NASA's Phoenix lander has its rendezvous with Mars, and that, as well as the upcoming Puerto Rican primary, gives a torn-from-today's-weblogs quality to this purported horror film, aka'd both as Mars Attacks Puerto Rico and Mars Invades Puerto Rico. But Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster is a film for all seasons anyway. Lou Cutell's alienating Doctor Nadir (above) in bald wig, goblin ears, and loads of clown white makeup, isn't even the most uncanny part of this particularly inexpensive sci-fi epic, which pits a disfigured robot Frankenstein against the gorilla-suited, skull-headed Mull: a sort of an alien attack dog.
Made by Robert Gaffney, a long-time second-unit director for Kubrick (this piece from dvdtalk.com considers Gaffney's career), FMTSM is a good-looking li'l crapburger. It's remembered fondly for Mull, and the hoity-toity aliens who keep him on a leash. Recently at the Super-Con in San Jose, I saw two separate TV horror hosts on a panel endorsing FMTSM as their favorite bad film. Could it give Plan Nine From Outer Space a run for its money? Hard to say, but it shares four essential qualities of Plan Nine; four things that may be completely necessary to the making of a memorable turkey. You've heard it said that it's as hard to make a bad movie as it is to make a good one. Fair enough: there are plenty of filmmakers out there who want to work hard making a bad movie.
First: plenty of stock footage, especially of planes taking off and landing. Apparently, there are filmmakers who come out of a spy film thinking, "I don't know about all the fights and car chases, but what really got me was the scene of the jet landing." What could be more proactive than a jet? FMTSM is loaded with aircraft, from B-52s to propeller-driven trainers. Airplanes! More airplanes! Interspersed with flight crews running toward you guessed it. Stock footage will help stretch your film to feature length every time.
Second: Library music. The more inappropriate the better. FMTSM has some Walter Carlos style blips and bloops (easy listening music for a space ship). The off-brand music includes FMTSM's effort to flog a pair of garage bands called The Distant Cousins and The Poets. The former band's "To Have And To Hold" is a weak sister version to The Beatles' "And I Love Her"; it accompanies hero Adam Steele (James Karen) and his girlfriend Karen (Nancy Marshall) as they take a long slow tour San Juan, Puerto Rico via Vespa. The Poets' "That's The Way It's Gotta Be" is a curiously wimpy take on a Rolling Stones' type rocker on the "I'm taking charge here, baybee" genre. It plays over, you guessed it, stock footage of astronauts getting into their capsules, and missiles taking off. Nothing gets a psychotronic-film audience a charge like music that doesn't have much to do with what's going on screen.
Third: very theatrical actors. Cutell (who is still working, God bless him) decided to play his evil space doctor as the effetest of the effete; a very good idea considering his makeup. The still photo above is an accurate representation of the face Cutell makes when his space-suited slaves haul in local girls, lay them on gurneys, and shroud them with fitted mattress covers ("our electronic purification is going smoothly!"). Mars, as always, needs women. It takes a certain something to even keep a straight face while this is going on. Cutell goes deep, licking his lips and exchanging long, significant glances with his monarch, the evil space Princess Marcuzan (Marilyn Hanold), who blinks back at him silently. Watching the two of them smirk at each other, you get a taste of what it would be like to be the uncomfortable square visiting Andy Warhol's Factory.
Attention Ed Wood wannabes: your local little-theater company has plenty of richly-syllabled thespians who'd love to perform in something besides Night of January 16th and Lend Me a Tenor, and they won't cost much to hire, either. Give them their big chance to do some serious "r"-rolling.
Fourth: An important social message. Retrieve those old 9th grade civics papers, and find out which injustice it made you maddest back then. Why is it that there has not yet been a sci-fi movie with aliens lecturing the audience for their part in world hunger, global warming or animal cruelty? ("We have come across space and time to arrest he who is named `Colonel Sanders'! Earthlings, you call yourselves advanced. And yet, your barbarism to the harmless bird that you call `a chicken' has brought forth our armada of space doom!") Plan Nine From Outer Space is, after all, Wood's attempt to re-do The Day The Earth Stood Still, admittedly with no budget, no Bernard Herrmann, no robot and no Michael Rennie. At the core of the trembling weirdness of Plan Nine... is that same question in Robert Wise's classic: if mankind can't stop the nuclear arms race, should aliens step in?
And sadly, the reason why the invading aliens in Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster are helping themselves to the local beach girls is because they were unable to stave off the Unthinkable. As the alien potentate says, "Of course, you all know why we left our planet so suddenly...the lucky ones are dead. Of the others, some will go mad. The others will slowly rot and die in gradual agony...We have won the war." Who's laughing at this movie now? Not Dr. Helen Caldicott, that's for sure, and if one nuclear holocaust was prevented by Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster, it will have all been worth it.