Frankenstein Island Review (1981)

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Frankenstein Island Review (1981)

Horrorific content by penguin_pete on August 13th, 2018 | Movie Review | Cult, Back from the Dead, Drama, Campy, Creature

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It’s about a group of balloon explorers who crash land on a desert island and encounter Amazon savages, programmed goons, and the heir to Frankenstein herself.

Frankenstein Island was directed by Jerry Warren (who also directed Face Of The Screaming Werewolf and Curse Of The Stone Hand) and stars Robert Clarke (from The Hideous Sun Demon), Steve Brodie (from The Giant Spider Invasion) and Cameron Mitchell  (from Screamers).

The power is 7,000,000 volts--it's alive!

Frankenstein Island Review

Horror freaks and fiends, we are in for one of those SPECIAL treats!

If you’re here for quality cinema or even a coherent addition to the Frankenstein canon, turn back now, because nothing but pain awaits you here. However, if you’re a big fan of ironic entertainment through B-movies that are so bad they leave you breathless with laughter, then the Rainbow Cosmic Unicorns have lain thee a delicious chocolate Easter Egg of Joy.

Bit of unwrapping of this present here: Frankenstein Island (note, no apostrophe-s) was the final film of notorious B-movie flophouse director Jerry Warren. He is best-known today for such cult so-bad-its-goodness as The Wild World of Batwoman, an equally hilarious bad superhero romp. The fact that Warren could make that movie, wait twenty years, and then make this movie as the capstone to his career just adds an extra ironic twist. Warren was known for budget-less, penny-pinching productions that would make even Ed Wood seem extravagant by comparison.

Here the Present Author will attempt to explain the gist of this movie but be warned: the movie is slipshod about details; characters may or may not get names, random footage of animals is cut in and never referred to again, sudden day-night transitions happen (sometimes within the same conversation), and whole chunks of plot fly out the window unexplained. Accounts vary on the events of Frankenstein Island, because it’s garbled. For a heads-up, John Carradine, whose name is prominently slathered on every print of this movie’s posters, is not technically in this movie. Instead he’s edited over some scenes as a giant head in a fuzzy bubble, rambling dialog that makes no sense. It’s obvious that they recorded Carradine on a separate occasion, possibly even for a completely separate movie, and then just jammed the footage in here.

The Straight Dope:

Over stock footage of hot air balloons, we get a dubbed-over radio conversation that exposits some kind of recon mission. Four men and a dog arrive by rubber raft (no sign of the balloons?) on the shore of an island. They are explorers, Doc, Mark, Curtis, and Dino. Their first concern is gathering wood to build a raft even though they just rode in on a perfectly good rubber dingy. Exploring the island, they encounter a tribe of Amazon native women who wear matching leopard-skin bikinis and conveniently speak English. The Amazons live a Club Med vacation life on the island, performing torch dances and having tiki feasts when they’re not smoking something out of skull bongs or stringing up one of their members to hang in a painful hammock style between trees as an “initiation.” Curtis keeps having fits in his arm spurred by some kind of trigger. We get a brief flicker of John Carradine’s boy-in-a-bubble act.

Explorers and Amazons get along fine but the next day on a tour of the native village, one of the women gets kidnapped by a thug wearing blue jeans, black turtleneck, black knit cap, and sunglasses. He tries to carry her away before dropping her and collapsing, crawling off in the weeds. It’s going to turn out there’s a whole gang of these guys, also dressed identically, who are minions of “Xira” (if I hear right?) a ship’s crew that crashed here, were enslaved by Xira, and are “normal until they experimented on them” and “programmed to weaken.” If this means they’re robots, mutants, or what, anybody’s guess - we’ll call them “thuggees” because Kali-ma. We don’t have time to figure out much because “Jocko” enters the scene. Jocko wears an eyepatch, and constantly laughs. Not in a fun way at all, but a forced, loud, and annoying way, repeated over and over. It was a tolerable movie until he showed up. Get used to him, it’s 64 minutes until Jocko dies. Jocko and his bum-looking sidekick are apparently also agents of this Xira (Note, later Sheila seems to be running things; maybe the natives call her “Xira” but more likely the creators just forgot).

The explorers figure out the fits Curtis gets in his arm are caused by some kind of power over the island, “like telepathy,” and triggered whenever the past is mentioned. Jocko AH-HYUK-HAR-HAR! and his sidekick lead the troop to a compound of suspiciously-modern buildings on this otherwise primitive island. There they wait all day for an appointment with whoever’s in charge, while a thuggee brings them dinner. They follow the thuggee instead of eating (wise choice, since when should you trust a meal from a thuggee?), and discover Jaysen, a prisoner held on the island for 17 years. Jaysen was the captain of the ship that provided the thuggees, now kept here while they drain his blood for some experiments, leaving him a rambling madman who quotes Edgar Allen Poe out of context.

Now the men finally get admitted to the big house, which, beyond all logic, is furnished and appointed like any mansion in civilization, despite conditions on the rest of the island working on a Gilligan standard. The big cheese is Sheila Frankenstein Von Helsing, Dr. Frankenstein’s great-great granddaughter, and wearer of a wig formed from sewn-together dead wigs that qualifies as a Frankenstein monster of its own. Sheila dumps a buttload squared of exposition that breaks down to her being in line from the Frankenstein dynasty, Frankenstein being dead but his spirit (John Carradine’s boy-in-a-bubble) maintained by all the science stuff around here, and somehow Frankenstein brought the explorers here to provide mating stock for the rutty Amazons. She gives the men a tour of the lab, which bears a striking resemblance to a stock mad scientist laboratory if you were limited to furnishing it with Dollar Tree props on a fifteen-dollar budget. There’s also an old guy, Sheila’s husband Dr. Von Helsing, whom Sheila keeps alive with jolts of electricity. Oh by the way, the Amazons are descendants of space aliens, just throwing that out there.

So, the plot, if you can call it one, is that Sheila wants to recruit Doc from the explorers to help her fully regenerate Von Helsing (with Jaysen as the blood donor), while the rest of the crew get to be breeding studs for the alien Amazon women. Somehow this deal isn’t good enough for the explorers (what else do they have to do, fly around in balloons?) and they still want to build a raft (but you have one, dammit!) and escape. Sheila is also responsible for the thuggees, so is she the villain or what? There’s also the actual “original” Frankenstein monster lurking in an underwater cave, which we never get a glimpse of until near the end of the movie. But he can’t be a villain because his first act upon being stirred is to kill Jocko - AH-HAH-HAH laugh now you bastard! Meanwhile both the Amazon tribe and the thuggees have their own ways of summoning Frankenstein (John Carradine’s boy-in-a-bubble) so he can rant about something to do with “THE POWER! THE POWER!! THE POWEEEERRRRR!!!” and disappear. All of these parties conflict for some reason and lots of fighting and general action happens.

Might As Well Stop Here

If you’re waiting for all this to come together and make sense - it doesn’t! We’ve glossed over most of the overloaded mess of a plot that is typical for a Warren picture. It is a sanity-testing feat of endurance just to get as far as we have here. We haven’t mentioned adorable touches like the Dollar Tree plastic little devil’s pitchfork which one of the thuggees waves to cast magic spells or whatever, the computer bee-boop noises inserted over the thuggees moving in formation (some of whom walk like they need a diaper change), and random skulls scattered around, but never more than three in any one scene, so somebody had to move them each time between shots - “Be careful, those are $0.99 each and Dollar Tree is closed til Monday!” Some characters are turned into vampires and then never seen again, some characters get vaporized by death ray and that’s that, and suddenly there’s machine guns but then they jam. The ending is a big Roman-candle middle-finger to logic.

We’re also no better equipped than you readers to provide plot corks for the multitude of plot holes left gaping in Frankenstein Island. Why was the captain Jaysen even part of this, and how did he know so much Poe? Why did the Amazons have to be aliens, wouldn’t ordinary South Sea cuties in leopard skin bikinis do? Hey, where did they get the leopards? How was Sheila’s lab and house supplied on this remote island accessible only by balloon and raft? Where did the electricity come from? John Carradine’s flying head of ranting keeps screaming “THE POWER,” so is power supplied via him blowing hot air? What did Jocko HAR-HAR think was so freaking funny? Oh, by the way, whose brain in a jar is that in the lab, who’s the stabbed skeleton (with a big toy knife sticking out of the eye socket) in Jaysen’s cell, and who’s the dead guy in the bathtub outside? In the radio voice-over-balloons at the beginning, the explorers sound like they’re on a search-and-rescue mission, but by the time they get to Sheila’s lab they’re explaining they were trying to set a world’s ballooning record, huh?

And why did they bring a dog on a hot air balloon trip?

A Glorious Mess!

All of the above is handled, well, like any other Jerry Warren film, with bad actors seemingly improvising whatever popped into their heads on the spur of the moment. Most of the regulars were not only B-movie veterans, but had been in Warren’s previous movies, so it’s like a reunion show for the worst of horror-exploitation. The amateur tone just makes it funnier. Special mention goes to the big fight scene where the explorers, thuggees, Amazons, the dog, and a very confused Frankenstein monster who is obviously wondering if he came to the wrong party, all join together for a free-for-all. Sometimes they try Kung-Fu, sometimes they try intimidating their opponent with snakes and tarantulas, and sometimes they get vaporized. One Amazon gamely tries a couple practice-kicks in the air before joining the fray. Oh, and Jaysen, while being strapped to a lab slab next to an Amazon (do we know or care why?), takes the time to point out that she’s his daughter - but wait, you said they were all descended from aliens! Oh forget it.

In short, Frankenstein Island is the perfect movie for MST3K (they haven’t covered this one yet), Rifftrax (they have), and every other movie-mocking venue. But why not round up your friends and make a party out of it? Popular bad B-movies for party nights include Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), but Frankenstein Island has something those movies don’t: It’s never boring! It is barking mad, yes, will leave you spinning on your keister in bafflement, granted, but boring, no.

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