It’s the fiftieth anniversary of Frankenstein 1970, first released on this date, July 20, in 1958.
Setting the film (or, at least, it’s title) a dozen years into the future allowed advertisers to proclaim “The Demon of the Atomic Era! Terror of Years to Come! Fearsome Spawn of the Cyclotron!” and admonish, “Why Fear the Horror of the Future? You Can Only Die Once!” Plotwise, there’s no real reason for the then futuristic allusion except, perhaps, to suggest that private nuclear reactors would be available within the decade. The big selling point, however, was the movie’s famous star. Producer Aubrey Schenck (who also gets a writing credit), with friend and frequent collaborator Howard W. Koch directing, certainly scored a coup by reuniting Boris Karloff (“The King of Monsters!”) with the Frankenstein name.
The film also boasts a terrific, atmospheric opening sequence as a foot-dragging and gnarly-clawed Monster stalks a screaming woman through the night. Just as the scene reaches its climax, someone yells, “Cut!”, and we find ourselves watching a film crew making a monster movie. It’s a great hook but, unfortunately, the rest of the movie fails to keep pace with the pulse-pounding intro.
Karloff, sporting a forbidding buzz cut and Nazi torture scars, always the trooper, delivers his lines with portentous aplomb, but there’s little else to celebrate here. The towering Mike Lane plays Frankenstein’s atomic monster — handed down through generations of Frankensteins — wrapped in puffy bandages, looking like a cross between the Michelin Man and the boiler robot of the classic Republic serials. The posters for the film wisely, if deceptively, featured the scarier opening sequence Monster. Lane would return to the part in 1976, playing a cartoonish version of the classic flathead Frankenstein in a short-lived TV series called The Monster Squad (no relation to the film of the same name).
In the end, when The Monster is defeated, the bandages are peeled back to reveal… Karloff’s face.
The concept of the creator and his monster as doppelgangers has been explored a number of times. The very first filmed Frankenstein, in 1910, had the Monster’s mirror reflection dissolve into that of his creator. In the same year as Frankenstein 1970 was released, Hammer Films’ The Revenge of Frankenstein had Peter Cushing’s doctor set upon by the patients he farmed for body parts only to reappear, in the final scene, fixed and stitched up anew.
Frankenstein, we find, often becomes his own Monster.
Frankenstein 1970 plods, but the trailer is fairly entertaining. You’ll see the opening sequence’s “movie” Monster, the bandaged “real” Monster appearing, Thing-like behind a door, Karloff doing his earnest best to inject some class into the proceedings, and a Fritz-like dropped jar episode substituting eyeballs for brains.
That’s the problem with this Frankenstein. No brains in sight.
With thanks to Don Glut for the Karloff-as-Monster picture.