Friday, October 29, 2021

I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957)

... aka: Des filles pour Frankenstein (Girls for Frankenstein)
... aka: El hijo de Frankenstein (The Son of Frankenstein)
... aka: La strage di Frankenstein (The Massacre of Frankenstein)
... aka: Teenage Frankenstein

Directed by:
Herbert L. Strock

Producer Herman Cohen had a big hit on his hands with I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957) in the summer of 1957, which reputedly made 2 million on a budget of just 82,000 dollars. He retained much of the same team and then immediately went into production on this follow-up, which he also co-wrote with frequent collaborator Aben Kandel. So just how rushed was the production? Well, it began shooting in October 1957 and was in theaters just in time for Thanksgiving, a mere five months after Werewolf debuted. If that wasn't impressive enough, the same folks decided to tackle vampires while they were at it and made Blood of Dracula around the same time, which focused on a teenage female bloodsucker. The three films then got mixed and matched as double features over the next few years. It was all about catering directly to the until-then-ignored teen demographic, who were flocking in droves to newly-established drive-in theaters.

Whit Bissell, the same man responsible for transforming Michael Landon into a wolf man, returns in an almost identical role as yet another untrustworthy adult / unscrupulous mad scientist preying on yet another naïve teen. Bissell's character this time out is Professor Frankenstein, an English academic (curiously lacking any kind of British accent) whose lofty career ambitions far outweigh any moral or ethical crises of conscience. Temporarily living in the U. S. and working the college circuit as a guest lecturer, the professor's ranting and raving about finding a way to graft whole human limbs from the dead onto the bodies of the living brings skepticism from his peers. He concludes: "I'll hold to my beliefs and some day, very soon possibly, I'll prove them so conclusively that even cynics like you all over the world will be convinced!" And that he does! As a descendant of the notorious Baron Frankenstein, who'd expect anything less?

Frankenstein manages to coerce / blackmail his supportive colleague and friend, physicist Dr. Karlton (Robert Burton), into helping him to construct an entire human using the body parts stolen from cadavers. But not just any body will do. After all, he's well aware of what happened to his ancestor because he wasn't too particular about where he got his spare limbs from. Nope. This Frankenstein believes in a theory called "selective breeding." After all, "If you breed morons, you beget morons." He only wants the finest of body parts from strong, able-bodied young men or, as he calls them, "the ingredients of youth." A "worm out body inhabited by an overtaxed brain" simply won't suffice. Right as Frankenstein is laying out his master plan, the sound of car brakes and a loud bang are heard coming from outside. There's been a terrible car accident. And the drivers were teenagers. And one of those bodies was thrown from the vehicle. And the body that was thrown from the vehicle happens to belong to a strapping, muscular young man. Whatta coincidence!

Despite a large crowd gathering at the scene, the professor and Karlton somehow manage to scoop the boy's corpse up and carry it back home undetected. Thankfully, Frankenstein's already prepared for such an incident. Down in his basement, he has what he calls his "personal morgue;" a laboratory complete with cold lockers to store bodies, a temperature control that he keeps the place at near-freezing temperatures to help preserve corpses and an alligator pit (!!) to dispose of discarded body parts. But Frankenstein will need plenty of time. After all, the car crash victim has had his head crushed in, his face mangled beyond recognition and both of his hands plus a leg injured beyond repair. Soon after, another "Whatta coincidence!" moment - a plane crash killing star athletes - makes the necessary body parts available. Well, available if one is willing to do a little grave digging and corpse thievery, which our determined doctor Is more than willing to do! A couple of arms from a champion wrestler and a leg from a star football player later and the human jigsaw is complete.

In order to get the peace and quiet needed, the professor has asked a former assistant, lovely university hospital nurse Margaret (Phyllis Coates), to come to stay at his home and act as his secretary while he's working. She's to handle all of his business and personal affairs, keep any people / distractions away and not ask any questions about what he's doing. And when he's through, he plans on taking her back to England with him after his visa expires and marrying her. However, the relationship rapidly deteriorates whenever Margaret, ya know, starts expecting things. He tries to pacify her by taking her to Lovers Lane but she then begins snooping around his off-limits lab, which puts her in danger.

After the "monster" (Gary Conway) is revived, he also starts to cause the professor problems. Though he's obedient at first and patient through his exercise regiments, speech therapy ("Speak! You've got a civil tongue in your head! I know you have because I sewed it back myself!"), vitamin shots and "electrical treatments," he soon tires of being locked away in the basement and desires companionship. There's still one major problem with him: Though he may have the body of an Adonis, he has the face of Joseph Merrick. Frankenstein uses that to his advantage and informs his creation that he'll only fix his face if he remains obedient to him. Still, the monster can't resist venturing out of the lab. He sneaks into town late one night and strangles a screaming blonde bombshell to death after busting through her window.

Showing that he's willing to go to great lengths, including murder at his master's behest, the creature is finally allowed his new face. The professor is even nice enough to take him to Lovers Lane and let him pick out the one he wants. The two stumble upon handsome teenager Bob (Conway again) and his date necking in a car. The creature knocks out the girl and then they kill and decapitate Bob; bringing his head back to the lab for a quickie full-face transplant that works out surprisingly well. His experiment now complete, Professor Frankenstein then plots to return to the UK with his creature... only he plans on first disassembling him for easier transport! As that's going on, a pair of coppers (George Lynn, John Cliff) investigate the murders. The last couple of minutes are in color.

Unimaginatively shot, lifelessly directed and very talky, this mildly lurid, pseudo-camp effort has to default back to its cast to provide most of the entertainment value. Good thing then that at least a few of the stars deliver. Prolific character actor Bissell is given a rare (his only?) top billed lead role and offers up a cold, calculating, arrogant and completely unfeeling / sociopathic Frankenstein. Upon seeing his newly-revived creation cry, instead of offering an sympathetic ear, his first instinct is to exclaim "Even his tear ducts work!" and how he sets up one character's demise is extremely mean-spirited and more than just a little sadistic! While Bissell is given some hokey dialogue, his dry and dead-serious delivery helps make it all work. His version of Frankenstein is also notable as being entirely detestable... There is NOTHING even remotely likable about this asshole!

Conway, in either his first or second film (he was also in Corman's Viking Women and the Sea Serpent the same year), offers up an earnest performance as the creature. Prior to acting, he got by working as a near-nude model in "physique" magazines, which probably functioned mostly as gay porn back then. A year after appearing in this, he married Miss America 1957, Marian McKnight, and the two are still together to this day... over 60 years later. Now there's a love story for ya. Conway would sort-of reprise his role in the same company's HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER (1958) in the same Phillip Scheer make-up.

This played theatrically on an AIP double bill with Blood of Dracula (re-titled Blood is My Heritage in the UK). Strangely, and unlike most other American genre films from this time, this one's never been given a legitimate DVD release and I'm not entirely sure why that is. There's a rumor that the current owner, former actress Susan Hart (widow of AIP co-founder James H. Nicholson), is holding out for more money, but it's hard to tell. The only official U.S. home video release I'm aware of is a 1991 VHS from RCA / Columbia.

Claws for Alarm (1954)

... aka: Merrie Melodies: Claws for Alarm

Directed by:
Charles M. (Chuck) Jones

While traveling through the country, Porky Pig (voiced by Mel Blanc) and his apprehensive pet puss / traveling companion Sylvester the Cat arrive in a ghost town and decide to spend the night at the sinister-looking Dry Gulch Hotel. Well, more accurately, Porky chooses to spend the night and Sylvester kind of has no say in the matter. Sylvester is immediately spooked by green, glowing eyes popping up all over the place and a silhouette of a giant spider, which is actually just a tiny spider whose shadow is amplified against the wall. Upon entering, they find no one working the front desk and just decide to sign the register and find a room. While Porky isn't looking, a noose emerges from the mouth of a stuffed moose head and attempts to hang him. Sylvester pushes him out of the way just in time. And then the moose head whips out a rifle and attempts to shoot Porky. Again, Sylvester saves his life. Seeing how Porky never sees any of these attempts at his life, he becomes convinced his cat is "a schizo-phre-schizo-phre-phre-schiz-eh-um-uh-eh-man, a man, a, a, uh, um, a, manic-depressive or something." I hope I got that right.

Once settled in their bedroom, the horrors don't stop for poor Sylvester, as he has to save a sleeping Porky from other attempts at hanging and shooting, plus a stabbing; all at the hands of murderous mice, who even stand on each other's shoulders under a sheet to impersonate a ghost at one point. Each time Sylvester saves his rind, an oblivious Porky awakens only to find the cat hovering over him and calls him things like "a psychopathic old pussycat."

Though Porky was pretty well-established as a persona by this stage, this is a different style of Sylvester the Cat than what was featured later. Here, he doesn't speak and plays the role of a "yellow cat," which is a far cry from his later arrogant, lisping villain persona which found him always trying to eat Tweety Bird and Speedy Gonzales.

I actually think I prefer the rarely-used, scare-prone and mute Sylvester to the later cocky one because he reminds me of most of the cats I've owned (or, who've owned me) thus far in life. While I've had a rare few who'd gladly go up to a complete stranger for a pat, most have been the types to run and hide at so much as a floorboard creaking. Scaredy cats also make the best pets when you're living in an apartment and kinda sorta tell your landlord a little fib about the amount of pets you own as scaredy cats are always kind enough to immediately hide under the couch or bed and not make a peep the entire time the landlord is doing a walk-through. Not that I'd know this from experience or anything.

Like most other classic Looney Tunes / Merrie Melodies shorts, this is amusing, well-animated, features great voice work from Blanc, is very colorful and has wonderfully Expressionistic design on the backdrops. It does somewhat recycle the premise from the earlier, similar (and more gag-packed) short Scaredy Cat (1948), which also features Porky and Sylvester moving into a "haunted" house where evil mice attempt to kill them. However, the aesthetic choices are quite different, with Scaredy opting for a more dark and dreary look while Claws goes the more vibrant and abstract visual route.

Parts of this short were combined with parts from at least eight other horror-themed Looney Tunes shorts to comprise the later TV special Bugs Bunny's Howl-Oween Special (1977), which was later released on VHS and then DVD. Parts were also folded into the theatrical release Daffy Duck's Quackbusters (1988). As far as home video availability is concerned, it's been included on numerous sets over the years: The 1993 laserdisc collection "Ham on Wry: The Porky Pig Laser Collection" and the Warner Bros. DVD collections "Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 3" (2005), "Looney Tunes Collection: Best of Porky, Volume 2" (2007), "Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection: Volume 8" (2014) and "Loooney Tunes Collection Volume 3" (2018). A large number of these shorts are currently being streamed on HBO Max as well.

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