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31 Monsters #12: Dr. Sheila Frankenstein

October 12th, 2009 No comments

There are people who erroneously claim that Plan Nine from Outer Space is the worst movie of all time. One of those people is Michael Medved, whom you should never, ever believe. The rest, I think, simply haven’t seen all that many movies. Plan Nine, despite its charming ineptitude, has a plot–aliens want to discourage us from developing advanced weaponry–which more or less makes sense at the macro level. (Mostly because it’s ripped off from The Day the Earth Stood Still.) My friends, there are film experiences out there that will hurl you screaming into a realm of nonsense so complete as to make you question your own reality. And one of them is Frankenstein Island.

Frankenstein Island seems like a film outside of its own time. It was made in 1981, but looks like a product from the late ’60s at best. The year that it came out, Superman II and Raiders of the Lost Ark were unspooling on the big screen. By then, there was just no excuse for a movie in which cavewomen from outer space fought thugs in knit hats waving plastic devil forks while Frankenstein’s Monster knocked over tables of empty bottles and the disembodied head of John Carradine shouted incoherently. And yet, that exactly what some unlucky filmgoers got.

It began, as so many Frankenstein films have, with balloonists being blown off course and landing on an uncharted island inhabited by untamed, snake-handling jungle women who descended from alien visitors and were menaced by ex-members of the Grand Order of Occidental Nighthawks.

The latter group of turtleneck sweater-wearing minions were in the employ of a busty, blond-bewigged woman who introduced herself as Dr. Sheila Frankenstein. “Actually, it’s Von Helsing” (sic), she explained. “I don’t prefer my married name.” Dr. Sheila Frankenstein-Von Helsing (whom undoubtedly had Larry Talbot and Ardath Bey somewhere in her family tree as well) was the great-granddaughter of the original Frankenstein.

The old doc had long ago passed away, but his spirit was still inconveniently hanging around in the form of a superimposed cameo by John Carradine, who by 1981 would take any film role for the price of a sandwich. His disembodied head would appear from time to time, shouting “The power! The power!” to any cavewoman or balloonist who would listen.

Dr. Sheila Frankenstein hoped to follow in her ancestor’s famous footsteps by breeding the alien jungle women with the balloonists and/or using their blood for an immortality serum. Or something. All I know is that her experiments resulted in a pink lunchbox which spun under its own power. No one ever referred to the lunchbox, nor was any explanation given for it, yet it must have been important because every once in a while the director cut to a shot of it madly spinning away.

Now, of course, all of this caused Frankenstein’s Monster to come back to life. Then there was a fight involving the monster, the balloonists, the cavegirls, a cute dog and the turtlenecked lackeys. The latter were armed with plastic devil pitchforks that they had bought at the local drug store. The forks had the eerie power to turn alien jungle women into snarling beasts with plastic Dracula fangs (also purchased during the trip to Walgreens).

What? You thought that I was making this up?

It must be said that Frankenstein’s Monster was surprisingly ineffectual, waving his arms around in a futile attempt to get the other combatants to notice him. Getting bored, he decided instead to tip over a table full of empty plastic jugs.

Oh, and at some point, the cave women got a machine gun.

I mean, really. Ed Wood's looking pretty good now, isn't he?

A nearby brain-in-a-jar–presumably that of the original Dr. Frankenstein himself–was destroyed in the fracas, somehow dissipating the psychic energy that was keeping anyone from escaping the island. Or something. I’ve seen Frankenstein Island several times, and I’ve never quite been sure. The good guys returned to civilization, eventually returning to find the entire operation–jungle women, GOONs, monsters, brains, Carradines and all–vanished as if it had never had existed.

Oh, but don’t be fooled. Frankenstein Island still exists, waiting to trap unwary moviegoers within its spinning, pink lunchbox of mystery. Be warned; you might turn out like this poor guy.