FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND (1981)
Article 4323 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Jerry Warren
Featuring Robert Clarke, Steve Brodie, Cameron Mitchell
What it is: Horror hodgepodge of gross ineptitude
Four balloonists find themselves stranded on an island that is being used for unholy experiments.
When I covered 2 + 5 MISSION HYDRA and A*P*E, I mentioned that both films were part of an unholy trio of movies that became notorious initiation standards in a bad movie watching group I ran called “The Exposed Film Society”. This was the third, and it marks the cinematic swan song of Jerry Warren, my own personal choice for the worst director of all time.
Most of Jerry Warren’s movies are what I would classify as snoozefests; they’re long-winded, incoherent, and devoid of interesting events. In the mid-sixties, he discovered the swinging sixties action sequence, and though he proved utterly inept at them, it did at least add a smidgen of interest factor to his work, which became laughingly bad rather than sleep-inducing, and I suppose this might be called an improvement. The movie that resulted at that time was THE WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN; a lawsuit followed, and it would prove to be Warren’s last film for many years.
I wonder how long the idea for FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND germinated; it has the air of having been cobbled together from fifteen years of story ideas. It’s a very loose remake of the director’s own TEENAGE ZOMBIES, and on top of having zombies (most of whom seem to resemble Elton John), it incorporates the Frankenstein legend, references to the Dracula story, a race of bikini-clab Amazon extraterrestrials, the extension of life, communications from the dead, arty psychedelic touches with Freudian undertones, black magic, Poe obsessions, disembodied brains, and strange pains induced by the mention of other places that is supposed to be similar to telepathy (or so the dialogue tells me). Throw in such touches as an annoying laughing man, a toy devil’s pitchfork that induces vampirism, a rotating pink ammo box and random appearances of the ghost of John Carradine talking about power and the golden thread, and you have a working definition of movie clutter. Trying to make a coherent whole of this mess would have taxed the best writers, directors and editors in the world; with Jerry Warren in all three capacities, the result is some of the most ambitious low-budget ineptitude to make it to the screen. Though the movie has several genre name actors, most of them seem lost and confused, and who can blame them; only Cameron Mitchell seems to maintain focus, and even his character (a captive sea captain mourning his lost Lenore) is so contrived that it’s a losing battle. It’s all topped off with an ending which recycles one of the worst cliches of all time, and the lab fight may be the single worst action sequence of all time.
Yes, I’ve seen it several times; in its own way, it’s something of a marvel. I just make sure not to try and figure it out; that would only give me a headache.