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Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster

Entry updated 24 June 2020. Tagged: Film.

Film (1965; vt Mars Invades Puerto Rico; vt Duel of the Space Monsters). Vernon-Seleca Films. Directed by Robert Gaffney. Written by R H W Dillard, George Garrett and John Rodenbeck. Cast includes Lou Cutell, Marilyn Hanold, James Karen, Nancy Marshall and Robert Reilley. 79 minutes. Black and white.

After a ruinous atomic war on Mars, a few survivors led by Princess Marcuzan (Hanold) and her assistant Dr Nadir (Cutell) fly in a Spaceship to the vicinity of Earth, where they intend to abduct beautiful Earth women as "breeding stock" to replenish their race. Meanwhile, NASA Scientists plan to send a human-like "robot" (actually an assemblage of human body parts and a mechanical brain) (see Robots) named Frank Saunders (Reilly) on a solo mission to Mars as an alternative to risking a human life. Since the orbiting Martians have been destroying Earth's missiles, Dr Nadir directs a beam of energy at Saunders's craft (regarding it as another missile), which causes a "malfunction in all electrical systems" and forces him to return to Earth, landing on the island of Puerto Rico. The Martians, fearful that he will reveal their existence, land on Earth to track him down and hit him with a Ray Gun which disfigures half of his body and also damages his brain, transforming him into a so-called "Frankenstein" (see Frankenstein; Frankenstein Monster) that starts mindlessly killing people. Unable to capture him, the Martians resolve to move on to "Phase Two" of their plan and dispatch spacesuited Martians to capture beautiful young women, some of them wearing skimpy swimsuits. NASA scientists including Karen Grant (Marshall), who helped to create Saunders and retains some affection for him, travel to Puerto Rico in hopes of finding Saunders; when they do, one man is able to repair his brain, but Marshall becomes one of the women captured by the Martians. Saunders, still disfigured but now thinking properly, is sent into the Martian spaceship to rescue the Earth women, but after doing so he becomes engaged in a battle with a hideous Monster that the Martians had brought with them to discipline their captives. When the Martians launch their spaceship in an attempt to escape, Saunders wields a Martian ray gun to destroy the spaceship and everyone on board.

This bizarre amalgam of tropes from Spacesuit Films, Saturday-morning film serials, horror films (see Horror in SF), and "Beach Party" movies certainly commands one's attention, if not admiration. Of course, it has absolutely nothing to do with Mary Shelley's novel or any of its film adaptations, justifying its title solely with one line of dialogue in which a NASA scientist likens the robot to the famous monster. A desperate commentator might extract from the film a debate involving the still-relevant question of whether space is best explored by human astronauts or robots, perhaps even discerning an anticipation of the point made by 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) about one potential drawback to employing artificial intelligences in space: that they might become deranged murderers. Yet the film primarily suggests that by the mid-1960s, there had been so many stories about human-like Martians that filmmakers, driven to extreme measures in order to approach the subject in an innovative manner, were resorting to strange, incongruous borrowings from unrelated traditions; other examples of the phenomenon would include Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964; vt Santa Claus Defeats the Aliens) and The Wizard of Mars (1965). The film is often cited – even on its own poster though not in the opening credits – as Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster. [GW]

see also: Cat-Women of the Moon.


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