Posts Tagged ‘frankenstein’

This has been a rough week indeed for comics fans. Already reeling from the too-soon departures of underground legends Jay Lynch and Skip Williamson, just hours ago news broke of the death of Bernie Wrightson, whose lavishly creepy illustrations haunted the imaginations — and found their way into the nightmares — of generations of readers. Arguably (hell, maybe even inarguably) the premier horror artist of our times, the esteemed Mr. Wrightson was a pre-eminent innovator and consummate craftsman whose painstaking attention to even the smallest of details made all the difference in the world and elevated his work from being “merely” great to being both great and memorable. But don’t just take my word for it, feast your eyes on some of his grimly lush renderings and decide for yourself :

As you can clearly see, Wrightson (who for many years omitted the “e” at the end of his first name and signed his work “Berni”) was a master of all mediums, from the brush to gray markers to pen-and-ink to washes to duotone paper to painting — you name it, he tried it, and always with resounding success. He really was just that good.

Wrightson began his professional career in 1966 working as an illustrator for his hometown Baltimore Sun newspaper, but after meeting legendary comics and fantasy artist Frank Frazetta at a convention he felt sufficiently inspired to give comics a try, and in 1968 was hired on by DC, where his work began appearing regularly in the House Of Mystery and House Of Secrets horror anthology series. Similar work for Marvel followed on “of-a-piece” titles such as Chamber Of Darkness and Tower Of Shadows, but his “big break” came in 1971 when he and writer Len Wein created the most famous “muck monster” character of them all, Swamp Thing, for a one-off Victorian-era story in House Of Secrets #92.  The strip proved to be so popular that Swampy was given his own series, complete with a revamped, then-modern origin, and Wrightson illustrated the first ten issues of Swamp Thing before signing on with Warren Publishing in 1974, where he put his then-positively-exploding talents to use on both original stories and adapted works (most notably of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft) for legendary black-and-white mags such as Creepy and Eerie.

The mid-’70s ushered in a new chapter, with Wrightson and studio-mates Jeff Jones, Barry Windsor-Smith, and Michael W. Kaluta expanding their reach beyond comics and into commercial art, but he never left the funnybooks behind completely, and his 1983 graphic novel adaptation of George A. Romero and Stephen King’s Creepshow led to a sustained and productive working relationship with King that saw him produce original illustrations for the books Cycle Of The WerewolfWolves Of Calla, and the restored edition of the classic The Stand. 1983 also saw the publication, via Dodd, Mead, and Company, of a deluxe edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein complete with nearly 50 pen-and-ink illustrations that Wrightson had spent seven years producing and that many consider to be the pinnacle of his masterful use of line and shadow. Here’s just a sample :

In 1985, Wrightson and writer Jim Starlin oversaw Marvel’s Heroes For Hope, an all-star “jam” benefit comic for African famine relief, and in 1986 they did the same for DC with Heroes Against Hunger, beginning a long and fruitful collaborative partnership that saw them team up on the highly-regarded mini-series The Weird and Batman : The Cult for DC and The Punisher : P.O.V. for Marvel in ensuing years. A wide range of card game, film design, and commercial work followed on from there, as well and continued comics work for publishers such as Heavy Metal (the character of Captain Sternn in the Heavy Metal film was a Wrightson creation), Dark Horse, IDW, and Bongo until his retirement this past January due to health issues following brain surgery.

Bernie Wrightson — incomparable talent, winner of too many industry awards to mention, and delineator of gorgeous grotesqueries for  a half-century — lost his long battle with brain cancer on March 18, 2017, aged 68. He is preceded in death by his first wife, undergound comix cartoonist and “Big Two” colorist Michele Wrightson, and is survived by wife Liz, sons John and Jeffrey, and stepson Thomas. He cast a long and darkly beautiful shadow over the lives of comics and horror fans around the globe, and his untimely passing casts the longest one of all. Thank you, good sir — may you rest in peace as surely as your work will continue to cause sleepless nights for years to come.

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In this blighted age we live in, there are sooooo many films that are basically nothing but gimmicks. The Hobbit. The Star Wars prequel trilogy, as well as the upcoming Disney-fied sequels/spin-offs of said franchise. Tron : LegacyTexas Chainsaw 3-D. The list is virtually endless.

The thing is, these flicks all try very hard to convince you, the viewer, that they’re not just quick, gimmick-y cash-ins — hell, they spend millions, even hundreds of millions, trying to dupe you into thinking that they’re something more than that. Something necessary.

Back in 1966, when legendary director William “One Shot” Beaudine made the movie under discussion here today, there were plenty of gimmick-based flicks as well, to be sure, but damn — at least they were upfront about it. It’s right there in the title, after all : Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. And if that ain’t enough for ya, it was paired on drive-in double bills with another Beaudine naked cash-grab, Billy The Kid Vs. Dracula. Both  titles positively scream “we’re here to separate suckers from their money.”

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Maybe it’s just me, but hey — I find that kind of honesty pretty refreshing. It’s almost enough to make a fella nostalgic — and no, I wasn’t around back in ’66, but it’s okay for me to miss those days all the same , isn’t it?

It almost feels like a plot recap for a flick such as this is an exercise in redundancy — after all, the title tells you all you need to know. And of course it’s gonna suck. But so what? Honestly, if this movie was good in any way, shape, or form, I’d feel cheated. Fortunately for us all, it’s every bit as rancid as you can imagine, maybe even moreso.

Here’s the deal — legendary outlaw Jesse James (John Lupton) and his pal Hank Tracy (Cal Bolder), the last of the infamous James Gang, are on the run from an American posse — in Mexico. Hank gets wounded in a shootout, and they seek help from the only doctor in the village, who lives in a haunted castle high atop an ominous mountain (of course). The doctor in question is one Maria Frankenstein, granddaughter of — well, you-know-who. She shoos Jesse off by sending him into town to get medicine , and while he’s away, she performs a brain transplant on poor ol’ Hank that turns him into a hulking, imbecilic monster that she names — wait for it — Igor. Her task for her new brute? Kill her fellow-mad-scientist brother, Dr. Rudolph Frankenstein, who she’s got a beef with.

Can Jesse resuce Hank/Igor from Maria’s clutches and return him to normal before it’s too late? Can an outlaw match wits with an evil scientific genius? Will Jesse and his new-found Mexican gal pal Juanita (Estelita Rodriguez) live happily ever after south of the border? Does any of it really matter ????

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Of course not. That’s the beauty of the thing, you see. Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter isn’t even about what it says it is, since it’s Frankenstein’s granddaughter that Jesse meets up with. Making sense doesn’t matter here, nor do acting, story, production values — any of that high-fallutin’ stuff. The goal here is a simple one : make this thing as quickly and cheaply as you can in order to turn the highest possible profit because you know that there are bound to be some yokels dumb enough to get drawn in by the title. What you throw up on the screen doesn’t matter in the least — only the name you put on the poster. If you want something more than that, shit — this is the wrong movie for you, friend.

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Admittedly, beyond its brazen marketing, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter doesn’t have much to offer. Hell, it doesn’t have anything to offer. Nor does it need to offer anything else — this is the rare movie that has won the battle merely by existing. That’s a concept that, if you really sit down and think about it, is almost mind-blowing in its simplicity. I wouldn’t recommend doing so, though — poor Igor got his mind blown and look how he turned out.

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Don’t expect the “outsider art” charm of, say, an Ed Wood film here. Or the paranoia of Ron Ormond. Or anything that reeks, even accidentally, of auteurism. There are no hidden meanings to be drawn from this, or any interpretation that can be offered to make it sound, or seem, like anything other than what it is. Hell, whether or not you even like this movie is absolutely immaterial — William Beaudine didn’t care if you did, why should you? Thanks for your money, sucker. See ya in a few months with another one. Haw, haw haw!!!!

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Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter has, as you would expect, lapsed into the public domain, and is therefore available in several iterations on DVD, including on an “Elvira’s Movie Macabre” release. I caught it in a version from Elite Entertainment that features a commentary from the one and only Joe Bob Briggs which is, needless to say, far and away the best thing about it. The picture’s been remastered, is presented full-frame, and looks pretty good, and the mono sound is just fine, too. It’s probably — okay, certainly — a better release than this thing could ever deserve or hope for, but what the hell — I’ll take it. The original theatrical trailer’s included, as well.

Honestly, though, if you give a single, solitary damn about the technical specs for a film like this, you’re living in the wrong universe. Just kick back, relax,  and let William Beaudine rip you off. At least he knew how to do it with something strangely akin to — dare I say it — integrity.

"Frankenstein's Castle Of Freaks" Movie Poster

Quick : what do you get when you stick a third-rate American director into an Italian production, stock it with has-been Italian and American “stars,” throw in a couple of busty babes, a lost tribe of cavemen, and Count ( I know, it’s usually doctor or Baron, but consider the source here, folks) Frankenstein himself?

The answer, of course, is 1974’s Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks.  And if this movie sounds like a total mishmash, rest assured — it is. In fact, it’s probably even more of a discombobulated affair than I’ve made it sound so far.

Our story opens with some neanderthal dude getting stoned to death by local villagers in the middle ages (I think) who apparently take kindly to having his kind around.  And it only gets weirder from there. Next we learn that local girls have been turning up dead in the village and their graves have been robbed. Given the flick’s title, any sane audience member would, at this point, assume that Dr. — excuse me, Count — Frankenstein would be involved. And of course you’d be right. The Count’s up to his usual tricks, trying to reanimate the newly-deceased and all that, but rest assured, that’s where any similarity to the Frankenstein story as we know it comes to an end.

First off, the Count is a widow in this one, with a lovely young buxom daughter named Maria (Simonetta Vitelli, acting under the pseudonym “Simone Blondell”) who brings her equally lovely and even more buxom friend Valda (Laura De Benedittis) to Castle Frankenstein for a visit. Being a red-blooded Italian male, the Bar — errr, Count — takes a liking to his daughter’s companion and is soon seducing her by revealing the depths of his scientific depravity to his would-be paramour. Strangely enough, it seems to work! If only I’d thought of trying that angle back when I was single — but I digress.

In any case, other shenanigans are afoot, as well. When the Count (played, incidentally, by Rossano Brazzi) is forced to dismiss his longtime dwarf-servant Hans (Italian midget mainstay Luciano Pigozzi, billed here as “Alan Collins”) for getting frisky with the corpses, the diminutive necrophile swears revenge on the castle and all who live in it and, with nowhere to go, quickly falls in with one of the outcast cavemen living in the woods that he names “Ook” (Salvatore Baccaro, billed here as — I shit you not — “Boris Lugosi”). Meanwhile, we get to learn that Igor (here played by washed-out former muscle-hunk Gordon Mitchell) is one deceptive bastard who likes to slap women around, that the caves in the woods where the neanderthal men live have a natural hot spring that Frankenstein’s daughter and her friend like to play around in named before smearing mud on each other in clumsy faux-lesbian-eroticism fashion, and that the chief inspector looking into the grave robberies, Prefect Ewing (Edmund Purdom, who seasoned Eurotrash veterans will recognize from the likes of Pieces and 2019:After the Fall of New York) is easily snookered by Frankenstein’s wealth, power, prestige, and privilege.

Things start to come to a boil, though, when the mad Count gets his hands on the corpse of a Neanderthal he names “Goliath”  (Loren Ewing) and decides to reanimate the hulking monstrosity. In case you couldn’t guess already, folks, when you combine a stock-footage lightning storm with a zombie cavemen and a midget out for revenge who has another caveman in tow with him, bad things are gonna happen.

Everything you’re looking for in a cheap Italian monster classic knock-off is here, my friends — atrocious dubbing. terrible acting and effects. Gratuitous nudity. Implied lesbianism. Implied rape and necrophilia (all this with a PG rating, mind you!). And best of all — no apparent understanding of its source material whatsoever, even though it was directed by an American hack (Dick Randall) who probably had seen the original dozens of times as a kid! A movie this flat-out fucking weird and ill-conceived could only come from one of two places — Italy or Hollywood. But it’s so much more fun when the Italians do it, don’t you think?

Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks is available on DVD in a couple of different formats — either as a stand-alone release from Something Weird Video with their usual plethora of pretty-much-unrelated extras, or in a version hosted by Elvira that was put out by Shout! Factory as part of its Elvira’s Movie Macabre series. both feature full-frame transfers with a minimal amount of remastering (if any) and a just-barely-adequate mono soundtrack. Needless to say, I highly recommend you track at least one of them down immediately, this is a true B-movie lover’s dream and you’ll be damn glad you saw it.