September 8, 2007

Frankenstein Gets Knocked-Off

This post is part of the First Annual 2007 Slapstick Blog-a-thon coordinated by Thom Ryan at Film of the Year. Click and see a list of all the participating bloggers.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was a hit everywhere it played. I love the German title and the Jack Davis-style artwork on the above poster.

I saw French-dubbed version, Deux Nigauds (“Two nincompoops!”) contre Frankenstein, in a theater when I was a kid. No, I’m not THAT old. It was in the early 60s, and the film, incredibly, was still making the rounds in second-run houses a full 15 years after its original release.

Bud and Lou exploited the new formula, going on to “Meet” The Killer (aka The Killer, Boris Karloff), The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Mummy. They even worked the monsters, including the newly minted Creature from the Black Lagoon, into their television routines.

Outside the USA and, presumably, beyond the grasp of Universal’s legal department, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein would spawn countless imitations, some of which amounted to unauthorized, unabashed remakes, which is a polite way of saying “plagiarism”.

An Egyptian-made copy, in 1953, stands out as a jaw-dropping, scene for scene clone of the original. The film, called Haram alek — which somewhat appropriately translates as “Shame On You!” — is also known as Ismail Yassin Meets Frankenstein.

Mexican movie comics stepped in with a slew of knockoffs, some of them quite accomplished. El Castillo de los monstruos (Castle of Monsters) in 1958, had Clavillazo dealing with a very human-like Frankenstein (the neck bolts gave him away) plus a mummy, a gorilla, an alligator pit, and the lagoon’s Gill-Man. Best of all, the great German Robles cameos as El Vampiro. Here’s a fun YouTube clip from the film where most of the monstruos appear.

The prolific, rubber-faced superstar comic Tin Tan made several excursions into the ghost and monsters genre, notably El Fantasma de la operetta and La casa del terror, both in 1960. La casa drew Lon Chaney, Jr. south of the border to play opposite the pachuco-style comic as a mummy who, once revived, turns into a werewolf. Nice combo, there! The film was notoriously recycled in the States as a straight horror film. Chaney’s footage was edited in with new, cheaply shot scenes and the whole incomprehensible mess was released as Face of the Screaming Werewolf in 1964.

Other Mexican-made variations included Pepito y el monstruos (1957), A Locura del terror (1969), Chabelo y Pepito contra los monstruos (1973), and Capulina vs los monstruos (1964). Most of these are available today on DVD if you care to Google around.

Of all the Mexican facsimiles, the one most faithful to Abbott and Costello’s original concept was Frankestein: El vampiro y compania (Frankestein (sic), the Vampire and Company), made in 1961 as a vehicle for Tin Tan’s brother, Manuel “Loco” Valdez. Here’s a write-up on that one.

Few movies have exercised as deep and wide an influence as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein has. Even fewer were ever copied in such detail. Homage or rip-off, you decide.

In the end, the original is still the best.

Update: Screencaps from the Egyptian-made Haram alek posted here.

Frankenstein Gets Knocked Off
El Castillo de los Monstruos


Anonymous said...

Fun piece on the international reaction to the success of A&C's comedy, Pierre. Homage or rip-off (I tend to lean toward the former especially since slapstick gags are so often recycled on the screen), what I love about these films is the way they subvert conventions of horror films—long shadows, chiaroscuro lighting, foreboding music, creepy sound effects, exaggerated reactions—for comedy. Thanks also for the clip from El Castillo de los monstrous. Great job.

Joe Thompson said...

Pierre: Thanks for the overview of movies inspired by "A&C Meet Frankenstein". More movies to look for.

Joe Thompson ;0)

Anonymous said...

The original Abbott & Costello movie is so retarded crap, imagine the copycats!

Peppo the Clown said...

Just an interestign coincidence: German "Tin Tan" Valdez and Manuel "Loco" Valdez were brothers. A third brother, Ramon, was a comedy actor too, performing in many movies and t.v. shows. Manuel is still alive but retired.

Anonymous said...

And don't forget the part where the guy had a 3 inch thick skid in his undies!