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Film / Frankenstein Island

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Frankenstein Island is a 1981 American film co-produced, written, directed and edited by Jerry Warren, starring John Carradine and Cameron Mitchell. It was the last movie made by Warren and the only one of his low-budget films that he produced in color.

When a hot air balloon crashes on a remote and uncharted island, the four balloonists and their dog Melvin are captured by a pair of drunken old pirates who take them to the hilltop laboratory home of Dr. Frankenstein's modern-day descendant Sheila Frankenstein who is carrying on the family tradition by turning shipwrecked sailors into pre-programmed bloodless, black-garbed zombies who must wear sunglasses to protect their weird white eyes from light.

Discovering that one of the new arrivals is a doctor, the buxom, white-haired Sheila quickly brainwashes him into helping her try to save her bedridden 200-year-old husband Dr. Von Helsing using the blood of a Poe-quoting prisoner and the nubile bodies of a local tribe of primitive bikini-clad Amazon jungle girls descended from highly advanced aliens who once used the rocky, desolate island as their secret Earth landing site.

Meanwhile, the mystic spirit of her ancestor hovers ever near, channeling from the Great Beyond all of the arcane energies that charge her experiments as he rants about "The Power! The Power!!", while his immortal creation, the original Frankenstein Monster, lies trapped underwater at the bottom of a pool hidden in a cave, biding its time as it waits for its chance to escape.

Tropes in Frankenstein Island include:

  • Ancient Astronauts: The island was the landing place of aliens who were the ancestors of the Nubile Savage Amazons. Dr. Frankenstein chose the island as his base of operations so he could access their technology.
  • Artificial Zombie: Sheila Frankenstein has created a Henchmen Race of artificial zombies by experimenting on the shipwrecked sailors stranded on the island. It is repeatedly stated that they have no blood and are reanimated by psychic energy provided by the spirit of her dead great-grandfather. Supposedly they cannot be stopped by anything short of being cut in half with a machine gun.
  • Big Electric Switch: The Mad Scientist Laboratory in is crammed with antique electrical equipment and so naturally includes many large knife switches.
  • Brainwashed: Sheila Frankenstein brainwashes Doc into helping with her experiments to revitalize her husband. Doc's friends realize there is something wrong when Doc has no issues with conducting experiments that result in the deaths of human subjects. Eventually, they take Sheila hostage and force her to turn off the devices holding Doc in her thrall.
  • Bullying a Dragon: For some reason, Curtis decides to pick a fight with a group of the guards, despite knowing they are zombies engineered to be perfect guards and that some of them can fly into unstoppable fits of violence.
  • Brain in a Jar: A human brain in a glass dome is an essential part of Sheila and Van Helsing's apparatus. It provides the psychic link to Dr. Frankenstein on the other side of the veil, and allows him to provide the psychic energy that keeps Van Helsing alive and powers the army of guard zombies.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Early on, the protagonists witness the Amazon priestess' ability to control snakes and spiders. During the final battle, she uses spiders to terrify one of the zombie guards. (Exactly why a zombie would be scared of spiders is never addressed.)
  • Convenient Misfire: The machine gun Curtis has been using to destroy the zombies (and would have been able to end the final fight with a single burst) jams just as the Frankenstein Monster and the guard zombies smash through the door into the lab.
  • The Drunken Sailor: Shipwrecked seafarer (and probable pirate) Jocko drinks any chance he gets and spends much of the movie in a drunken stupor.
  • Evil Cripple: Mad Scientist Dr. Van Helsing is confined to a bed in the Mad Scientist Laboratory following his near-death experience. Much of his wife Sheila's work is devoted to finding a way to make him mobile again.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Jocko, one of Sheila Frankenstein's two human henchmen, sports an eyepatch. Whatever is under it is so horrific that Curtis recoils away when shown it.
  • Feather Boa Constrictor: The priestess of the Amazons wears a live snake twined round her arm during her ceremonies.
  • Frankenstein Monster: Dr. Frankenstein's original monster is still alive but has become uncontrollable, so it has been chained to a rock at the bottom of a pool in a cave. At the end of the movie, the spirit of Dr. Frankenstein unleashes it to wreak havoc.
  • Friend to Bugs: The Amazon priestess has a special affinity for spiders and snakes and allows them to crawl over her body.
  • Fur Bikini: The Amazons are dressed in what are supposed to be animal skin bikinis (but, due to the lack of a budget, look more like animal print bikinis).
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: What seems to have happened to Jason. Kept imprisoned by Sheila for more than a decade to serve as a living blood bank for her comatose husband, he keeps rambling about his dead wife and how beautiful she was, and suddenly quoting long passages from Edgar Allan Poe.
  • Henchmen Race: Sheila Frankenstein has created a race of guard creatures by experimenting on shipwrecked sailors. They are programmed to be the perfect guards and have no blood, making them unstoppable by anything short of being cut in half by a machine gun. Some of them are prone to fits of unstoppable rage, however.
  • Human Resources: Sheila Frankenstein conducts her experiments on shipwrecked sailors and the occasional captured Amazon. She also keeps Jason imprisoned to serve as a permanently on-tap blood supply for her husband.
  • The Hyena: Jocko guffaws loudly after everything he says, regardless of whether it was funny or not, and often bursts out laughing for no reason at all.
  • The Igor: Clay has taken on the role of Sheila Frankenstein's dogsbody, presumably to make himself useful so she does not use him for her experiments. He commands the zombie guards, takes the blood from Jason, kidnaps women and procures animals for her experiments, etc.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: When the heroes return to the island with the Colonel and his men, all signs of human habitation have vanished: the Frankenstein house, the Amazon huts, everything. The Colonel accuses them of having a shared hallucination.
  • Jungle Drums: Played by the Amazons during their celebration. It has a very African beat despite the island in question being in the Philippines and nowhere near Africa.
  • Keystone Army: Because the guards are powered by psychic energy channeled through the Brain in a Jar in the lab, when the brain is destroyed, the guards stop moving and slump to the floor.
  • Kneel, Push, Trip: When the balloonists first arrive on the island, Curtis starts haranguing Mark about being a sinner. Dino signals to Mark and then kneels behind Curtis. Mark gives Curtis a shove and he falls backwards over Dino onto the sand.
  • Lady Land: The Amazon tribe has no men amongst it.
  • Mad Scientist: Sheila Frankenstein, her husband Dr. Van Helsing, and Dr. Frankenstein all count. The entire island is set up to allow Dr. Frankenstein to continue his blasphemous work from beyond the grave by using Van Helsing as a psychic conduit.
  • Mad Scientist Laboratory: Sheila Frankenstein has one in her house that is part electrical lab and part intensive care unit.
  • Male Gaze: During the Amazon celebration, Dino's gaze (and the camera) are firmly fixed on the hips and butt of one of the girls as she dances.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: Upon learning of the balloonists' presence on the island, Mad Scientist Sheila Frankenstein dispatches her henchmen to fetch them and bring them to her house. Upon their arrival, she shares a fine bottle of cognac with them (presumably the budget of the film didn't stretch to actual food).
  • Nothing but Skulls: There are human skulls scattered throughout the Amazon village (possibly as a warning given the first one the heroes come across is mounted on a stick outside the village) but no sign of the rest of the skeletons.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: The guards are never referred to as 'zombies', despite being described as mindless dead bodies reanimated by a psychic force.
  • Nubile Savage: The Amazons dress in Fur Bikinis, live in grass huts, and spend most of their time outdoors, but are clean and perfectly groomed, with shaved legs and armpits. This is vaguely Handwaved by a passing mention of them being protected by the psychic energy of their alien ancestors.
  • Only You Can Repopulate My Race: Sheila Frankenstein intends for the four captured balloonists to impregnate the Amazons so their lineage will continue.
  • Pest Controller: The Amazon priestess is able to control spiders and snakes. She uses a pair of spiders to destroy a zombie during the final battle. Exactly how a pair of tarantulas could harm a zombie that—according to its creator—could only be stopped by being cut in half with a machine gun is not explained.
  • The Place
  • Playing with Syringes: Sheila Frankenstein conducts a variety of blood based experiments, such as transfusing Jason with a mixture of Amazon and animal blood.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Dr. Van Helsing does not look like a young man, but Doc is astounded to learn that he is over 200 years old.
  • Ruthless Modern Pirates: It is strongly implied that Clay and Jocko were pirates before they were shipwrecked on the island. Certainly neither of them have any compunctions about working for a Mad Scientist conducting experiments on unwilling human subjects.
  • The Scottish Trope: Any time a character mentions a place that is not on the island, there is an electric humming and their arm becomes heavy and then paralyzed. This seems to be an effect set up by Sheila Frankenstein to prevent anyone planning an escape, but—like so much else in the film—it is never explained.
  • Spirit Advisor: Sheila Frankenstein is being advised in continuing the family's blasphemous experiments by the spirit of her dead great-grandfather who communicates by using her comatose husband as a medium. However, Dr. Frankenstein's spirit may not be entirely on Sheila's side as he is also appearing to certain members of the Amazon tribe and promising them power.
  • Strapped to an Operating Table: Jason and his daughter are strapped to operating tables when Sheila Frankenstein plans to transfuse their blood into her husband in order to complete his revival.
  • Sunglasses at Night: Sheila Frankenstein is carrying on the family tradition by turning shipwrecked sailors into pre-programmed bloodless, black-garbed zombies who must wear sunglasses at all times to protect their weird white eyes from light.
  • Take Our Word for It: The storm that wrecked the heroes' balloon and stranded them on the island certainly sounds spectacular. Shame we never saw it. Ditto whatever is under Jocko's Eyepatch of Power. Being shown it was enough to make Curtis recoil in horror, but the audience only gets to the see the back of Jocko's head.
  • Talkative Loon: Jason, who is being kept imprisoned as a permanent blood donor for Van Helsing, has gone mad from the isolation, and starts rambling anytime someone talks to him, usually ending up quoting long passages of Edgar Allan Poe.