December 19, 2008

Frankenstein's Daughter

"Tonight, you'll live again, you vixen!"

— Oliver Frank(enstein)

Frankenstein’s Daughter turned 50 on December 15, 2008.

Working with a meager $65,000 budget, a breakneck six-day shooting schedule and a crackpot script, director Richard Cunha delivered a businesslike, unapologetic grade-z programmer that is perfectly entertaining. It was the last of four ultra-low budget monster movies punched out by Cunha in 1958, which have since earned him cult director status. He made two more pictures and moved on to television as a director of photography.

The mad scientist in this effort — played as an unrepentant sleazeball by TV actor Donald Murphy — is Oliver Frank, a third-generation Frankenstein, operating out of a Los Angeles bungalow. Early on, he spikes fruit punch with a special formula that turns heroine Trudy (Sandra Knight) into a freaky monster that runs around scaring the neighbors. The Jekyll and Hyde juice makes her grow bushy eyebrows, bad teeth, and makeup man Harry Thomas’ trademark ping-pong eyeballs (also used to goofy effect in Killers from Space). The rest of the time, Knight looks confused by the weird goings on, at least when she isn't required to scream and faint, which she does a lot.

Meanwhile, Oliver, with the help of his exceedingly seedy assistant Elsu (Wolfe Barzell), is putting together a female creature, the title character, honoring the family tradition. The Monster, dressed in a bulky rubber suit, has a bandaged head and brutish features, with a gruesome scar running right down the middle of its face.

Apparently, no one told the makeup man (either Paul Stanhope or Harry Thomas, accounts vary) that The Monster was female and meant to look somewhat like blonde bombshell Suzie (Sally Todd), murdered by Oliver after refusing his advances and getting her head stapled onto The Monster’s body. There was no time or money to fix the mistake, so they slapped lipstick on The Monster and, according to director Cunha, “we pushed the guy on the set and started shooting.”

Actor Harry Wilson plays the stiff-limbed, robotic Lady Monster who goes on a brief neighborhood rampage before returning home and politely knocking on the door to be let in. She’s later used by Oliver to dispatch enemies, responding to the ever-compelling command to “Kill… KILL!”.
Wilson, afflicted like Rondo Hatton with acromegaly, had an astounding list of credits, nearly 250 films running from the silent era to the mid-sixties, playing character parts like “inmate”, “bar fly”, “thug” and “pirate with an eyepatch”. He was also Wallace Beery’s stunt double for 25 years.

The film pauses halfway through for a poolside barbecue party, complete with rock and roll band, and the events wrap up quickly after Trudy’s ducktail-coiffed boyfriend and the slowpoke cops finally stumble over to the laboratory. Oliver Frank(enstein) gets a facefull of acid and the highly flammable Monster goes up in a whoosh — Harry Wilson doing a harrowing fire stunt — after bumping into a Bunsen burner.

Frankenstein’s Daughter, classic drive-in and fleapit fare, was quickly turned over to TV for late-night showings, where a generation of kids was treated to its bizarre monster and its cheap shocks.

Frankenstein’s Daughter is a very rough gem and it makes for a fine guilty pleasure.

You can download or watch Frankenstein’s Daughter online at Internet Archive.

Tom Weaver interviews director Richard Cunha on The Astounding B Monster.

A fine, in-depth review of the film on Monsters From The Vault.


Bill Dan Courtney said...

I drop by your site frequently but have never told you how great it is. I just did a write up on Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein and it got me thinking about how much I have have liked the concept and how many different themes it has spawned.

I am downloading this one now and hope it comes in before bedtime.

Good work...


Bill Dan Courtney said...

PS... this may give you my Blogger ID, but I am Bill from The Uranium Cafe at

it is my main site but I have a couple side ventures as well.

Again, good stuff and well researched material.

Anonymous said...

Silent star Harold Lloyd's son Harold Lloyd Jr. was in in this film. I don't think it did much for his career.

The Vicar of VHS said...

Amazingly, this is one 60s Z-horror flick I haven't got round to viewing! Need to fix that right away--it looks like a hoot!

I actually kind of like the idea of the female monster just being a big brute with lipstick on, for sheer craziness. However, if all directors followed Cunha's path here, we'd never have had Frankenhooker. So I guess it's best it didn't catch on.