Tag Archives: B-Movie

CAPSULE: SPOOKIES (1986)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: Genie Joseph, Thomas Doran, Brendan Faulkner

FEATURING: Felix Ward, Maria Pechukas, Alec Nemser, Dan Scott

PLOT: A mad warlock with his would-be bride in a coffin needs human blood to bring her back to life, so he sets up a mansion full of monsters to slaughter hapless travelers; the plan almost works.

Still from Spookies (1986)

COMMENTS: Bear with me this time, because Spookies takes some explaining. It’s well-established as a bad movie, and yet has a cult following. That cult, contrary to the norm, loves Spookies not in a so-bad-it’s-good ironic way, but for being a certain kind of niche “good.” The limited appeal of Spookies depends upon one’s appetite for carnival dark rides, AKA ghost trains, the horror-themed indoor track ride you find at every state fair and boardwalk. These rides are chock full of random scary props, rubber suit monsters, blaring air horns, blasts of compressed air, strobe lights, hairpin turns leading from mad scientist’s laboratories into mummy’s crypts and whatnot, and—attend carefully here—no logic. Here’s dark ride YouTuber Carpetbagger with a tour of one. The point of a dark ride is not to experience an enriching story. The point is to make your girlfriend scream and cling to you when the rubber bats swoosh overhead.

I have just perfectly described the experience of watching Spookies, right down to the “no logic” part. It is unrelentingly stupid. But if you’re the kind of person who never passes up a tour through those haunted house attractions that pop up around Halloween, this is your Citizen Kane. Come and get your monsters, we got all your monsters here! We got your vampire monsters, your zombie monsters, your eight-limbed spider-woman monsters, your possessed demon monsters, your green goblin monsters, a werecat monster, a skeleton monster, any monster you want! Grim Reaper fans, yes, you too, we got a Grim Reaper attack just a little after the 1:00 hour mark. It’s never a dull moment here at Mad Marvin’s Mansion o’ Monsters, come on over for Witching Hour when all our curses are half-price!

Just leave your brain at home. This movie was also allegedly produced in sections: either two half-finished movies nailed together or an unfinished movie that later got footage added, depending on who you ask. I’m going to try telling it in alleged filming order, not movie order, because this will help it make what little sense it can.

We have two carloads of teenagers, plus older people hanging out with them for some reason, who are driving around lost at night looking for someplace to party. They find the big spooky mansion located in a cemetery surrounded by foam headstones. “What a silly place for a house!” they titter as they stagger inside. Doors slam, lights go out, monsters attack for about an hour and fifteen minutes. This is all triggered when one member of the party finds a Ouija board in the house—she obviously missed her OSHA class on “Never Use A Ouija Board In An Abandoned Mansion In A Cemetery” day. This part of the movie was supposed to be a horror-comedy called Twisted Souls, but it was never finished.

In the tacked-on part, we have a “warlock” Kreon (Felix Ward) brooding in a secluded sanctum, far from the action, as he laments his late, pretty bride in a coffin, Isabelle (Maria Pechukas). To bring Isabelle back to life, he needs human sacrifices, so, it turns out, he is the one controlling the monsters. Earlier a young boy, Billy (Alec Nemser), ran afoul of one of Kreon’s monsters while running away from home because his parents forgot his 13th birthday. He got buried alive and resurrected as a vampire boy in a Little Red Riding Hood outfit, who plays candle-lit chess while Kreon discusses his plans in his Transylvanian Baron Von Hissing-Lisp accent. With all those people he slaughters to bring Isabelle back to life, is she going to be grateful? What do you want to bet? Ah, posthumous love, thy name be treachery!

So like I say, this is a stupid mess. Nobody can act, the scripts for both film fragments suck hot vacuum hose, and everyone on Team Carload of Teenagers is an idiot who obligingly stumbles right into the claws/fangs/tentacles of Team Monster. Team Monster, however, brings its A-game of practical effects at the cutting edge of 1986 technology (but sadly not a minute later). Although at one point even Team Monster has a setback, with a gang of sludge monsters (made of mud?) who fart when they walk. In a group, every step, “Prrt! Prt! Prrrrt! Prrt!” But for the most part, we keep to that dark ride pace, a fresh monster attack in a fresh room every ten minutes, whether you were ready for the next one or not. Which, once again I have to point out, makes it braindead, but never boring for a second.

As confounding as Spookies is, I still can’t recommend it specifically for our list.  We have haunted house movies, and when it comes to monster-per-minute low-budget horror, Turn in your Grave‘s weirdness-factor flush beats Spookies‘ bigger-budget straight. By sheer nose (snout) count, The Cabin in the Woods has more monsters. In fact, B-movie monster-mashes aren’t that uncommon; it’s just that Spookies did it in peak ’80s style, when rubber masks with pulsating goop were in their prime.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[The later additions] made an already kooky movie even weirder, creating a disjointed plot no matter how hard they tried to shoehorn in the sorcerer. Yet, it also made it even more memorable at the same time, because it’s so nonsensical.”–Meagan Navarro, Bloody Disgusting

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

The story behind making-of Spookies

Thorough YouTube review of Vinegar Syndrome’s 2020 Blu-ray

CAPSULE: BEYOND THE DOOR (1974)

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Chi Sie?, AKA The Devil Within Her

DIRECTED BY: Ovidio G. Assonitis, Robert Barrett

FEATURING: Juliet Mills, Gabriele Lavia, Richard Johnson

PLOT: Jessica is having a baby; but maybe it’s going to be a little imp?

Still from Beyond the Door (1974)

PRE-COMMENTS DISCLAIMER: If I am to go on reviewing rip-offs of The Exorcist, I need to come out of the closet about something. This may be a shock, but here it goes: I HATE the original Exorcist! If you don’t hate it, that’s because you have “Exorcist syndrome,” which causes you to only remember the final twenty minutes of the movie.

I admit, those last twenty minutes are a good horror movie.

As I time it, the first 1:06:46 running time of the movie is a boring medical sitcom called “What’s the matter with Regan?” We wade through tests, doctors, therapists, prescriptions, brain scans, hypnotists, aromatherapists, dietitians, horoscopes, so on forever. Somebody finally utters the word “exorcist” at the 1:06:46 mark for the very first time, while we’ve been screaming at the screen “it’s demons, you idiots!” all along. It is frustrating and boring because we could see the poster for the movie when we walked in. It said “THE EXORCIST,” not “The Exorcist Who Wasn’t Needed Because It Turned out to Be ADHD.” Then, finally, the movie truly begins at the hour+ mark as we start setting up for the last twenty minutes, which again, are awesome.

So everybody take a minute to get over that. Cry into a pillow if you need to. Go watch the movie again before you respond here. Deep breath together now. At least I made you forget about the coronavirus for a minute, right? Onward with the review:

COMMENTS: Beyond the Door prepares you for a goofy time when you see there’s tag-team directors on board as well as no less than ten, count ’em, writing credits. We have Juliet Mills of Nanny and the Professor fame—in a horror movie? She’s going to play a San Francisco native while making absolutely no effort to hide either her London accent or the fact that she’s completely out of her depth here. It turns out that not only does this movie rip off The Exorcist (1973), but it also helps itself to Rosemary’s Baby (1968) for an aperitif. By the opening credits, we’ve encountered Satan himself narrating to us with dialog you’ll swear was lifted from Zardoz‘ opening, complete with cute puns. Satan browbeats a Bearded Trenchcoat Creepy Dude (hereby known as “BTCD” until he gets a name) into taking on his next infernal mission: find a pregnant woman who shall whelp Satan’s spawn (I dunno, it’s a prophecy or something, go along with it). Did I mention the snazzy ’70s funk and experimental jazz soundtrack? This is Eurotrash, but it’s the finest grade Eurotrash, never good but also never boring.

Meet Jessica Barrett (Juliet Mills), wife of Robert Barrett (Gabriele Lavia). He’s a music executive, and the pair are parents to two snot-nosed little brats with foul mouths. Minutes in, we find out Jessica’s Continue reading CAPSULE: BEYOND THE DOOR (1974)

CAPSULE: ROBOGEISHA (2009)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Aya Kiguchi, Hitomi Hasebe,

PLOT: A pair of geisha sisters are abducted by an executive of an evil arms corporation, who plays on their sisterly rivalry to turn them into cyborg killing machines.

Still from RoboGeisha (2009)

COMMENTS: In 2008, Noboru Iguchi made a movie called The Machine Girl about a Japanese schoolgirl who installs a Gatling gun in her arm and goes on a murderous rampage of revenge. A year later, he came out with RoboGeisha, which is totally different. This one is about two geishas who install Gatling guns in their breasts and go on a murderous rampage of revenge.

There are other major differences between the two flicks, of course. RoboGeisha takes a (slightly) more serious stab at a plot than Machine Girl‘s bog-standard revenge template. It features two sisters with an unexpectedly complex love/hate dynamic (“sisters are… complicated,” says one, after the other appears to have been blown up during an assassination). Their relationship even comes with a minor twist at the end. RoboGeisha also favors comedy over the nonstop action and gore that marked Machine Girl. RoboGeisha‘s budget seems to be lower than its sister’s; nearly all of the special effects are rendered in CGI rather than through practical effects. The ludicrous sparkly gunshot effects from Machine Girl are carried over, but the sudden reliance on digitized blood spatters is especially disconcerting. The computerization sort of wastes the talents of special effects director , who’s at his best when building prosthetic limbs for Iguchi to lop off and hooking up hoses full of red karo syrup for him to direct onto the faces of his long-suffering actors and actresses.

I personally think that the tweaks Iguchi made to the formula result in an improved product. Many disagree. Gorehounds, in particular, may be disappointed by the paucity of severed heads and the bare trickle of scarlet bursting from neck-holes. And many complain that the focus on plot at the expense of action slows down the nonsense. To me, however, the relative restraint in the violence allows the movie to focus on the absurdity that is what I treasure in this trash. Acid breast milk, a folk protest song, fried shrimp eye-gouging, brain-caressing, and bleeding buildings are among the bizarro attractions to be found in this sleazy funhouse. And this is a movie  that doesn’t simply posit the existence of cybernetic butt-swords; it explicitly demonstrates how awkward a duel would be when the contestants have to crane their necks over their shoulders and backpedal into each to parry and thrust (while muttering, “how embarrassing”). That’s the kind of attention to detail Western B-movies tend to gloss over.

As was often the case with Japanese B-movies of this ilk and period, the DVD release contains a bonus “spin-off” short utilizing leftover sets, costumes and concepts. This one is called “GeishaCop: Fearsome Geisha Cops – Go to Hell” and is partly centered around a plot device requiring girl-on-girl kissing.  It includes a scene where members of the geisha army, still incognito as Kageno Steel Manufacturing workers, drink the blood of male captives during their lunch break, leading the protagonist to declare, with what some might view as understatement: “Something about this is strange. This is one twisted office.”

Unfortunately, the DVD is out of print in North America, and the available VOD version does not include the short, and offers only the English-dubbed version, to boot. It’s still worth a look if you like this genre.

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Reader review by “Cletus”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s not that I loved either of the team’s previous efforts… but at least each had moments of truly unique creativity and even beauty amongst all the strange and grotesque gore. ‘Robogeisha’, however, contains only concepts, weird ideas and a few moments of self-reflexive humour. Otherwise it was mostly a pretty big bore.”–Bob Turnbull, “Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind” (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SHE (1984)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Avi Nesher

FEATURING: Sandahl Bergman, David Goss, Harrison Muller

PLOT: Two brothers in a post-apocalyptic wasteland go off on a quest to rescue their kidnapped sister, meeting a menagerie of mid-grade antagonists along the way as a million flavors of all hell breaks loose.

Still from She (1984)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: What a tragedy that She (1984) is so obscure, its title so Google-unfriendly, and its competing versions so better-known. If not for these handicaps it might have squeezed onto the List. It is a gonzo anything-goes claptrap of nonstop action with costumes, sets, and indeed whole scenes made out of whatever the filmmakers had lying around. If weird movies are a flea market, She rolls in Crazy Glue and runs through the bazaar, buying whatever sticks.

COMMENTS: The first rule of She (1984) is that it sets out to break every rule of filmmaking, and the second rule of She is that it circles back to break the first rule again. The goal of all this seems to be to make film reviewers look like fools; so allow me to draw the roadmap for the twists and turns ahead. She starts out bluffing with a trite and cliched approach, then steadily gets friskier along its run-time, until by the end it has become a completely different movie. It’s like the whole crew grew up over the course of shooting, or else they just improvised and got lucky. It starts out as a tired post-apocalyptic action clunker in the same vein as Mad Max and Tank Girl, only way less interesting than either of those. Somewhere between shooting the beginning and the end, the crew must have discovered—I’m guessing—Monty Python, Mel Brooks, something in that vein. It’s like they tried to make a serious Road Warrior-ripoff, but gave up after twenty minutes and decided their budget was better suited to making a campy satire; but, rather than withering away the fun, as you’d expect, they discovered they happened to be really good at comedy. Whatever happened, they sure as hell chucked the source material. This is allegedly an adaptation of “She: A History of Adventure,” but if you’re expecting anything to do with H. Rider Haggard‘s typical Victorian adventure universe of Allan Quatermain and King Solomon, you’re queuing in the wrong line.

After elaborate animated credits which also have nothing to do with the movie, we’re plopped “year 23 after the Cancellation.” Siblings Tom, Dick, and the sister Hari pilot a barge to a post-apocalyptic flea market selling cereal and chess sets, when a warrior tribe of “Norks” (composed of Clockwork Orange droogs, bikers, quarterbacks, Roman centurions, and Nazis) raid the market and haul Hari away screaming. The brothers now have a convenient plot: they have to go rescue Hari! If you liked that fight scene, you’ll look forward to the rest of the movie, which has one noisy brawl after another. The defining characteristics of post-apocalyptic people here are that they’re all Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SHE (1984)

CAPSULE: IRON SKY (2012)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Julia Dietze, Christopher Kirby, Götz Otto, Stephanie Paul, Udo Kier

PLOT: Having regrouped on the dark side of the moon, the Fourth Reich finds that the computing power of a visiting astronaut’s smart-phone is just what they need to launch their super-ship, “Götterdämmerung,” and conquer the Earth.

Still from Iron Sky (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: As one of the last places for narrative fiction to wedge them, the whole “Nazis-on-the-moon” thing isn’t so strange. The movie itself is merely a tongue-in-cheek  diversion that errs on the side of (sometimes) dumb humor over anything weird. A serious dissection of the premise’s socio-military implications, however, would have been a shoo-in.

COMMENTS: Unlike the fabled whalers of old, Nazis on the Moon found a great deal to do during their stay. Though this isn’t the first vision of that possibility, Tim Vuorensola is probably the first film-maker to pull the trigger on it, and he provides an intermittently funny send-up of classic science fiction, B-movie sensibilities, and even a bit of political commentary. The combined efforts of maybe a dozen European production companies, as well as some crowd-funding (including me, having drunkenly splashed out eight years ago for a limited edition copy one evening) resulted in Iron Sky.

Earth-side, we root for a Sarah Palin-esque president of the United States (Stephanie Paul). She sends a black astronaut, James Washington (Christopher Kirby) to the moon as a PR stunt for her re-election. Moon-side, the Fourth Reich is ruled by Mondführer Wolfgang Kortzfleisch (Udo Kier, dropping in for a paycheck and a chance to hold the ceremonial “Führer baton”), with his right-hand man Klaus Adler (Götz Otto). Stuck in the middle is Renate Richter (Julia Dietze), daughter of the Reich’s preeminent scientist, as well as a 97% genetic (and therefore, romantic) match of Klaus. After Washington stumbles across the Nazi base, he is captured, and the fascists discover his smartphone. With it, their super weapon almost gets up and running, only for the phone battery to die. So, off go Klaus and Renate to the Earth to pick up a new machine and lay the groundwork for a full-scale invasion.

So far, so good(-ish). The story, such as it is, doesn’t really pick up until about the halfway point, with the long-form introduction acting primarily as an opportunity to crack wise about Nazis, race relations (Washington has an African-American persona straight from the mid-’90s), and the trajectory of US politics. 1 Beyond the premise, though, the only things that stand out are the art direction—the ominous, sleek, and deadly armaments look just as you imagine real Nazis would want their space machines to look—and costuming (for similar reasons). I just wish…

I just wish, I suppose, that Vuorensola had put more time and effort into the script. Shortly before writing this, I found that I had only watched the “theatrical” cut, which he was obliged to throw together very quickly to make before the premier at the Berlinale Film Festival, instead of the “Dictator’s Cut”, which has twenty more minutes fleshing out characters and scenes. With that in mind, I’ll advise a “Probably Recommended” for that version, because even in its slapdash form it maintains a good pace and has enough laugh-out-loud moments to justify itself. Only a humorless sourpuss should not-see it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Ultimately, ‘Iron Sky’ is neither good enough to rep a proper breakout hit nor bad enough that it might attain cult status; it’s just kind of lame, the worst of all possible worlds.”–Leslie Felperin, Variety (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: HARD TICKET TO HAWAII (1987)

DIRECTED BY: Andy Sidaris

FEATURING: Ronn Moss, Dona Speir, Hope Marie Carlton, Cynthia Brimhall, Harold Diamond

PLOT: Several pairs of breasts, which happen to be connected to DEA agents, have an adventure with diamond smugglers and a toxic snake.

Still from Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987)

WHY TIT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: You got me there: this is without a doubt the most psychedelic episode of Miami Vice ever filmed. But that’s damning with faint praise on this site. We can’t put this movie on the List because it’s too tame to fend for itself and the other movies would eat it alive.

COMMENTS: I draw a distinction between what I deem to be “stupid movies” and “brainless movies.” A stupid movie thinks it’s smart, but it’s actually all drooling duh-hurp dumb. A brainless movie is dumb, knows its dumb, revels in its dumbness, and tries to have as much fun as it can anyway. I can’t hate a brainless movie too much, because at least it’s trying to entertain, in its own way. So here’s Hard Ticket To Hawaii, from the gloriously brainless, but entertaining director Andy Sidaris, making another of his movies destined for a “Girls, Guns and G-Strings” box set. Sidaris, through Cthulhu knows what Faustian bargain, managed to arrange a life for himself where he got to film in Hawaii all the time surrounded by naked Playboy models. With his wife’s help as production assistant, no less. Sidaris even does a cameo in his own movie, where he is seated at a Tiki bar and burrows his beak into the epic cleavage of yet another scantily-clad female while uttering the immortal line: “I’ll have a pair of coffee.” Settle in for a cheesy good time!

Just don’t suffer too much trying to keep track of the plot, because heaven forbid that’s what you should concentrate on. There are these DEA agents named Donna and Taryn, stationed in Hawaii for some undefined purpose, who accidentally intercept diamond smugglers. The smugglers were inept enough to try to transport their precious cargo via remote-control helicopter though, and land it right in front of the agents, so whose fault is that? Before examining the find, the gals opt to hop in the Jacuzzi because “I always do my best thinking there.” Yes, trained law officials always handle evidence while wet and topless. Meanwhile, in the B-plot, a wooden crate loaded with a live, giant, hazardous snake was boarded on their plane. It manages to break out of its box and is now slithering all over the island. This is bad news, because the warehouse owner in charge of snakes gets on the phone to warn them that the snake has been exposed to toxins, so it’s now too dangerous to have around because it’s a giant, hazardous toxic snake.

At least, I think it’s meant to be a snake, and everybody calls it one. You could literally sculpt a more convincing prop out of Play-Doh using only one color, but we have to settle for what we can get here. The snake apparently eats the half of the script that would have made sense, so the movie runs out of plot and settles for running around doing random stuff. The girls are joined by both male and female agents doing vaguely detective-ish, action-ish stuff, in between boffing on the beach like randy alley cats. The smugglers come after the agents, intent on getting their diamonds back and willing to torture them for the gratuitous thrill of it. Confrontations between smugglers and agents take the shape of a skater-punk toting a blow-up sex doll attacking agents who blow him and the doll away with a bazooka—separately, just to be sure the doll is neutralized as well. Or, people getting their throat slit by the blade of a killer Frisbee, much like the kind Oddjob from Goldfinger would have played with on his day off. Just when you think too hard about the plot or the action sequences, tops come off and boobies jiggle. All of our hopes are pinned upon Team Titty to bring the B-list smuggling gang and the toxic snake to justice.

Honestly, what do you expect for 1987? Look, there was a dog running around selling people beer, and everybody loved him. It’s a good thing Hard Nipple Ticket To Hawaii is so busy mashing mushmelons in your face, because otherwise you’d notice that the story, dialogue, and acting are all in the range between Ed Wood and the late-night softcore movies that earned a certain cable channel the nickname “Skinemax.” There’s even Jerry-Warren-type scene-to-scene continuity errors, like a trunk two guys carry out to a jeep and leave in the parking lot, then next scene there’s clearly no trunk in the jeep. However, this movie is quality brainless entertainment for cheese-lovers everywhere. To this movie’s credit, they don’t skimp with stock footage. When they fly a plane around Hawaii, by Jove, you get original footage of a plane and Hawaii. That cocaine money within the budget isn’t going to launder itself, you know. This is a lousy movie to see alone, but becomes exponentially better the more drunk friends you add to the experience. The ruder and cruder the better.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“There’s some bizarre stuff in this film. The guy on the skateboard, his love doll, and a bazooka, for example. (‘He must be smokin some heavy doobies!’ says one of our heroes. Is he referring to the writers?)”–Bill Gordon, The Worst Movies Ever Made

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 Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND (1981)