APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND (1981)

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Steve Brodie, Cameron Mitchell, Katherine Victor, (?)

PLOT: A crew of hot air balloon travelers land on a remote desert island and encounter the great-grand-daughter of Dr. Frankenstein presiding over an assortment of natives and other random people.

Still from Frankenstein Island (1981)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: An extreme low-budget B-movie director of legendarily bad productions, Jerry Warren is no stranger to our pages here. Frankenstein Island stands out as his only color film, a movie he made after a 15-year hiatus, and his final film. In spite of all that, it manages to out-crazy everything else he ever done, not to mention being the most deranged film with the name “Frankenstein” in its title, a major feat in itself.

COMMENTS: Move over, Plan 9 From Outer Space, Manos: The Hands Of Fate, and even The Room:  we have a new contender for “so bad it’s hilarious!” If Frankenstein Island (1981) isn’t a candidate for “worst movie ever made,” that’s only because it’s too crammed full of jaw-droppingly bonkers scenes to be not-entertaining. As is typical for a Jerry Warren experience, count on muddled story structure, random stock footage inserted into the plot, extreme budget sets, abrupt day-night transitions, wooden acting, and new lows in filmmaking incompetence all around. What follows is a stalwart attempt to convey what’s going on, to the best of my ability; please be advised that in-movie continuity errors and contradictions make some details hard to pin down.

Four men and a dog fly in a pair of hot air balloons on a little-explained recon errand (later said to be a balloon race). They end up on a desert island because they ran out of stock balloon footage, and start exploring on a quest to build a raft to escape—despite leaning on a rubber dingy while discussing this plan. In due order, they encounter (1) a tribe of Amazon natives in leopard-print bikinis, (2) a cult of zombie-like/robot-like men in black shirts, who kidnap natives and get up to other mischief, (3) a mad prisoner in a cell who raves in Edgar Allan Poe references, (4) a jolly drunk in an eye-patch who can not stop laughing and acts as the men’s guide, while guffawing “HAR HAR HAR HAAAAAR,” and finally (5) a woman, Sheila (previously referred to as “Xira”), wearing a pile of wigs, who claims to be the great-grand-daughter of the original Dr. Frankenstein. Her invalid husband Dr. Von Helsing is there too. Sheila Frankenstein carries on some kind of mad science research in a suspiciously modern and well-furnished mansion and laboratory on an island where everybody else lives in shanties. The black-shirt thugs are her minions, the natives were there when she got there, she’s on a quest to cure her husband using Poe-prisoner’s blood, everybody else is a crop of experiment guinea pigs, and the stranded ballon crew is mostly just interested in getting the heck out of there, but not in such a hurry that they aren’t curious about everything going on. One of the crew even temporarily becomes Sheila’s lab assistant.

First time viewers, noticing John Carradine’s name boldly displayed on the movie  posters, may wonder why the above synopsis doesn’t cover his role. That’s because he’s technically not in this movie—but a framed portrait of him and recycled footage of him bellowing nonsense dialog is. Superimposed over the film as his ghostly floating head raves about “The Power! THE POWER!!!”, he is the original Dr. Frankenstein, who “still controls this island.” The black-shirt thugs are a ship’s crew which shipwrecked long ago here and were “normal until experimented on”; sometimes beeping computer noises are dubbed over their movements to suggest robotics, while other times they crouch in a way that suggests they’re either undead, or in bad need of a diaper change. The Amazonian tribe are the descendants of stranded space aliens (although later we learn the Poe-quoting prisoner is apparently the father of one of the Amazons). Nevertheless, they have a gleeful “South Pacific” time smoking out of skull bongs, playing leopard-skin bongos, staging fights between tarantulas, and lavishing feasts and rub-downs on the new male arrivals. They also have a ritual where one Amazon is strung up between two trees in a back-breaking hammock position and is said to be undergoing an “initiation”; the cast just walks away and leaves her there, never to be referenced again.

Wait, if this is a Frankenstein movie, where is the Monster? He pops up in the last fifteen minutes, bolting from an underwater cave just in time to join a final free-for-all brawl involving the entire cast. This fight takes place in Shiela’s laboratory, and involves vampires out of nowhere, ray-gun sci-fi weapons, kung-fu, brains in a jar, and the Monster flipping over a table of empty bleach jugs while affecting almost nothing else. However, the Monster’s first act was to strangle eyepatch-drunk laughing guy in mid-“AH HAR HAR HAAAR!”, earning a place in our hearts as the most noble deed performed by Frankenstein’s Monster in any movie, ever. Showcased in the brawl is a magic weapon the thugs use, represented by an undisguised plastic devil’s pitchfork you might buy from a Dollar Tree for a Halloween costume prop. In fact you’ll notice a lot of repurposed bargain bin junk around the lab and the island in general, with an emphasis on skeletons and obscure beeping science-looking stuff. Oh, and the men (the stranded balloon crew, remember them?) eventually do leave the island and return with some military guys, only to find all the people and buildings vanished so nobody believes them. The only evidence is a native Amazon pendant dragged back by the dog. The End.

What the blazing, infernal bonkerballs did any of this mean? You’re free to interpret it however you want, since the movie provides nothing but mumbled, rushed explanations that change the story every fifteen minutes or so. While you’re at it, be sure to ask what the body in the liquid-filled tank outside was about, why the balloon-crew men were crippled early on with arm pain and squeaking sound effects whenever they mentioned the name of a place and then stopped after a while (“some kind of telepathy” is the only attempt at an explanation), why eyepatch-drunk was even there and what was so HAR-HAR-HAR funny (minutes of film go by filled with nothing but his repetitive laugh), what happened to the dingy and the balloons, how Sheila got a grand piano moved to this island all by herself, how her husband is 200 years old while Sheila has stayed fit and perky, where all the leopards came from for enough skins to make twenty matching bikinis and a few reams of tablecloth, and so on. Why was there a big brawl, why did everybody disappear, why why why why? Or you could just give up, throw away your useless logical brain, and have fun watching the bedlam. That seems to be the spirit in which this movie was made by all concerned.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

The one good thing about the movie is that it’s never boring. It’s a series of randomly slapped together scenes that almost tell a story. However, as events progress the film just gets more nonsensical and crazy. It builds to a frenzied crescendo that will leave you bewildered yet strangely entertained. If you’re willing to sit through the flaws just to see something that will keep you interested due to its sheer insanity, you can do worse than Frankenstein Island. You could also do much better.”–Charleston Picou, HorrorNews,net

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Dark Corners review:

And a far, FAR longer review going into much more detail.

 

3 thoughts on “APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND (1981)”

  1. Pete, you hit the nail on the head with this one.

    Some months ago I watched this on a dare and enjoyed just about every minute of it. “Apocrypha” candidate? Most certainly. “Beware!”? Heavens no — this movie should be embraced by anyone who can find it. I generally don’t have “so bad it’s good” reactions to movies, as I find find bad movies to be bad. “Frankenstein’s Island”, however, turned the corner from that into some sort of antonym of genius.

    One prop in the movie I feel is worth a mention: the very nice brandy on offer from Mrs Frankenstein will look familiar, to anyone who’s perused a liquor store, as a kind of bottom-shelf tipple for those who think a good font on the label is what makes good brandy worth drinking.

  2. Insider note: this was one of the very last titles removed from consideration for the List. Up until December of 2018 I was still considering adding it, but I thought we had enough “so-bad-it’s-weird” titles already, and couldn’t justify bumping a more competent movie off the List to make way for a Jerry Warren picture.

    1. I can only hope that Mr Warren would allow that “Come and See” was, in its way, superior to his final movie.

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