By BOB MADISON
Bugs Bunny once said, "Monsters lead such interesting lives."
That they do. For when they are not drinking blood, transplanting
brains, rising from the dead or gibbering outside your window
(Shush! What was that?), they seem to be doing what comes
naturally: getting hitched and having a crop of kids. Of
course, a monster's lot is never an easy one. Children are
often assembled out of dead bodies, brides have literal
hissy fits, or, as in Dracula's case, you turn out to be
your own son (?).
These goings-on have been standard issue in monster movies
for over 65 years. Sometimes, a monster's extended family
can lead to a genuine masterpiece, such as Bride of Frankenstein
(1935). Unfortunately, the results are usually a Thanksgiving
turkey demanding to be sliced by even the most undemanding
viewers (catch 1990's Bride of Re-Animator). Following
is a limited monster family tree. The listing is alphabetical
and, as you can see, some of the leaves of this particular
tree are badly withered. Oh, one or two relative classics
pepper the list, but there are some genuinely bad movies
here, the kind of guilty pleasures best savored alone on
an empty Saturday night. (Preferably with a bottle of wine
and the windows shut.)
Bride of the Monster (1955)
Bela Lugosi had his last speaking part in this, the one
film by schlock-master Edward D. Wood, Jr. that is actually
watchable. Yes, the sets are cardboard. Yes, Tor Johnson
is an embarrassment. And yes, the script (script?) is abominable.
I agree, you're right, I give up, truce. However, I like
this picture. It's really no worse than some of the stuff
that Lugosi was turning out for Monogram in the 1940s. Despite
zero production values and a motorized octopus that didn't
work, Lugosi is terrific. Though frail, ill and a shadow
of his former self, Lugosi still retained that spark of
magic that made his early Universal films classics of horror
cinema. As for the "Bride" of the title, you got
me. Lugosi plans to make a race of atomic superpeople, so
he dresses our heroine in a bridal gown before her intended
evolution upward. Which begs the question -- why not find
a willing subject for superpersonism? It seems a miscalculation
to give atomic powers to a person who you have royally pissed
Brides of Fu Manchu (1966)
Somewhere, some rocket scientist got the idea of casting
Christopher (Block Of Wood) Lee as Sax Rohmer's Chinese
master villain. (Six-foot-six Lee as an Asian? They're kidding,
right?) Few things are better calculated to ruin a genre
film that the presence of Christopher Lee, and horrordom's
elder statesman of non-acting performs to his usual non-standards.
Here, Manchu plans on conquering the world with a ray gun.
Stick with Karloff's Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), a
picture with real style and wit. It's not recorded if Lee
thought he was a better Fu than Karloff (remember folks,
the old guy thinks he did better than Karloff and Lugosi
as the Monster and Dracula, respectively), but I wouldn't
be surprised. Don Sharp directed, but he was unable to alter
Lee's impassive pan. He shouldn't have bothered.
Dracula's Daughter (1936)
Universal's follow-up to its classic Dracula (1931)
is never the film that it could've been, but it is interesting
nonetheless. Gloria Holden is glacial and aloof as the Count's
daughter, in London to make sure Dad is dead and to break
free of the curse of vampirism. Otto Kruger is an offbeat
choice for the hero, and dear old Edward Van Sloan, freed
from Tod Browning's ponderous direction, is able to breathe
energy into his line readings. All that is missing is Lugosi.
Lambert Hillyer's film has snippets of lesbianism and an
overall brooding tone, both of which suit this unusual entry
well. Novelist Anne Rice was influenced by it, but we can't
hold that against the film.
Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1972)
Hammer never did get the Jekyll and Hyde formula right,
despite several tries. This is no different. Ralph Bates'
Dr. Jekyll turns into the murderous Ms. Hyde after drinking
that infamous potion. Sans male genitalia, he/she becomes
the Whitechapel killer, Jane the Ripper. (I know, I know.)
Director Roy Ward Baker may have intuitively been onto something
-- 1972 was a time when the Women's Movement was building
considerable momentum. However, a subtext is never enough
to drive a movie, and Hammer mishandles the whole thing
with lurid violence and tacky color.
Frankenstein's Daughter (1959)
"Don't you see, my name's not Oliver Frank. It's Oliver
Frankenstein!" Ah, that explains everything. Frankenstein's
descendant Donald Murphy (so, shouldn't this be called Grandson
of Frankenstein?) builds a female monster in his basement.
Kids! You can do the same! Just send three box tops -- oh,
sorry. Said female monster looks like a Serbian wrestler
(of either sex) and meets a fiery death. If Frankenstein
is the doctor, and not the monster, then ... forget it.
Richard Cunha directed.
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter
The title of this film always gladdens my heart. Jesse James
matches wits with the Baron's granddaughter, who has inherited
the old man's talent for unconventional surgery. With a
few turns of the scalpel, she turns Jesse's old pard and
fellow buckaroo into a lumbering monster named ... Igor.
Why not? William Beaudine's film is unforgettable. The sets,
the costumes, the dialogue -- all are on the level of a
high school theater company fascinated by cowboys and monsters,
but not that good.
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Yeah, yeah, Bride of Frankenstein is the cream of
the crop, perhaps the greatest American horror film and
all of that. But I can't help but like the second sequel
more than its illustrious predecessor. Basil Rathbone is
the son of Colin Clive's Henry Frankenstein, who returns
to the ancestral pile and his inheritance. What he gets
is Lionel Atwill in a wonderfully kinky performance as a
one-armed police inspector and Bela Lugosi in the role of
his career as broken-necked lab assistant, Ygor. (No relation
to the Igor of Jesse James. At least, I don't think
so.) This movie has everything going for it: a dynamic,
crackling performance by Rathbone in the title role (1939
also saw his first Sherlock Holmes movie), fantastic, expressionist
sets, a screenplay that holds together and, of course, Lugosi
as the best friend the Monster ever had. Though Karloff
is fine as the Monster, Lugosi steals all of their scenes
together and walks away with kudos for the finest supporting
performance in the series. The film has a slick, sleek look,
and the overall chemistry of its component parts is dynamite.
Lost on a desert isle with a VCR and only one Frankenstein
film, this might be your best bet. Even the title makes
Son of Godzilla (1967)
Have you ever noticed how much the titular hero of this
modest little Japanese puppet monster flick looks like Peter
Lorre? I mean, the eyes, the mouth, even the overall physique.
Makes you wonder. For those of you who like Japanese monster
movies (and you know who you are), this flick is for you.
Godzilla, giant crabs (or is it lobsters?), lots of screaming,
and a touching finale of father and son embracing in the
snow. I recently saw some of the Godzilla flicks I so liked
as a youth once again in the cold light of adulthood. They
just don't work for me any more. But if you have not lost
your sense of wonder when it comes to guys in rubber monster
suits decimating matchbox houses, go for it ... and God
The Son of Kong (1933)
Made the same year on a shoestring to capitalize on the
phenomenal success of King Kong, Son takes
Robert Armstrong back to good old Skull Island. This nifty
little flick has taken a lot of flack for not being as good
as its classic inspiration, but that's not entirely fair.
Son of Kong is more in line with the exotic jungle
adventures that Hollywood made by the barrel in the 1930s,
which ultimately fell victim to World War II and a shrinking
world. Also, if you know anything about the swashbuckling
lives of filmmakers Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack,
you can't help but feel that the movie's South Seas ambiance
has a ring of authenticity. Kong's son dies nobly, if less
spectacularly than his dad, and the film's ending can still
make many a hardened movie buff misty-eyed. Again, not on
the same level as Kong, but how many movies are?
Wicked Stepmother (1989)
Pity Bette Davis. To make Jezebel, The Petrified Forest,
The Little Foxes, and then end her career making this
Larry Cohen atrocity. Davis left the film after one week
of shooting, either from disgust (her story) or for dental
reasons (Cohen's version). I could give you the plot summary,
but let's just say that once Davis marries Lionel Stander
(hence, the title), she vanishes from the story line as
quickly as she did the real production and is replaced by
a chain-smoking black cat. One amusing story: When Davis
was honored at Lincoln Center with a lifetime achievement
award, ticket holders to that event were invited to a free
screening of this film. (Probably a deal that was beyond
the aged diva's control.) A small audience showed up the
next day and, when the film was over, sat there in wordless
stupefaction. I rose from a center seat and said: "I don't
know what Larry Cohen got for this picture, but he should've
gotten life." Alas, I was overheard -- poor Larry's daughter
was in the crowd, and she was later on the pay phone, telling
her dad that this crowd just "didn't understand the picture."
Young Ms. Cohen, the only thing incomprehensible in this
film is how it ever got made!
Bob Madison is the editor of Dracula: The First Hundred
Years (1997, Midnight Marquee Press) and American
Horror Writers (1999, Enslow). Both are available through
He is currently writing a book about Buffalo Bill Cody.