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Manor On Movies--Frankenstein Island (1981)

  He is revered by countless millions, worshipped around the globe. Many can recite his most profound words verbatim, so deep is their devotion. You can even find placards, auto accessories and T-shirts proclaiming "JC is my savior." I don't ordinarily discuss theology within these pages, but feel compelled to inform readers that I too consider JC my deity.

Do not be confused into thinking I mean that other JC, the ancient hippie with the bread and loaves of fish. Naaah. Although his "only begotten son" slogan is catchy as all get-out, the Jay-C I'm talking about is that Shakespearean Shaman, the Baron Of Baritones, the coolest cat to ever wear a black hat, Joltin' John Carradine.

Oh, sure, John started his career off on the wrong foot, appearing in inconsequential crap like The Grapes Of Wrath and Drums Along The Mohawk. But he more than made up for those missteps by starring in timeless treasures such as Billy The Kid vs. Dracula, The Astro-Zombies, Psycho a Go Go, Sex Kittens Go To College, Vampire Hookers and Satan's Cheerleaders.

Which bring us to this M-O-M's feature presentation, Frankenstein Island.

Like most of us, FI's main men and a pooch find there's nothing more enjoyable than cramming into a cramped hot-air balloon gondola with neither provisions nor mission, and travelling over a vast body of water, Mother Nature blowing you to who knows where. However, uh-oh, balloon fall down, go boom, stranding our hearty adventurers on an uncharted isle with some decidedly peculiar inhabitants.

First, there is the all-female tribe of twentyish tootsies in frumpy fur bikinis, later to be identified as direct descendants of extraterrestrials. (And apparently procreate asexually, being there aren't any spaceboys around to pregnatize the pretties.) Then the balloonatics encounter the pack of zombie nerds, goons in matching turtlenecks and ski caps, kill-proof unless riddled in half by gunfire. But this pair of packs is merely lawn ornaments to be experimented upon or do the bidding of the islands monarch, Sheila Frankenstein von Helsing (Katherine Victor of Teenage Zombies).

Shady Sheila has plenty of tricks up her tunic. As it turns out, her bedridden bearded hubby, Eddie Van Halen, er, Professor von Helsing, is hooked up to something akin to the Acme Portable Brain Under Glass, allowing him to telepathically communicate with the Missus' forebear, that Frankenstein, creator of the most infamous manmade monster of them all, chained to the ocean floor nearby.

The creature creator--Carradine, of course--appears in an inset and orates, "O, disciple of the twelfth light, ye shall have the power. The power shall be yours. The power...the power...the power...the POWER!"

Have no worries if you fail to memorize this speech upon first hearing the mesmerizing prose. John C repeats it later. Then repeats it again. Then repeats it for the FOURTH FREAKIN' TIME during the climactic showdown pitting the Balloon Boys and spacechix against the Good Squad and Frank's creature!!!

Okay, we've got von Helsings despite that lineage being from the Dracula not Frankenstein mythology, a submerged monster apparently immune to drowning even though he's assembled from human parts, zombies who evidently shopped at the same clothing store and picked out identical outfits, and a gaggle of alien gals all approximately the same age and English-speaking.

If that's not enough to get junkfilm junkies revved up, hang on for the "But, wait, there's more" bonus. Seventeen years earlier, Sheila captured a shipwrecked sailor she's kept locked up in a dungeon ever since--and he's played by Cameron Mitchell, a cult pic colossus who has chewed up so much scenery, it's a wonder he was never made an honorary termite.

Cam The Ham and King Carradine in the same picture? Look out, atheists, there may be a God after all!

Having unmatched access to all the Hollywood heavyweights, I had the pleasure of speaking with Island costar Tain Bodkin, who worked on the project for free. Not because he wanted to, but because auteur Jerry Warren never paid him.

Writer/director/producer Warren was a dedicated master craftsman with few peers. According to affable Tain, jive Jerry didn't believe in trivialities such as dumb ol' rehearsals. He'd hand the actors script pages, set up his camera and yell "Action." Raved Bodkin, "Anything you could do, even if it didn't (fit within the storyline), he would go 'Great, we'll throw that in."

The movie maestro also had his cast and crew work weekends. An uncaring slave-driver? Nope, I meant Frankenstein Island was filmed only on weekends, tying folks like Tain up for months at a time. As the latter warmly recalled, "He was the worst director I ever worked for...the most unprofessional."

In what may be the NON-spoiler of the century, Bodkin claimed Warren was "winging it as he went along." Trust me, once you see this movie, you will have no trouble believing every syllable of that claim. It's a big part of what makes FrankIsle so special.

Case in point: very early on, one of the balloonwrecked foursome suddenly is floored with an intense pain in his left hand, an agony that would occur once again a few minutes later--then is never explained or even referenced again the entire remainder of the flick!

It's like Warren either figured he'd eventually come up with an idea to tie the scenes into the plot and never did, or plum forgot he had shot the sequences.

In another continuity classic, Mitchell's character recognizes one of the fur-bikini girls as his daughter--completely contradicting the earlier exposition about the tribe being descendants of space people. And that's after expecting viewers to accept the dubious notion anyone would recognize the full-grown-woman version of someone he had last seen when she was about three years old.

Frankenstein Island's big draw is the "How stupid can this get?" factor. Cinematography and acting by the multiple leads is fine; there's no Ed Woodian dialogue; the story has a beginning, a middle and an end. But just as you're getting over screwiness like the "instant karate expert" moment (you'll see), along comes a military Colonel you only knows holds that rank because the boys address him as such, his uniform having no ornamentation whatsoever--in two different get-ups.

Granted, John Carradine was onscreen only a fraction of the running time and didn't interact with any of the other players. To gripe loudly about that would be like voicing displeasure over going to a baseball game "and all Babe Ruth did was pinch-hit."

Limited though his role admittedly is, there's no argument it was, uh, "powerful"!

EXTRA SUPER-FANTASTIC BONUS: If you head over to the review at ManorOnMovies.com, you will not only get the color-photo-illustrated vesion of the above, but a link to see THE FULL MOVIE itself!
Author: Stately Wayne Manor


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Last Updated: 18 March, 2006