Four friends on a balloon trip are wrecked on a remote island, where the descendants of Frankenstein and Van Helsing are experimenting with… stuff.
Jerry Warren is one of the cult figures of bad cinema. His forte was to take foreign language films and combine them with new footage for American release. Occasionally, he actually created a new film of his own but they were almost always featured a healthy percentage of stock and library footage. By the early 1980s, Jerry’s career seemed to be over. He’d directed his last film a decade and a half earlier, the much ridiculed ‘The Wild Wild World of Batwoman’ (1966). But there was time for one last hurrah and what a sign-off it was: the (almost) legendary ‘Frankenstein Island’ (1981).
It’s an original Jerry screenplay too, taking elements from the Frankenstein mythos and a cave girl picture and blending them brilliantly with Jules Verne’s ‘Mysterious Island’. We begin in Verne’s territory with our potential castaways adrift in a balloon in the middle of a violent storm. Only we don’t actually see them in the balloon. Not quite. What we see instead is some library footage of several balloons in flight together with some explanatory conversations dubbed over the footage. And the sky looks kind of blue and clear rather than stormy. Oh, well.
Anyway, our heroes are washed up on a beach with a rubber dingy. There’s Robert Clarke (‘The Hideous Sun Demon’ (1959) himself!), three other blokes and a dog called Melvin. We never really find out anything about them apart from the fact that Clarke is supposed to be a top scientist (or something?) One of these twerps suggests finding some trees so they can build a raft, at the same time he is leaning against their dingy, which looks perfectly seaworthy. Melvin widdles on some seaweed, possibly providing some kind of subtext or maybe just comic relief. Moving into the interior, our heroes find a tribe of cave babes in leopard skin bikinis (actually descended from aliens) and some pirates. We know they are pirates because one of them has an eyepatch and cackles a lot. Cameron Mitchell is a mad castaway being used as a bloodbank by Sheila Van Helsing Frankenstein, played by Warren’s wife Katherine Victor in a silly blonde wig. Mentioning any other place by name results in a silly noise and a severe pain in the left forearm.Are you following it so far? Ok. Sheila is keeping her husband alive with Mitchell’s blood and a small pink box standing on one of its corners that spins around on a bench at high speed accompanied by another silly noise. This is so hubby can channel the spirit of her great grandfather, the original Dr Frankenstein. He’s played by John Carradine (superimposed on some of the action having been filmed at an entirely different time). Carradine rants endlessly apart the ‘power of the golden thread’ and resurrects his monster from a watery grave for the finale.
Sheila keeps a brain in a jar in her lab and has a goon squad of blokes in woolly hats, black sweaters and jam jar bottomed glasses. We don’t know who they are exactly but apparently they don’t have a bloodstream. Clarke wanders about a bit looking vaguely confused, Victor loses it as she has some kind of ‘a turn’ near the end and there’s a mass bundle, which was undoubtedly made up by the actors as they went along. The twist in the tale is also completely nonsensical.
Sometimes you come across a movie that simply defies analysis. ‘Frankenstein Island’ (1981) is car crash cinema; a unique film experience so awful that it is beyond criticism.
Jerry, people may have said that you couldn’t direct traffic, let alone a film, and they’d be right. But you still did it 11 times anyway.
Sleep well, Jerry, my friend. I’ll have a pint for you tonight.