When it came to making a follow-up to AIP’s box office hit I Was a Teenage Werewolf, the studio did something rather unusual, and a little gutsy, as they could have simply gone with an easy sequel and rolled out something like Return of the Teenage Werewolf, instead, they took a different monster from the Universal Monsters canon, but then also including returning actor Whit Bissell to make it almost seem like a sequel, despite Bissell’s character having died in the previous film.
In this low-budget take on Mary Shelley’s gothic masterpiece, we have Professor Frankenstein (Whit Bissell) as a guest lecturer from England, who tells his American colleagues of his theories about organ transplants and the re-animating of dead tissue, but then his beliefs are mocked and he decides to secretly assemble a human being from the parts of young cadavers, which how any sane man would react. With the reluctant aid of his assistant Dr. Karlton (Robert Burton) and a well-timed catastrophic automobile wreck outside his house to provide him with the first fresh corpse, he and his mad science are off and running. As with all true mad scientists, this Doctor Frankenstein has a god complex and tosses out such lines as “In this laboratory, there is no death until I declare it so” just so we don’t forget that he is an egomaniacal madman, but things really start lining up for the good doctor when a plane full of athletes crashes and after a little light graverobbing he has all the additional parts he needs, and before you can say “Igor pass me the lightning rod” the monster (Gary Conway) lives.
Note: The make-up for this incarnation of Frankenstein’s monster looks more like someone simply threw lumps of clay at the actor’s head than it does a cobbled-together monster, and it is so far from what legendary make-up artist Jack Pierce did for Boris Karloff that it’s almost laughable.
Now, because the original 1931 Frankenstein had a love interest, AIP clearly felt their film should have one as well, which leads to the introduction of Margaret (Phyllis Coates) as Frankenstein’s secretary and fiancée, a woman who quickly becomes upset due to neglect and soon starts to question the secrecy behind her betrothed’s experiments, even to the point of getting a key made so that she could sneak into the lab and get a good look for herself. Needless to say, this was not a good idea, apparently, she has not only never heard of the story of Bluebeard and the forbidden rooms. She also forgot that she was dealing with a man who had already hauled off and slapped her for simply suggesting that she could “find out” what he is doing if she really wanted to, so when Frankenstein learns that she has met the monster face to face his only course of action is to manipulate the creature into murdering her, and then feeding the corpse to his pet alligator.
• Whit Bissell is supposed to be playing a visiting professor from England, yet he doesn’t even attempt an English accent. I wonder if he tried and the crew begged him to stop.
• Professor Frankenstein’s American colleagues ridicule the very idea of reanimating dead tissue but as the Professor is a direct descendant of the original Baron Frankenstein, who actually created a monster from dead body parts, how could anybody refute his claims when they’ve already been proven valid decades ago?
• Frankenstein tells his associate that to succeed in his experiments he will require body parts from young subjects and then ten seconds later there is a horrible automobile accident right outside his window, with two cars loaded with teenagers. There is convenient timing and then there is the “God of Luck” shoving a horseshoe right up your ass, this film definitely falls in that latter category.
• Frankenstein and Dr. Karlton are able to walk away from a crowded accident scene with a corpse draped over their shoulders and not a single person notices what they are doing, apparently, that lucky horseshoe went in very deep.
• The laboratory of Professor Frankenstein sports a secret pit for his pet alligator, which is used to dispose of damaged or unneeded body parts, but he is simply visiting America on a work visa, so where did he find such a location? Do they place ads for mad scientist laboratories on Craigslist?
• The final sequence is brought to us in a living colour, a gimmick that would be used in War of the Colossal Beast a year later.
As a horror film this entry barely qualifies as such, it does have murder and dismemberment but the script is so ludicrously stupid that it can’t help but feel a bit too campy and insane, which negates much of the story’s horrific elements. On the acting side of things, we have Gary Conway a man with about as much charisma as a piece of driftwood and whose portrayal of the monster is so lacklustre and uninteresting that if it wasn’t for the laughably bad make-up, you’d most likely nod off during any time he’s on-screen. Whit Bissell fares slightly better here because his mad scientist is so over-the-top evil that it’s clear from the outset that he was having a great time with the part, any entertainment garnered from this film will most likely come from his performance. Overall, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein is nothing more than a hastily slapped-together production that hoped to do well with the Drive-In set and that’s about it.
I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957)
Movie Rank - 4/10
Actor Whit Bissell is given a bigger part this time out, in a role that allowed him to really chew the scenery, but any moment pertaining to the monster itself is just awful and at a meagre 74-minutes in length, the film still manages to drag.