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My earliest memory of seeing FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER was somewhere back in the early 1970s when I was very young. I was living in Queens, New York and back in those sweet days I used to bounce between TV stations to catch a Saturday night horror film on either Channel 5's "Creature Features" or Channel 11's "Chiller Theatre." Well, "Chiller" won out on that particular evening. It was the heart of summer and my street was having a festive block party. I can still hear the sounds of music and kids laughing and playing, as someone would frequently run inside and ask me why I wasn't outside joining in all the fun. As much fun as I knew the family and neighbors were having outside, I couldn't have cared less; I was riveted to an old-fashioned television set watching FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER and adding this night to my memory banks. I'm sure they've all since forgotten their block party...
It's strange to think that this film was only a dozen or so years old when I first saw it! Since we weren't yet too jaded by gore and splatter, I found some genuinely powerful moments in FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER: There was blood on some of the the victims, we got a glimpse of a dismembered hand, and we were also treated to mangled and meaty body parts. The icing on the cake was a shot of a character's face virtually melting away after being splashed with acid. Pretty potent stuff compared to what I was already accustomed to.
The 1958 feature seemed very relative to me at the time. My Queens block looked very much like the residential streets in the movie, and the basement laboratory could very well have been my own cellar, had I dressed it up with some test tubes and a large table. The added fact that the story was about teenagers (okay, so they looked more like thirty-something's) also gave me a point of identification. A backyard barbecue scene again struck a chord, and was particularly appropriate on this festive evening where a noisy shindig was actually occurring a few feet away, just outside my own screen door.
The movie starts with a pre-credits sequence: Sandra Knight is prowling the neighborhood in cheap (but effective) monster make-up, with bushy eyebrows and decaying buck teeth. One of her girlfriends (the sultry Sally Todd) is just getting home from a date with her boyfriend and screams at the very sight of her. The next morning, Knight awakens as a normal-looking girl with no memory of what went on the previous evening, though when she meets Sally for tennis, her friend insists that she saw some sort of monster last night. This strange revelation triggers memories of bad dreams for Knight, and she soon thinks that she could have been the creature in question.
Meanwhile, Knight's elderly Uncle (played with hilarious ineptitude by the always-funny Felix Locher) is experimenting with a formula to render man ageless. He has acquired a young assistant named Oliver Frank (short for Frankenstein, of course) who is supposedly aiding him, but who would rather see the old man dead so he can gain full use of the laboratory to concentrate on his own masterful experiment. Donald Murphy plays Oliver, and he's one of the most detestable snakes ever to slither down the Frankenstein Family Tree. He's a joy to watch at work, using the "nutty old man's" formula on his own niece by spiking her nightly glasses of fruit punch, thereby turning her into the grotesque monster from the opening sequence!
Later, Oliver connives his way into a date with Sally Todd and tries in vain to make out with her, only to be slapped across the face by the stuck-up vixen... "Hey," Oliver protests from Lover's Lane, "you agreed to park here with me!" Soon he has a better idea: he gets even by mowing her down with his car as she tries to run away! Then, taking her body to the basement lab, Frank decides to use her head on the hulking carcass he's assembling behind the old doc's back. When the automation comes to life, it's actually a male actor (Harry Wilson) who portrays her with a toasty-looking face (reportedly, nobody bothered to tell makeup artist Harry Thomas that the monster was to be female, so he solved the dilemma by smearing some lipstick on its kisser!) Amidst the rampages of Frankenstein's Daughter, we are treated to the aforementioned evening backyard barbecue. Still wondering where their friend Sally Todd vanished to, the other teens ease their pain between hamburgers and frankfurters while enjoying the live music of "Page Cavanaugh and His Trio". The band treats us to two '50s gems: "Daddy Bird" and -- my own guilty favorite -- "Special Date." I have since memorized all the words, and it's a riot!
With lovable horror clichés, gooey monsters, and funny dialog, this is a cult classic of its type from director Richard Cunha. It's a lightly-paced thrill ride from start to finish and one of the best teenage monster movies of them all. It's easily Cunha's masterpiece (if such a word applies here). At its worst, FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER is a harmlessly funny exploitation farce; at its best, it's one of the most underrated monster classics of the 50s. I'd love to give it three or four stars just based on sheer cheesy enjoyment value!
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