1) OPENING - DAY
We see CLOSE UP a large male hand, flexing. Then both hands, the other one gloved with a white glove, appear. The white glove is drawn over the bare hand.
The loud shrill SOUND of a police whistle.
Now we see the hands on the handlebar of a motorcycle. The hands give a twist. The engine catches and explodes with a loud SOUND.
Pulling back to a different angle we now see two POLICEMEN, in crash helmets, sitting on motorcycles directly ahead of a black, official limousine which is parked at the curb.
Suddenly, without a sign or signal, both cops take off wide open TOWARD the CAMERA and, behind them, the limousine pulls out to follow. We hear the LOUD SOUND of sirens screaming.
2) MONTAGE COPS’ POV
Here a quick series of shots, even as if from a bouncing fast-moving motorcycle, establishing by palm trees, motel signs etc. the general setting of the Florida “gold coast.” The SOUND of sirens and motorcycles is very loud.
3) MONTAGE LIMOUSINE’S POV
Abruptly the SOUND cuts off and the sense of bouncing speed stops. Now the street flows by smoothly. We are inside the limousine.
4) INT. LIMOUSINE
Reversing, we see the back seat. Three people are sitting there: ADAM STEEL, an intense young civilian scientist; KAREN BLIXEN, a young assistant to Adam, dressed in lab. clothes or smock, her hair worn in a simple, functional manner, and wearing only minimal makeup; Adam and Karen sit on either side; in the middle sits a young AIR FORCE COLONEL in full uniform. He sits rigid, expressionless, looking straight ahead. CLOSER on the COLONEL, we see that his eyes are unblinking and his face blank of any emotion.
5) EXT. GATE DAY
A section of wire fence. Obviously the entrance to a military base. A sign on the fence reads CAPE KENNEDY SPACE CENTER. An M.P. stands at the gate. Suddenly the SOUND of the sirens is heard again, coming towards us. The M.P. pops to attention and salutes as the motorcycles and the limousine zoom past.
6) MONTAGE CAPE KENNEDY
A quick series of shots establishing the missile site. Rows of gantries etc. SOUND of sirens continues.
“We live in a trash time, we produce trash and we become trash.”
—H. A. Schult, quoted in Smithsonian, October 2003, pp. 28–29
“It opened in 1965 at an international science fiction film festival in Trieste. It bombed out there and it has been bombing out in theaters and on late-night television ever since. It just goes bombing on and on like nobody can stop the damn thing.”
—R. H. W. Dillard, 24 September 1985
From the Original Treatment for Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster:
(1) I have a suggestion for a different opening, one which will create more suspense and solve certain problems and yet not basically change anything. Suppose, in the form of a “teaser,” we began with the “Martians.” Suppose for example we began first with shots of an empty and ruined metropolis. It could be anywhere apparently, even on earth. Something monstrous has happened there. No sign of life. Around it we see shots of pure desert waste. Then we cut into an underground chamber. Here we introduce the Martians. They have been devastated by an atomic war. The women are all sterile. They are a dying race unless they can get new breeding stock. They plan a desperate venture to secure breeding stock. Where are they going? Earth. Where else?
(2) About these “Martians.” They are only slightly advanced beyond earth and not possessed of any superhuman powers. Thus their condition and their way of life may serve as an example of what could happen to earth. We posit the condition that the state they are in is the result of a long, bitter atomic war. That the surviving group or society is totalitarian, controlled. That “selective breeding” has been their method. How, then, are they terrifying? To begin, the “brains” of the outfit, DOCTOR NADIR, should be all practically brain. A dwarf or midget. MULL should be human-like, but somehow horribly grotesque in every detail, with monstrous strength, and virtually without a brain. He is the result of the atomic war - a mutation. They want to breed him too, to make more like him. The rest, a handful of Martian officers, uniformed etc., seem more or less human except for the following things. They are very pale and poker-faced. Completely unsmiling, completely, it seems, without emotion. Obedient, servile, almost like robot men. Yet they are alive. They are practically identical. Thus we are positing a society of extreme specialization where living creatures, who look much like humans, have become more like the ants or bees. Rigid. Perfectly stoical. Without ambition or desire. A society as rigid and without regard for human life as, say, certain asiatic societies. Now, I ask you, what is a characteristic of certain very rigid, highly organized societies which exist here and now? One is extreme cruelty. Sadism. They get their kicks in the most brutal, violent ways. One point we are making in the picture is that even to be a Frankenstein is better than to be a Martian type. So we shock and horrify right at the outset with them. One other thing. PRINCESS MARCUZAN. This is a matriarchal society. Just as you have the queen bee and the queen ant. This too makes a point. I mean, let’s face it. It’s the end of civilization. If the women take over. Marcuzan should be cool, elegant, coldly beautiful (in a kind of dikey way) and probably the cruelest one of the whole bunch.
“How did the upstanding Garrett—now Virginia’s Poet Laureate—get swept into this sinkhole of cinematic depravity?”
—Justin Humphreys, “How George Garrett Met His Space Monster”
There were three of us—myself and two UVa graduate students in English: R. H. W. Dillard and John Von B. Rodenbeck. I need to add, though, that the poet Henry Taylor dropped in a couple of times while the scriptwriting was actually in progress and may or may not have added a word or two, a line of dialogue, or even an idea for a scene. He probably did. Who knows? Nobody can remember now. Not even Henry.
Two versions of the script were written and typed at the kitchen table in my rented house at 1309 Rugby Road in Charlottesville. We devoted the better part of two whole weekends to getting the job done and done right.
The first version was intended to be funny. At least we thought so. So did the producers, but that didn’t make them happy. They usually communicated with us by tape recorder only, little reel-to-reel tapes of the era. “Please understand,” one of them said while the other mumbled gutteral agreement. “This is a fine script, guys, very funny. Me and my partner laughed our asses off. Ha-ha-ha! Only—see?—we are in the horror film business. You got your horror and you got your humor and you are not supposed to mix them up. Okay? Stick to the horror.”
They had a point there. They had a nice quiet little business making horror movies for the summer drive-in trade. Every year they put together a “package,” a double feature of horror movies, and then sold them off to a gullible distributor. Now you probably won’t believe this. Nobody else does. But they brought in those movies for roughly $25 thousand each, incredibly, no, impossibly cheap. I once took a producer, who was famous for being able to estimate the real cost of a film with an amazing exactitude, to see one of their pictures. He guessed it cost about $400 thousand. Still desperately cheap, but at least thinkable for a really low-budget feature film at that time. Well, by one means and another, not all of them innocent or admirable, these two guys produced two $25 thousand pictures a year and then sold the package for maybe a grand total of $100 thousand. With luck they were then knocking down a net of $25 thou apiece and meanwhile were always maybe a step and a half away from total bankruptcy and dusty oblivion.
You had to love those crazy guys for their chutzpah if nothing else, even if and when they cheated you and everybody else.
I know, lots of people, especially people (if any) who read literary magazines and quarterlies, hate to talk seriously about money. It’s so gauche, so crass, so middle-class, don’t you know? We three were guilty, too. We got paid maybe a grand total of fifty bucks apiece plus a bottle of good bourbon, which we drank while composing the first (funny) version of FMSM.
I need to interrupt the narrative flow—a very bad thing to do, as your composition and creative writing teachers will tell you—to tell you something about our producers. Call them Phil and Manny. After everything was over and done with, I asked them if we could actually meet in person sometime, somewhere, somehow. They were reluctant but finally agreed and gave me some instructions as to how to find them. First I must go to a certain movie theater on shabby 42nd Street. Buy myself a ticket. When handing the ticket to the usher, I was to ask where I might find Joe, the janitor. With the advice and counsel of the usher I would then (as I in fact did) locate Joe and tell him that Phil and Manny had sent for me. Joe would then give me the directions. He did that. Pointed at a rickety iron ladder that I then climbed up to a kind of catwalk high above the lobby and the theater. Up there, opening off the catwalk, were offices with a row of frosted glass doors (like in a ’40s noir picture) with the names of phony companies painted on them. As I recall Phil and Manny’s door was labeled something like “New York City Concrete Co.” So? On the door of my very own attic study I have a sign that I swiped out of a trash can at Goldwyn Studios when I worked there. It says: “Master Artists Corp,” with an arrow pointing straight down.
We had a jolly little visit with the guys and that was that. Except … . Except that not long after my visit, yet another visitor, I think he was from Universal Pictures, but am not completely sure, came to see them just as I had done. Buy ticket, ask usher, seek and find Joe, the janitor, follow his instructions, and climb the scary ladder up to “New York City Concrete Co.” The whole nine yards (as they say). He came to them with an interesting proposition. His company—let’s continue to call it Universal if only for the sake of consistency—was the giant, the Goliath, the Godzilla of the horror-films-for-drive-ins industry. They spent big bucks and they made big profits. But sometimes, as is the constant risk in the movie business at all levels, things could go wrong. This time things went terribly wrong for them. For a variety of reasons, neither one of their big summer pictures was going to be ready in time for the season. They found themselves with no product. Of course, by grapevine and all, ole Phil and Manny already knew all about that and knew that the Visitor knew what they knew. So after the skimpiest of perfunctory amenities, he cut to the chase.
“Okay, you guys, you know the whole story. We ain’t got any product and you do. We are prepared to make you a serious offer for your product. But you must understand that we have our pride, and we would rather take a bath on our two films than pay you one penny more than you deserve. Got it?”
They nodded simultaneously like a couple of synchronized windup dolls.
“So, then, I am hereby authorized to offer you a deal with an absolute cap on it. If you think we will pay you one thin dime above and beyond the one million dollars that I am now offering you, then you are crazy.”
“We are not crazy!” they cried out in unison. “We are dedicated filmmakers and happy to be able to be of service to you, Sir.”
That’s what you could call a happy ending. And it would be one, too; except that it wasn’t to be. The Visitor hadn’t climbed (slowly, carefully) back down the rusty ladder before one of these two, Phil or Manny, no matter which one, said to the other one something more or less like this: “All of my life I have dreamed of being a true filmmaker, an American Fellini, a real artiste, a freaking auteur. And you, you ignorant duck, you have held me back with all your cockamamie, half-assed horror movies. As soon as we split up the loot, I will be long gone.”
“Good. I can hardly wait. Go and try to be Fellini. You’ll be back here in no time knocking at my door and begging. But I will slam the door in your ugly face because you called me an ‘ignorant duck.’”
“I could have called you a lot worse things. Ducks are all right.”
As it happens the two movies that the Visitor bought turned out to be genuine cult classics—The Curse of the Living Corpse and the amazing and beautifully photographed The Horror at Party Beach.
They belong in the canon, if there is one.
Is there one?
From the First Draft of the Screenplay of Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster: Press Conference Sequence and Credits
18) MED. SHOT REPORTERS
They stand facing the CAMERA, pencils and cameras poised waiting for something. They are unsmiling and vaguely threatening.
VOICE (VOICE OVER)
Here he is!
Instantly the flash cameras come up and begin a barrage of blinding flashes.
19) EXT. SIDEWALK DAY
The Air Force Colonel has stepped out of the car and drawn himself up facing the group. Adam Steel is sliding out of the back seat to follow him. Flashing of cameras continues.
20) CLOSE SHOT COLONEL
He stands looking straight ahead apparently puzzled, a little like a sleepwalker.
21) MED. SHOT TO INCLUDE ADAM AND COLONEL
Adam steps close to him.
It’s the Press, Colonel … .
22) CLOSE SHOT COLONEL
Suddenly he smiles a bright smile, appears perfectly normal.
Well, we mustn’t keep the Press waiting.
23) MED. SHOT TO INCLUDE WHOLE GROUP
The Colonel strides off boldly toward the building like a conquering hero. The Press crowds close around him going with him. The SOUND of excited chatter and some scattered applause is heard.
24) MED. SHOT ADAM
He watches them go, frowning. Karen steps toward him.
Is he all right, Doctor Steel?
(snapping at her)
Of course he’s all right! He’s perfect!
He walks quickly toward the building.
25) CLOSE SHOT KAREN
Left standing, Karen watches him go, pained and concerned.
26) INT. LAB DAY
A full view of a large scientific space laboratory, modern and spare yet with elaborate scientific equipment in evidence. Adam Steel stands at a small podium facing the group of reporters who are sitting in chairs facing him. The Colonel and Karen, the General and his aide sit in a row behind them. As we come in Adam is finishing an opening statement.
… and so ladies and gentlemen, we expect everything to be A-O.K. The blast off will be tomorrow morning as scheduled and if everything goes according to plan, the Colonel will soon be the first human being to land safely on Mars. And now the Colonel will answer questions.
Adam steps aside and the Colonel steps up to the podium, smiling.
He means I’ll try to answer your questions … .
27) REPORTERS - COLONELS POV
In a very rapid succession the reporters jump up firing a series of questions not waiting for answers.
Colonel … . ?
Do you feel ready?
Are you scared?
Do you believe you will encounter life on Mars?
FIFTH REPORTER (A woman)
What about Martian women?
28) COLONEL AT PODIUM
He raises his hand to stop them.
Please, one at a time … . now then … . (pointing rapidly with his finger he answers all 5 questions in order, quickly) Call me Frank. My friends do. Yes, I feel completely fit and ready. No, I am not afraid. Fear is always the result of ignorance and superstition. On the basis of the latest data it is frankly impossible to conclude whether there is life on Mars or not. I am therefore prepared for anything and have no supposition of my own. Madame, if there should be women on Mars, I cannot imagine that their charms could ever be the equal of those we know and admire on earth. Next question.
29) ROW OF CHAIRS
Adam looks pleased and smiles at Karen.
AN OLDER REPORTER, a typical old-time cynical newspaperman, arises.
Colonel, if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask how you, out of all the available, experienced astronauts were picked for this project?
31) CHAIRS AND PODIUM
The General has shifted uneasily in his chair.
If I can say something … .
Please, General, the Colonel’s doing just fine. The General shuts up but doesn’t like it.
It is my understanding that the data on all available astronauts were fed into a computer program and that the results indicated that I was the most likely candidate. I am happy I was selected, but of course I never question the orders or decisions of my superiors.
Unh-huh … . There’s just one little thing.
34) MED. SHOT TO INCLUDE GROUP
This is the first time any of us have seen you. Prior to this we’ve never even heard your name. How do you explain that?
35) CLOSE SHOT COLONEL
I guess I’m the shy type… .
There is some laughter and amusement. The reporter sits down. Suddenly the Colonel appears to stagger a little on the podium. There is an equally sudden quiet. A reporter rises waving his hand.
37) CLOSE SHOT COLONEL
He seems almost stunned by something. His eyes are glazed, and when he speaks his voice has changed. It now sounds metallic, unreal … .
I would like to say … . The distance from earth to the Planet Mars is 141 million, 710 thousand miles. The period of revolution is approximately 1.9 years. The eccentricity of the orbit is point 09 … .
38) FULLER SHOT TO INCLUDE GROUP ON CHAIRS
All three are standing. Adam has reacted quickest. He moves to the Podium followed by Karen.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Colonel wasn’t kidding—he is a little shy. And he’s tired. He has a big day tomorrow, so … .
(During this Karen leads the Colonel back to a chair, very gently. Head down he mumbles to himself, only half-audible … .
The diameter is 4,200 miles. The surface gravity is 25.2. The density is 4.0 … .
We conclude this Press Conference. We look forward to seeing all of you at blast off time.
39) INT. LAB DAY
The reporters rise as if to leave. The Old Reporter signals for Steel’s attention.
Dr. Steel? Just one more question.
A brief tense pause.
Where’s the phone?
Steel reacts with relief and a smile.
The switchboard set up is right outside. However, there are plenty of phones over at the Officer’s Club. And the drinks are on me!
The reporters respond with enthusiasm and some scattered applause as they hurry out.
40) CLOSER SHOT
The group standing anxiously around the seated Colonel. Karen is patting his head gently. He raises his head, a sad look on his face. Are those tears in his eyes?
Phone … . The telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876… .
Can’t you shut that thing up?
Adam has already seized the head of the Colonel and roughly pushed it down. The Colonel sits, head hanging like a dummy.
Everything is perfectly all right, General. It’s a matter of energy loss, that’s all.
It’s a hundred million dollar loss to the tax payer and it’s going to cost you your job.
(snapping fingers at Karen)
Get the file!
(turning to General)
I said everything is A-O.K. Look!
With apparent ease he rips back the scalp of the Colonel revealing.
41) CLOSE SHOT COLONEL
Instead of brains the Colonel’s head is full of intricate electronic gear, transistorized. Wires and tubes. One tube flashes on and off. Adam jerks a wire and the flashing stops.
There … .
42) CLOSE SHOT KAREN
At a file cabinet labelled TOP SECRET she whirls a combination lock and jerks the file open. Her face is set.
43) CLOSE SHOT FILES
The file is labelled: OPERATION FRANKENSTEIN
44) TITLE AND CREDITS
The title and credits are now shown on cards, flipped by Karen’s hands as if in the filing cabinet. During this we hear VOICE OVER the argument between the General and Adam. (If necessary we can cut back and forth between cards and the General and Adam.)
He’ll be as good as new in no time.
What good is a monster?
He’s not a monster, General Bowers. He has real skin, real bones, real organs. Living human parts. Except he is electronic. We can control him.
We can control my boys too. When I say squat, they … .
When we put him on Mars we are going to find out more than we ever could with a living man. His senses are wired for data communication. We will know instantly what it might take many conventional explorers to discover.
I’m only a General. I’m not a brilliant scientist. But I still don’t see why.
Lives, General, lives! Do you want to waste hundreds of lives exploring space. Do you want to waste one life?
All right, but if this thing backfires … .
You may wish you were on Mars.
General? The drinks are on me.
I’ll go raise a glass to—Frankenstein!
R. H. W. Dillard, 24 September 1985 (continued):
“With 40 million dollars to work with, they might have had an ‘E.T.’ or ‘Close Encounters’ on their hands. Still FMSM is of genuine historical interest—it probably has more stock footage than any other in movie history… . It’s like magic. You see a plane taking off from Miami, then, in the air, it suddenly is a completely different airplane. Then a third airplane is shown landing in Puerto Rico. You see? It has nothing to do with reality.”
When I first came to work at the University of Virginia, fall of 1962, I came there directly from a short stint in Hollywood, where I had been working for Sam Goldwyn Jr., a UVa alumnus as it happens. I wrote three scripts for him, of which one, The Young Lovers, was made into a movie and was a moderate success. It was (sort of) about college life at the time.
I was a writer/teacher and was not planning to pursue the career of a screenwriter. I wanted to know, as best I could, as much as possible about the making of movies; because I wanted to be able to teach my students with at least some basic knowledge, experience, and authority. The interest in filmmaking was already there, all over the country.
There was a personal reason as well. My uncle and godfather, Oliver H. P. Garrett, had been a very good and very successful screenwriter from the late 1920s to the early 1950s when he died. Credits for screenplays were complicated and ambiguous in the early days, especially the days before the Screenwriters Guild was founded. (He was one of the founders and was blacklisted for a time because of it.) The best information I can come up with on my own credits him (sometimes a shared credit) with at least 35 movies, beginning with The Drag Net (Paramount, May 1928) and ending with Sealed Cargo (R.K.O. 1951). There are some pretty good ones; for example, Dead Reckoning, Four Feathers, Farewell to Arms, The Hurricane, One Third of a Nation, The Man I Married (aka I Married a Nazi), Manhattan Melodrama, for which he shared, with Joseph L. Mankiewicz, an Academy Award for best original screenplay of the year. That one is the gangster movie that aroused the interest and curiosity of ole John Dillinger who then came out of hiding to see it and was gunned down in an ambush by the FBI when he left the theater with the Lady in Red, the woman who ratted on him. Too bad, but at least he got to see the flick before they blew him away.
Not to mention Oliver Garrett’s uncredited but now generally acknowledged work on and contribution to the final shooting script of Gone With the Wind.
There were, of course, some turkeys, too: Moby Dick, the 1930 one with John Barrymore and a happy ending where they kill the whale and live happily ever after; The Story of Temple Drake, the improbable adaptation of Faulkner’s Sanctuary; Duel in the Sun (aka “Lust in the Dust”).
And a lot of mediocre movies.
Well, what did the Roman poet Martial have to say about the product of busy professional writers—in his case, poets?
To my reader: When you look
Inside, you’re bound to find here
Some good verses, some middling,
And I fear
Plenty of bummers. What can I say?
Old buddy, it’s the only way
A poet can make a book.
Since I wanted to be a writer, myself, I also wanted to know more, as much as I could, about the successful writer in the family, my mysterious and glamorous godfather. And, though I would never have admitted it to anyone, I used to think that someday I would write a Hollywood novel. Somehow Uncle Oliver, his story, seemed to be a key to my imaginary novel. So I considered working for a while for the picture business to do on-the-job research and training toward that end, also.
It was another uncle, Uncle Chester, from the other side of the family, a professional dancer by trade, who offered another key to my Hollywood story. It was he who gave me my title—The Crossover Beard. The said device came from his days in vaudeville. A lot of the small theaters around the nation were not made so that you could exit on both sides from the stage. If you made your exit on the blank side, then you had to find a way to get back across the stage somehow to change and get ready for your next act. Meanwhile some act was already in progress on the stage. The accepted convention was that you put on a false beard and took up a broom. You slowly then swept your way across the back of the stage. Everybody, the other performers and the audience, pretended not to see you. You were, like the ghosts in Japanese No drama, clearly visible but assumed to be invisible.
That image seemed right on the money for a Hollywood story. For the whole picture business. Who knows? I never got around to writing The Crossover Beard. Maybe I will get around to it some fine day, if I beat the odds and live a little longer than I already have. Meantime why not use it here and now for this story of the making of FMSM? After all, there was something vaudevillian about the whole experience.
251) EXT. SPACE SHIP DAY
The space ship rests quietly in the deserted swampy area. We see that it has been partially camouflaged.
252) INT. SPACE SHIP DAY
A line of several of the young space cadets. All still identical, typified by their poker faces and palor, but they are now dressed in costumes of the earth. They stand in a rank at rigid attention. Each has on a different kind of costume. One is strictly gray flannel, Madison Avenue and carries an attache case. A Second is outfitted in a complete golfing outfit, golf hat, clubs, etc. A Third is dressed as a Policeman. A Fourth wears dark glasses, sportshirt, slacks and carries a camera. A Fifth looks like a Beatnik. Last is one dressed in a double-breasted tuxedo, large white carnation etc.
We see Marcuzan on a kind of throne with Nadir standing nearby.
Amazing, Nadir, really amazing!
Would you like to see them perform?
That might be amusing.
253) RANK OF SPACEMEN
At his command they snap smartly to a military position like “parade rest.” Then from left to right, one at a time, they pop to attention, and take one step forward as they “perform.” Each speaks in a slight accent, almost tonelessly, without any sign or inflection.
Gentlemen, let’s run it up the flag pole and see if anybody salutes it before we finalize the image. It may be a winner culture-wise, but what will the little old lady from Dubuque say?
As each finishes he does an “about face” and returns to place as the other simultaneously steps forth.
I got a birdie on the fourteenth but then I got hung up in the sand trap on sixteen.
All right, Mac, where’s the fire?
I shoot churches stopped down at F/4 but I use a very fast film.
Like-uh-you and me, doll. Come live with me and be my queen and we shall make the crazy scene.
The weather is most pleasant for this time of year, but frankly I prefer the moonlight in Tahiti.
They have finished. They stand rigidly at attention.
254) FULLER SHOT FEATURING MARCUZAN AND NADIR
Are earth men really like that?
Our men will easily pass unnoticed among them.
What a bore! I do hope the women are more interesting.
During those same busy and chaotic years of the early ’60s, I did some movie work with a former college classmate of mine, Richard Hilliard, an independent producer and a superb cameraman. It was he who did the elegant photography for The Horror at Party Beach. Together, he as producer and director and I as writer, we made the movie I am proudest of—The Playground, all the prints of which, alas, have now disappeared. We did some of the final editing work on a Moviola in my garage on Rugby Road. It was Hilliard who suggested I might have some fun and maybe even learn a few things from working on a horror movie for a couple of wild, crazy guys in New York City. They had a title they were sold on, Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster. And that’s all. Of course it had to be cheaper than cheap and it had to take place in Florida (later Puerto Rico) because they had arranged for some free locations there. Oh, yes, and we also had to find ways in our story to use as much stock footage as possible.
The challenge appealed to me. Not without model and/or precedent. After all, William Faulkner wrote a fine script for a movie called The Road to Glory, whose chief purpose, according to the producer, was to use up a lot of stock footage of French soldiers in World War I that he had bought. Watch it sometime. It’s a good movie.
It is to Faulkner that we all owe some profound acquired and practical wisdom about writing for the movies. What he is supposed to have said to Shelby Foote, who had asked for his advice and counsel: “Don’t take the work seriously, but you take those people very seriously.” What he meant was that if you take the work, your work as a writer too seriously, they will proceed to break your heart. He was saying—give it your best shot, but don’t sweat over it as you might with a sonnet or a sestina. Always keep in mind the standard, formulaic Hollywood reaction to complications, confrontations, crises: “Hey! It’s only a picture.”
Besides all that, FMSM seemed an excellent opportunity for the kind of “hands on” teaching and learning I was thinking about. So I invited two graduate students, Dillard and Rodenbeck, to come and join me. I was new to Virginia, but these two young men seemed to be by far the most knowledgeable of and interested in the movies. I said to them, let’s go write one of our own.
And so we went and did that.
“It remains a minor legend in the annals of bad movie making.”
Needless to say, FMSM received, then and now, a mixed critical reception. The one we are proudest of is that of Michael Weldon in his Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, where it is described as maybe the worst feature film ever made by man, so bad, in fact that, as madness sometimes morphs into genius (and vice versa), so FMSM may be, in its own inimitable way, a cinematic work of art. That interpretation of Weldon’s critical stance may well be wishful thinking on my part. Nevertheless he did in fact write—”Don’t miss. It’s the worst.”
Once upon a time in Ann Arbor, Michigan, it became my pleasant duty to walk across the campus of the University of Michigan with a visiting alumnus, the famous Lawrence Kasdan, who was going to lunch after showing his latest, The Big Chill, to an eager student audience from my film course. After some idle chatter, I unwisely brought up and expanded upon the story of FMSM. He seemed deeply puzzled.
“Are you proud of that?” he asked.
I hadn’t thought of it that way, really; but I did manage a reply.
“Well, Sir, come to think of it, I guess I am proud of it. Of course all is vanity, but it is something really special to have had a small part in the creation of the worst picture ever made.”
The British title for the film, Duel of the Space Creatures, is more elegant. Their critics were moderately favorable. So, in a different way, were the French, who found that the film offered up many complex allegorical insights into American life and culture. One of them called FMSM “a triumph of vulgarity.” Which is certainly more elegant than the judgment of our own Ed Naha, expressed in his book Horrors: From Screen to Scream, calling FMSM, purely and simply, “the pits.”
Michael Weldon outlined the story about as well as anybody, including ourselves, the unholy trinity of writers, could expect or ask for.
The evil but beautiful Princess Marcuzan and her bald, effeminate dwarf assistant Nadir arrive in Puerto Rico to kidnap women to use in repopulating their dying planet. Meanwhile Frank, an American astronaut who is actually an android, crash lands near the aliens. He becomes Frankenstein, a crazed killer with only half a face.
While wildly go-going girls are kidnapped from a poolside party, scientists track down Frank… . The rewired Frank battles the horrible alien mutant Mull and rescues the kidnapped Earth girls. Lots of rock music, stock footage and laughs.
Night Club Sequence—First Draft:
258) INT. NIGHTCLUB-NIGHT
A small dance floor in a nightclub. Couples are dancing.
Now the CAMERA PANS around the room. We see people seated at tables. Here and there, scattered among them are six spacemen, identifiable by their dead-pan faces, their pallor, their identical double-breasted tuxedos (each with a large white carnation) and the fact that each of them still has his hat on.
259) CLOSE SHOT TABLE
A blonde, B-girl type is sitting with one of the space men. She is a little tight.
What’s with you guys anyway? Is this some kind of a club?
(like a zombie)
Hello, baby, where have you been all my life?
You oughta be on T.V.
Let’s run it up the flagpole and see if anybody salutes it before we can finalize the image.
Hey, what are you—some kind of a nut or something?
Frankly, I prefer the moonlight in Tahiti.
At this point the SOUND of sensuous “strip” music is heard.
Aw, let’s watch the show. It’s Pristine Peeler.
It may be a winner culture-wise, but what will the little old Lady from Dubuque say?
260) STRIPPER ON STAGE
On the stage under a spotlight a girl is performing a striptease. She is well into her act when suddenly Nadir appears and grabs the M.C.’s mike.
Please, give me your attention … .
Hoots and jeers, boos and hisses from the crowd.
We do not wish to use brute force, but … .
The stripper tries to push him away.
Quit trying to break up my act, you little creep!
261) SHOT OF MULL IN SPOTLIGHT
Women begin to shriek. Confusion.
262) FULL SHOT NIGHTCLUB
All over the room people have jumped to their feet in fear and confusion. Six Spacemen have quietly risen and drawn pistols with silencers on them.
The people react to Mull and the armed men.
Obey and you will not be injured. We only want the women. The women will form single file and march outside (a murmur of reaction is heard) Silence! The men will keep their hands raised high … .
263) MED. SHOT FEATURING MAN AT TABLE
You punks can’t get away with this!
Matter of fact, a nearby Spaceman kills him with one shot from his pistol.
We see the women forming a line and, dumb with terror, marching out.
265) EXT. FRONT OF NIGHTCLUB NIGHT
A large moving van is parked in front of the nightclub. The doorman, in a conventional doorman’s uniform, has his back to us. The door of the nightclub opens and the women, hands on their heads, “double-timing” now, move out. The Doorman turns. He too is one of the spacemen! He opens the back door of the Van. Calmly the Spacemen prod and force the girls into the van.
A swift “night of terror” sequence, showing the Spacemen kidnapping women. The Spacemen wear various costumes.
Suggested sequence as follows:
(1) Woman in dressing gown at mirror brushing her hair. A spaceman appears in mirror, claps hands over her mouth and grabs her.
(2) A nurse walking along a dark street. Two spacemen step out of the shadows and grab her.
(3) A young woman almost too happily (ala a T.V. soap commercial) taking a shower. Hands grab her … .
(4) Boy and girl in parked car about to kiss. Just before the girl’s lips touch his, she screams. We see Mull grab the boy and toss him aside like a ragdoll as Spacemen grab the girl.
267) EXT. CITY STREET NIGHT
Alone on the street, carrying a small suitcase, here comes Karen. Two spacemen step out of the shadows and grab her. She fights back and fights free. She runs.
268) KAREN RUNNING
She is terrified, suddenly she sees something and REACTS urgently.
269) POLICE CAR COMING KAREN’S POV
271) EXT. STREET NIGHT
The car pulls up beside the curb near her.
She REACTS with great relief.
Thank God … .
She gets in the car.
273) INT. POLICE CAR NIGHT
The Policemen, two of them, are not looking at her.
It’s lucky you boys came along when you did … .
All right, Mac, where’s the fire?
The two Policemen turn simultaneously to look at her. They are both Spacemen!
When our original hilarious version of FMSM was so rudely rejected… .
Well, we had a lot of dumb stuff like the following going on. Frank, the android American astronaut, was, like Mary Shelley’s original, made up of various and sundry body parts all cobbled together. His legs came off a deceased tap dancer. (Uncle Chester?) Every time somebody hummed or whistled “Sweet Georgia Brown,” ole Frank’s legs would automatically go into his act. Taking a leaf from “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” we also had Adam Steel, a typically pompous physician and creator of Frank, use Frank as a means of courting his uptight assistant, a nurse named Karen Blixen. There were one-liners, dumb jokes and sight gags. All had to go to make way for the horror. So horror it was, humorless except, perhaps, in Charlottesville, Virginia, where there were living and breathing people with the same names, or close approximations thereof, as the characters in the movie. Thus the Princess Marcuzan echoed a beautiful and mysterious graduate student, Marcusann Morrison. Similarly there was the brilliant and elegant Henry James scholar, Donald Mull, who had only his name in common with Mull, the space monster. The aggressive, abrasive and victorious American general, who, after all, saved the women of Puerto Rico, was General Fred Bowers, not to be confused with our own aggressive, abrasive, and all-too-often victorious Chairman of English at UVa—Fredson Bowers.
What happened as a result of all this craft and creativity?
As already indicated, Phil and Manny fell out and split up. They sold all their “properties” on hand, including the script of FMSM and its companion, already shot and cut and in the can, I believe—Curse of the Voodoo—plus other things that we knew nothing about. Some Princeton guys bought FMSM and that is the last we saw of it until it was actually in the theaters and drive-ins. I assumed that the bright young things from Old Nassau would be able to put together something mildly interesting, even though they lacked the pizazz and savvy of Phil and Manny. It was shot in two weeks in November of 1964 on Long Island and also in Puerto Rico. It was released in 1965, and after a while it showed up in the same place I was; so I bought a ticket and went to see it for myself.
First off, the projectionist mixed up the reels. As far as I could tell, it made no difference at all. What the Princetons had done to the scripts was to kind of blend them, mixing horror and a little bit of slapstick, now and then. It was richly endowed with stock footage and touristy views of Puerto Rico (which they had to do to get the free locations there), including a graceful, lovely sequence—a slow chase sequence, à la O. J. Simpson—of our leads, Dr. Adam Steel and Karen Blixen, riding along on a Vespa motor scooter and observing the sights and sites of downtown San Juan.
In Latin America FMSM is entitled Mars Invades Puerto Rico.
Then along came a wholly unexpected development. You need to understand that in those days, the thrilling 1960s, when a big-budget feature film opened badly at the box office, one thing that the studios and distributors would do was to make the big picture part of a double feature, a double bill. Two for the price of one sometimes jump-started a sluggish movie, or so they believed. At just about the same time that FMSM was baffling audiences in drive-ins and even in some shabby little theaters, a multi-million-dollar turkey, Inside Daisy Clover, starring Natalie Wood, opened and bombed. The guys in suits looked all around and found that, by weird and awful mischance, the only two new movies immediately available were Curse of the Voodoo and FMSM. Voodoo was out of the question, at least in their humble opinion. So they bought FMSM and put it in a multitude of theaters together with Daisy Clover. To heighten interest and enthusiasm, for both flicks, I guess, they came up with an inexpensive gimmick. They got hold of a lot of old 3-D glasses and repackaged them as “space shield protectors,” supposed to serve as a shield against “high intensity cobalt rays that flow from the screen and to prevent your abduction into Outer Space!” They handed these out at the theaters.
So far as I know, nobody suffered radiation sickness or was ever abducted from the film.
I would like to imagine that a few hardy souls, souls of the old school, went back to the box office, turned in their useless space shields and demanded their money back.
I would also like to believe that the troubles with Inside Daisy Clover, and being stuck on a double bill with FMSM, did not add to the weight of woe and depression that plagued Ms. Natalie Wood. But who can know a thing like that?
Wonder if she ever saw our little picture… .
For most of the scenes in the movie they used extras, not actors, and the extras they employed (the absolutely cheapest kind of extra) had no lines at all to speak and were not supposed to express any emotion, either. The women who were abducted by the spacemen seemed utterly indifferent. The French critics made a good deal out of the socio-political-sexual implications of this.
As for the rest of us … .
Several of the actors in FMSM went on to enjoy modest but worthy careers as character actors. The Princetons, not unwisely, bailed out of “The Industry.” At least some of them, I hear, have done some good as well in other fields of endeavor.
John Von B. Rodenbeck recently retired from the faculty of the American University in Cairo. He now lives (well) in Provence. He has written and published poetry and stories and has had a major impact on contemporary world literature. It is to Rodenbeck, and to the American University Press, which he founded and directed, that we owe the first translations into English of the works of Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian writer who subsequently won the Nobel Prize.
Poet, novelist, story writer, scholar and critic, R. H. W. Dillard has spent most of the past half century teaching at Hollins (College) University. For 32 years (at this writing) he has served as director of their outstanding creative writing program, and he still regularly teaches courses in film, courses usually built around the work of one particular director—Fellini, Kubrick, Bergman, Kurosawa and others. His book Horror Films (Simon & Schuster, 1976) is outstanding and essential.
Garrett continued to teach until his retirement from the trenches and the no-man’s-land of academe in 2001. He published poetry, fiction, nonfiction, biography, criticism, plays—pretty much everything except his own screenplays. While not eager, at his age, for the aggravation of writing for the movies, he is available, ready, willing, and able to do that, too, if the phone rings. Look him up. He is in the phone book.
“Robin Williams used a scene from FMSM on a cable TV show and some clips were included in a film called ‘It Came from Hollywood’—which, of course, it didn’t.”
—R. H. W. Dillard
“True, the effects in this black and white micro-budgeted quickie are as crude as stone hammers. Simply put the plot has enough holes in it to make a window screen look like concrete. And generally it is a pitifully poor film. Yet FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER still holds a special place in our hearts because of its quirky execution and unabashed appearance at a time when nobody expected it.”
—Tim Ferrante, Filmfax 10
And the movie itself? It has not improved with age, true; but it is still out there in video versions and sometimes on TV, patiently waiting, not for your attention, because it doesn’t demand anybody’s full attention. In fact it probably plays best when your attention is divided or even altogether elsewhere. My great fear is that, somehow, this “triumph of vulgarity” will thrive and outlast us all and all our good works. And when we are long gone to glory and have been replaced by others, alien beings or homegrown strangers, it will come to be mistaken as a cultural icon, a relic of our brief, lost, tacky civilization. Meantime it’s still out there and has its own little cult of admirers.
Recently I was asked to speak about it to a college film class. I got carried away and laughing. Two sullen kids in the back—baseball caps on sideways, the whole stereotypical schmear—raised their hands and cautioned me.
“I don’t care if you laugh about it or not. So you wrote it. So what? That doesn’t automatically give you the right to bad-mouth the movie. Me and my friend here happen to like Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster a whole lot, and we will continue to do so no matter what you say or don’t say.”
Hey, you can’t argue with taste, can you?
Thanks, guys, it was fun while it lasted.
Of course, there are some loose ends. There are always loose ends in Real Life, at least. You may have already noticed that I have carefully avoided saying anything about whatever happened to Phil and Manny. (Not their “real” names, actually. Changed here to protect the just and the unjust.) That’s because I don’t have a clue. Once, some years ago, I told a version of the FMSM story to some students at Bennington. When the talk was over, a nice-looking, polite young man came up to the podium and introduced himself as the son of either Phil or Manny. I asked him what had become of his father. He said, cheerfully enough, that his father had married a very rich woman in Connecticut and was busy living happily ever after. Tuition at Bennington cost more than any given Phil and Manny movie. He must have made out alright.
A moment later a young woman came up and introduced herself as the daughter of the actress who had played Karen Blixen. Here they were in the same little college and the same little classroom, but didn’t know each other or the FMSM connection. I was happy to bring them together. Maybe they are living happily ever after somewhere (Puerto Rico?).
Neither one of them had ever seen the picture.
SCENE 41 SKY SHOT FROM ADAM’S POV
A brilliant sun burst as the Spaceship explodes.
ADAM, KAREN and GENERAL
They are standing, looking up, shading their eyes.
KAREN and ADAM have instinctively taken each other’s hands.
Frank did it!
If any man ever deserved a medal … .
It looked like a new star in the sky … .
SCENE 42 EXT. BEACH DAY
CLOSE SHOT SUNBURST BUCKLE
One of the spacemen’s buckles fills the screen. Then the CAMERA MOVES back to show that Adam is holding the buckle in his hand, looking at it, but obviously lost in his thoughts. He and Karen are sitting together in the sand of a beach, facing the ocean, on a brilliantly sunny day. They are in bathing suits.
Was it all a dream? If it wasn’t for this (he raises the buckle), I’d swear it never happened.
It was real—but it’s all over now.
Adam looks up at her.
I almost lost you.
I’m not yours yet! Catch me if you can!
She jumps up and starts running toward the ocean. Adam looks at the buckle once more, then stands and flings it away in a high careless arc. Runs after Karen.
CAMERA lifts above the ocean as waves roll in and splash around Adam and Karen and he catches up to her.
CLOSE SHOT - HANDS
Tentatively, then with firmness, they clasp hands.
“Unashamed of its low-budget birthright, Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster continues to delight and amaze.”
—Tim Ferrante, Filmax 10
“We have all passed a lot of water under the bridge since then.”
—Attributed to the late, great Samuel Goldwyn