for the fictional town of Mountain Crest. Director Sears wisely opts for location shooting over soundstages for his exteriors, which lends a great deal of verisimillitude; and cinematographer Edward Linden (who photographed King Kong and Son of Kong, as well as countless westerns) makes the most of the mountain scenery at hand. He makes the midcentury town look quite beautiful; and if the tourist board of Big Bear Lake is able to transport me to that city in 1956, I’ll gladly check into the lodge and spend a week or two trying out the towns cross-country ski trails, taking photographs, wandering through its shops and purchasing souvenirs. I could use a vacation.

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3 comments

  1. FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACEMONSTER is rather funny at times, though not enough to conquer the doldrums. I would nominate THE WEREWOLF as the best film done by director Fred F. Sears, faint praise that is considering his best remembered effort is THE GIANT CLAW (he died only a year later). Some real atmosphere and genuine scares, particularly a surprise for the incompetent scientists in the jail cell.

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  2. Weird fact – Don Megowan was credited for being in Blazing Saddles, but for whatever reason he was credited for the wrong role. He is credited as “the gum chewer” from the scene late in the movie where Harvey Kormam is recruiting villans. In reality, he is very recognizable as the cowboy who jumps on stage during Madeline Kahn’s song and dance number.

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