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DVD SAVANT

FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER


Frankenstein's Daughter
Image Entertainment
1958 /B&W/ flat 1:37 / Dolby Digital Mono
Starring John Ashley, Sandra Knight, Donald Murphy, Felix Locher, Sally Todd, John Zaremba, Wolfe Barzell, Harold Lloyd Jr., Harry Wilson
Cinematography Meredith M. Nicholson
Art Direction Don Ament
Film Editor Everett Dodd
Original Music Nicholas Carras
Writing credits H.E. Barrie
Produced by Marc Frederic
Directed by Richard E. Cunha

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Savant has yet to see three positive words in a row written about Frankenstein's Daughter, yet it has always been a popular creature-feature timekiller. The amazing 'creative' team who brought you, yes, Missile to the Moon here does a quickie Frankenstein knock-off, one of


Forry would doubtless caption
this photo with, "I just fried an egg on my face and can't do a thing with it!"

many made in the wake of the sensationally successful Curse of Frankenstein from Hammer. That the Cunha/Frederic production compares unfavorably to practically all of its competition, even the low-rent likes of Howard Koch (Frankenstein 1970) and Herman Cohen (I Was a Teenage Frankenstein), doesn't keep it from having an endearing quality. You know, like a stuffed bunny toy with one eye and an ear hanging half-off. Because you ran it over with your car.

Ever read anything that even tried to be serious about Frankenstein's Daughter? Here's an attempt.

Synopsis:

Oliver Frank (Donald Murphy) is a research scientist living-in with his elderly employer, Dr. Morton (Felix Locher), an underfunded researcher who is foolishly stealing drugs for his humanitarian research. Oliver's own intentions are somewhat less noble. He's really the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein, and with the help of one of grandpappy's aides, the gardner Elsu (Wolfe Barzell), Oliver is pursuing a pair of odd experiments. By night he secretly dopes Morton's daughter Trudy (Sandra Knight) with a potion that turns her temporarily into a goggle-eyed she-monster. By day he searches for a head to graft onto a corpse he's prepared for re-animation, the oldfashioned way. Trudy wakes up in nightgowns and swimsuits, remembering dreams about terrorizing the neighborhood. Her trampy best friend Sally (Suzie Lawler) claims to have been assaulted by a goggle-eyed she-monster wearing nightgowns and swimsuits. Since the mystery goes unsolved, Oliver is free to make unwelcome advances towards both women. When Sally calls a halt to a petting party in Oliver's parked car, he runs her down, and her head becomes the finishing touch for the umpteenth Frankenstein's Monster.

Neither as childishly idiotic as Missile to the Moon, nor particularly campy in any fun way, Frankenstein's Daughter would seem to avoid boredom by simply being what it is - a Frankenstein story pared down to its barest essentials. It really should be called Woman Who Lived in the House Where a Frankenstein Descendant Conducted Secret Experiments, or Grandaddy Made Me Graft a Blonde Bombshell's Head onto a Rotting Corpse. Well - photographed (in focus, consistently exposed), it nevertheless exhibits the full range of Z-Movie symptoms: illogical plotting, vacant characterization, performances that don't mesh.

What does Oliver's making Trudy into a She-Demons lookalike have to do with his stitch-by-numbers monster? Why does the level-headed Trudy allow herself to be bullied, drugged, humored and patronized by everyone else in the film? Why does her boyfriend Johnny (John Ashley) mope around half-heartedly pretending he's Elvis Presley?


Sandra Knight and John Ashley: a good actress in an unworthy film; a zero actor right where he belongs.

And what possible charm did anyone see in the desperate 'antics' of 'Don' (Harold Lloyd Jr.)? The obvious answer is that time and money and expedient laziness made these considerations irrelevant. Savant imagines the producers of Frankenstein's Daughter being ashamed to admit they're making a film with that title. And aspiring Ashley, Lloyd and even the charming Sandra Knight clearly saw the film as a career showcase, a factor more important than the 'characters' or Cunha's 'direction.'

In this 'female' Frankenstein opus, Sandra Knight and Suzie Lawler are indeed the only actors (besides Donald Murphy's gonzo Oliver Frankenstein) who know how to hold the screen. They manage to appear intelligent and motivated no matter how ridiculous the situation. Surely feminists would find fertile ground here: Knight in particular maintains a consistently admirable dignity, even when fainting like a silly ditz or pretending to be rocking out at the awful pool party musical performances.

The actual monster of Frankenstein's Daughter is obviously a man in a fireman's rubber jacket with rubber gloves and bandages that cover almost all of his head. From an economy standpoint, this is Universal's cost-cutting gambit of giving its Mole People burlap clothing, or its Metaluna Mutant silk slacks, taken to an extreme. Not only does the monster have no possible connection with the va-va-voom Suzie Lawler, it looks uncomfortable instead of frightening. When it catches fire at the end, one's first thought is, "These crazy cheap filmmakers probably almost burned this guy alive."


Yeesh ... a dripping, gashed leg anyone?

Frankenstein's Daughter turns in desperation to brief glimpses of gore that point the way toward later trends in lowbudget horror. Gore is a relatively cheap special effect (almost as cheap as nudity) that gets attention; for an undiscriminating audience it can take the place of actual content. In 1958 Marc Frederic (he who looked tickled pink posing with his Moon Maidens in the photo section of Missile to the Moon) couldn't really exploit what every male was thinking about whenever the sexy Sally Todd is onscreen. So here we see not one, but two Sandra Knight shock-makeups. And when Oliver receives a faceful of H2SO4, we get a good gander at his melting, lemon-merengue puss before he kicks the bucket.

More interesting is the surprising shot of Oliver with the remains of hit n' run victim Sally. From under a blanket hang a pair of bloody legs, one shin apparently torn in half and hanging at an angle ... pretty rough stuff. Maybe the censors were snoozing by the time that scene rolled around.

Image's disc of Frankenstein's Daughter is a case of flattery. It's a nostalgic title that Image can count upon to sell X number of copies. Yet they've gone out of their way to present it very nicely, a fact that refreshingly runs counter to the big-studio practice of dishing out haphazard product to the limited genre fan market. As humble as is Frankenstein's Daughter, discs like this grow the market instead of merely exploit it. Extra effort has gone into the photo section and the menus; and while the box art imagery has nothing to do with the film, it is glossy and attractive. Come to think of it, there never were any really attractive stills from the film itself, so not putting a big shot of the omelette-faced title monster on the box top was probably a wise move.


Frankenstein's Daughter is strictly for fans of schlocky horror. Savant thought it good to keep away from the typical 'schlocky horror' condescension while writing about it. In this DVD, those who love the weirdness of fringe genre moviemaking will find plenty of tacky thrills to contemplate on their own. Image's respectful disc won't make them feel as if the DVD itself is snickering at them.



On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Frankenstein's Daughter rates:
Movie: Fair, yet priceless to fans of Z-Movie horror.
Video: Good
Sound: Good
Supplements: Trailer, photo gallery
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: August 6, 2000




DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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