Jerry Warren’s Frankenstein Island is a completely bungled attempt at resurrecting the Frankenstein legend. Even the basic premise prevents it from being a frightful theatrical event. It’s about balloonists crashlanding on an island run by Dr. Frankenstein’s female descendant, Sheila Frankenstein-Von Helsing (Katherine Victor), who has cultivated an army of brainwashed, shipwrecked sailors, who wear sunglasses. If that’s not enough, there are also bikini-clad alien Amazonian women, and John Carradine awkwardly pops up as the ghost of Dr. Frankenstein — but neither element could save this stinker!
That being said, the pain of this lame perversion of Mary Shelley’s original novel can be dulled. You can watch the film with Rifftrax commentary, for example. Or you can just watch it as sort of an endurance test and, along the way, maybe try cataloging weird tropes or one-of-a-kind moments. It’s certainly plausible that, in some respects, a film like this rips off H.G. Wells’ incredible sci-fi stories. Remember: Wells impressively wrote The Island of Doctor Moreau in 1896, The Invisible Man in 1897, and The War of the Worlds in 1898, well before all kinds of cheesy 1950s sci-fi alien flicks hit the market. So you might ask yourself how a strange (and terrible) tale such as this ties into those classic sci-fi stories.
How hard does Frankenstein Island drop the ball?
On the surface, Frankenstein Island has tenuous connections between the novel Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula. There are many built-in references to Dr. Van Helsing (though the mad doctor’s name is spelled “Sheila Frankenstein von Helsing” here). Still, this film was soundly rejected by audiences, critics, and possibly even mad scientists alike.
There’s really nothing here that is better than those sci-fi horror films that came before, and even scenes of women in bikinis barely do anything to sustain interest, except for more prurient viewers (and even in 1981, most people had access to raunchier fare anyway).
It is an especially rotten horror movie, and would deservedly find itself on lists of the worst horror flicks. That’s partly because there are loose strands of ideas that could have maybe worked, which makes the failure even more frustrating. You’re better off with classics like Bride of Frankenstein and The Monster Squad, or the perhaps underrated (albeit gross) 2015 Frankenstein starring Xavier Samuel, Carrie-Anne Moss, Danny Huston, and Tony Todd.
Is there anything good about Frankenstein Island?
I feel I should relent in my criticisms here a bit, just to be fair, and also because I should respect horror filmmakers overall. But, really, that’s the limited sense in which I find value here. I know people trash-talked the attempts at Universal to create a new Universal Monsters franchise, and critics and fans sometimes winced and wondered what prompted Universal to revive them as a bunch of cinematic bombs. Nevertheless, I actually kind of like The Wolfman (2018), and The Invisible Man (2020) was sensational.
In contrast, this is one of the worst Frankenstein films in the theatrical canon. While other filmmakers, including James Whale, got much mileage out of the Victorian monster, Jerry Warren simply lacked whatever they had (or what William Castle and Tod Browning had). Also, by this point, John Carradine didn’t have the same energy as Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, and Boris Karloff.
However, if you don’t think this movie stinks, and maybe actually like it, go ahead and let me know why. I sincerely would like to find something to appreciate about it, as it failed to live up to even my most modest expectations. I want to like it, I really do!