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Thursday, October 01, 2015


The titular creation (Gary Conway) and Dr. Frankenstein (Whit Bissell), out cruisin' for a new face.

Once a perennial on the local horror showcases during the pre-cable days, I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN was one of the required-viewing flicks for budding monster kids and it stood out in our memories for a number of good reasons. At the time, the late 1950's were less than twenty years previous, so stories in that setting did not seem as remote as horror outings taking place in "the old country" or some other place far removed from the experience of a young audience in the latter half of the 20th century, so marrying horror tropes to the era that gave us the sociological double-threat of rock 'n' roll and juvenile delinquency was a natural fit. Studios cranked out numerous films featuring teenagers pitting their hot rod-driving selves against all manner of monsters and aliens when not dancing to ersatz rock music, and sometimes the monsters themselves were teenagers gone horribly awry. The prime example of the form would be I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957), a film that greatly benefited from a good script, an intriguing doomed protagonist, and imaginative direction for an effort of its ilk, and its success guaranteed a followup. What resulted was I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, a film that sadly paled in comparison to its predecessor.

The latest descendant of the Frankenstein lineage (Whit Bissell) relocates to the United States from England (and possesses zero trace of a British accent), where he espouses his theories on creating perfect human specimens via cobbling together sundry body parts from the dead and reanimating them to his skeptical academic peers. Undeterred by his colleagues' scorn and aided by a blackmailed assistant (Robert Karlton), Dr. Frankenstein takes note of an horrific car crash that happens near his lab and makes off with the one relatively-intact body that was hurled from the collision. The body's hands and one if its legs are damaged, along with the head being mangled into a state reminiscent of a Picasso portrait gene-spliced with a dropped plate of over-cooked lasagna (though the brain is somehow undamaged), so the doctor and his assistant dig up the other victims of the crash and cherry-pick suitable replacement parts, disposing of leftovers by throwing them into the lab's handy alligator pit. When all is said and done, the resulting patchwork teenager (Gary Conway, who would later star in TV's LAND OF THE GIANTS) possesses the fit physique of the garden variety high school jock but something has to be done about that putrid punim...

Our monster. There are some things that Clearasil simply wasn't designed to deal with.

As his cobbled-together body heals and develops a pretty good level of dexterity, Dr. Frankenstein coaches the monster on speech — he proves to be relatively erudite — and orders him to stay within the confines of the lab, as his hideous visage would lead to the immediate soiling of underwear throughout the neighborhood. But while all of this is going on, the not-so-good doc finds time to become engaged to his secretary, Margaret (Phyllis Coates, the first Lois Lane on the classic ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN teevee series, seen here as a blonde), whom he puts to work keeping the outside world at bay as he gets down to some serious mad science. Unfortunately for his soon-to-be bride, the doctor's obsessive and imperious nature boils over into mistrust and physical abuse when she playfully threatens to snoop and find out just what the doc's secret project is. After the doc slaps her around for her insubordination, Margaret gains access to the lab and sees the creature, big as life and twice as ugly. Fully comprehending the horror that her man has wrought, Margaret fearfully keeps her discovery to herself, but the restless monster sneaks out of the lab and goes for a stroll around the neighborhood, where he does some ill-advised peeping on a hot blonde. Upon seeing ol' lasagna face, the terrified woman's screams motivate the monster to murder and attract her neighbors, who witness the creature fleeing the scene of the crime.

A heaping helping of bizarre voyeurism...

...with a side order of violent death.

Having learned his lesson about not being seen, the monster returns home and the doctor manages to get rid of the investigating authorities who are canvasing the area. When the detectives depart, Margaret reveals her knowledge of the monster but promises to keep quiet in order to protect her future hubby, but the doctor decides that she knows too much. In short order, Margaret is trapped in the lab and murdered by the monster, after which she's fed to the handy alligator.

With Margaret out of the way, Dr. Frankenstein continues grooming his creature for presentation to his scientific peers, but something still has to be done about the sorry state of the monster's gruesome head. The doc and the monster drive to the local lover's lane, where they scout for a young lad of suitable handsomeness. Settling on a young swain who's necking with his girl in a convertible, the monster, with empty birdcage in hand, attacks and tears off the innocent lad's head. (Which we unfortunately do not get to see; the action cuts away as the deed is taking place but there is zero doubt as to what's going down.)

The monster engages in some grand theft noggin.

The ill-gotten fruits of the monster's labors.

The new face and hair are successfully transplanted onto the monster, and it is at that point that the narrative fizzles out like a weak fart. Once the monster can successfully pass for a normal teenager, who fucking cares anymore? But the story must conclude, so Dr. Frankenstein announces his intention to go back to England and eventually unveil his creation to the scientific community, but first he intends to dismantle the monster for easy shipping and eventual reassembly. Needless to say, the now-normal monster isn't down with that, so he chucks the doctor into the alligator pit while the doc's long-suffering assistant calls the cops. It all ends feebly as the monster accidentally electrocutes himself on some lab equipment and the sequence is un-spectacularly presented in incongruous color. THE END.

Rushed into production and released a mere four months after its vastly superior predecessor, the classic I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN took the first film's teen angle but left out pretty much everything else that made WEREWOLF a solidly entertaining hit. I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN barely manages to hold the audience's attention with an admittedly lurid ambiance, some brief scenes of severed body parts during a lab scene, the played-straight lunacy of the alligator as waste disposal system, the monster's indelible visage, and the memorable headhunting sequence, but those are but brief moments sprinkled throughout what is swiftly revealed to be a turgid time-waster. I hope the teenage boys of the late-1950's who took their dates to see this weak sauce at least managed to wrangle a cheap feel or a handjob out of the deal.

I saw I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF at age six and it left a huge impression on me, with its impact remaining undiminished with each subsequent viewing over the next four decades. I know I saw I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN at a tender age as well but I remembered nothing about it other than the monster, the 'gator pit, and the bit where the monster rips that boy's head off (which my young imagination made far worse than it actually was), but the rest of the film was a huge blank spot in my usually comprehensive memory. Having seen it again for the first time over forty years, I now understand why I'd forgotten it. The monster has gone on to become iconic but the movie itself is a sad disappointment that is recommended solely to completists who want to be able to brag about having seen every old school shocker. Concrete proof that nostalgia is not necessarily to be trusted, your viewing time is better spent on something more worthy.

 Poster for the U.K. release.

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