A couple of months ago, because it was unusually weird and inexplicable, I was wistfully recalling here a movie from my childhood called Frankenstein 1970, starring Boris Karloff. iDRMRSR got curious and bought a VHS copy of it, which he loaned me. We/I saw it last week and it shook me prodoundly!
Not because the movie is good, although it's actually not all that terribly bad. It's ENERGETICALLY bad. The script is suitably stupid but not painfully so, and Karloff is given several multi-paragraph HATE RANTS which he delivers with every ounce of hamminess in him – which is good. In this on he plays the last living descendant of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, who still lives in the ancestral castle (and is still secretly working on the ancestral monster). A typical sleazy Hollywood film crew is renting the castle in order to shoot a spooky TV documentary there.
I hardly have to describe the resulting mayhem.
Well, maybe I should describe it. It's very dumb mayhem. As often happens in movies like these, for some reason a whole team of healthy young people is at the mercy of one arthritic old man and an unfinished monster who is not only slower and weaker than The Mummy but is BLIND to boot! AND THE MONSTER IS FUNNY-LOOKING! He's like The Mummy, wrapped completely in bandages – WITH A BUCKET ON HIS HEAD. Yes, the monster is a guy wearing a bucket on his head but all wrapped in bandages so you can't tell FOR SURE that it's a bucket.
The film opens with the one atmospheric and scary scene – a cute blonde being chased through foggy woods by a shambling spazzed-up "mystery monster" whose face remains unseen. More of a werewolfy scene than a Frankenstein scene. Just as the monster is about to drown the cute girl, someone yells "CUT!" and, surprise surprise surprise, it's just a movie crew filming a monster movie!
Well sir-maam, when I put that VHS tape in the machine and that opening scene started playing on my TV, I WAS SUDDENLY TRANSPORTED BACK IN TIME TO ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. I could "see" and even "smell" every kid in my 4th grade class, especially the girls. The scent of chalkboards and child-farts assailed me, mentally. You know how a whiff of industrial hamburgers cooking somewhere can instantly transport you to childhood and cafeteria burgers? It was like that but more intense. I recalled not just the cafeteria and the burgers but the Frito Pies and Salisbury Steaks too. The smell of used textbooks and school libraries. The ditto-printed picture of Puritans and Indians at Thanksgiving that I colored in. The exact whiff and heft of the box of 64 Crayola crayons.
You see, Frankenstein 1970 was not made in 1970 but in 1958. I saw it probably in 1962 or '63 at The Haltom Theater in Fort Worth. (It is probably that Philo and Sphinx Drummond, and Dok Frop, were are in that theater that day too, though I didn't know them then!) I had marveled at that cool opening sequence at age 9 or 10, sitting there with that box of over-buttered Haltom Theater popcorn and some Milk Duds. I vividly recall thinking the opening sequence boded well and then later being disappointed as the monster turned out to be a lame Buckethead whose actual monster-face was only revealed at the very end – to be the face of a YOUNGER BORIS KARLOFF! (As Old Dr. Frankenstein in this picture, Karloff wore fairly good Old Scarred Man make-up and limped a lot, so seeing his face at a mere 58 years of age when the bucket was removed was a surprise.)
Not every old movie or image or song or scent brings this rush of memories. If I've seen a given movie or whatnot in the INTERIM, the effect can't be repeated a second time. Luckily there are still hundreds of old movies, stills, comics etc. from my youth that I still haven't seen SINCE.
When I sorted through my Vast Archives (hidden inside my Much Vaunted Berms) in 2006 for that SubG history course, it was an orgy of returned memories because I was unearthing things I hadn't seen since 5th grade such as COMICS I HAD DRAWN and old misplaced issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland, or Turok, Son of Stone comics. I am so glad I did that, elsewise half my childhood memories might have continued to lay dormant until I die.
I think it's a good thing to revel in nostalgia now and then. It refreshes the memories, good and bad, and helps put things in perspective.
I don't have the slightest trouble understanding why I'm weird. The MAIN reason is simply that WEIRD STUFF is SO FUCKING COOL. Also my parents were pretty understanding and smart, and allowed me to indulge in that monster stuff. It's not like it was expensive. And they were Secular Humanists so I never head to worry about Jesus or devils coming after me.
Next unseen old movie to ferret out: World Without End. Also The Lost World (1960s, Irwin Allen movie.) I haven't seen those since my distant youth. And Brain Boy comics. I'm in no hurry. The Internet will provide.
P.S. Like most movies of this nature, even though Frankenstein 1970 takes place in 1970, it still looks exactly like 1958.
That reminds me of The Future Haircut Rule. No matter how far in the future (or past) the movie is set, no matter the setting, whether The Road Warrior or Logan's Run, the haircuts are somehow going to be the kind that didn't look too ridiculous when the movie was made. This backfires later, of course. The far-future dipshits of Logan's Run all look like 1970s sportscasters, hairdo-wise. The apes in 1969 Planet of the Apes are coiffed like Rich Hippies. Worst of all perhaps are the manimals in the Burt Lancaster '70s version of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Shame on Don Post Studios for that.
– Review by Rev. Ivan Stang