If Plan 9 from Outer Space is Ed Wood's most memorable achievement, then Frankenstein's Daughter is surely Cunha's most lasting genre contribution. In fact, the film is superior not only to anything Wood ever did, but to most of the horror films released in the mid-to-late 1950s. Unlike Hammer's contemporaneous Frankenstein product, Frankenstein's Daughter gives us two evil looking monsters and the kind of grimy, edgy nastiness that dominated She Demons.
     In a part he was born to play, Donald Murphy portrays a smarmy descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein, who, while employed by an enfeebled old chemist (Felix Locher, the father of 1940s leading man Jon Hall), discovers a formula that regenerates dead tissue but causes startling disfigurement in whoever gets injected with the chemical. Murphy's madman disguises his name as Dr. Frank and spikes some fruit punch with the odious home brew to feed to his employer's perky teenage niece Trudy (Sandra Knight, who was married to Jack Nicholson at the time), turning her into a fanged, bushy-browed, popeyed monstrosity. But Murphy is also at work on a real-live monster in the basement of his employer's home. He brings the creature to life, and brings the film to a chaotic climax.
     Murphy steals the show as Frank, turning in the best performance of any Cunha film, and perhaps one of the best mad doctor performances of the 1950s. Murphy's smug, arrogant Frank is a joy to behold as the film's resident mad doctor. Note the delight in his eyes and his sleazy smile as he feeds his "fruit punch" to the hapless Trudy! We also revel in his unctuous charm as he seduces sexy Sally Todd, who plays the town's resident teen tramp, Suzy Lawlor. Even Murphy's act of lighting a cigarette is punctuated with a sleazy suavity. And his dour, disrespectful attitude toward Locher is a delight to behold: Murphy's Frank treats Locher's elderly chemist like the doddering fool that he is! And note Murphy's wild-eyed lunacy as he decides to run Todd over with his car in order to obtain her head and brain for his patchwork monster. We also savor Murphy's final moments of lunacy as he tries to seduce Trudy again, is rejected again, then plans to permanently transform her into a monster: "You've always treated me as a monster, Trudy. Now you're going to be one!"
     Murphy's closest mad doctor competitors of the late 1950s were Peter Cushing and Whit Bissell. Cushing's superiority as an actor is unquestionable, but it is difficult to make comparisons with Murphy because Frankenstein's Daughter was Murphy's only genre role. However, Murphy compares very favorably with Bissell. In AIP's I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957), Bissell's performances are competent and credible, but neither are as interesting or as fun to watch as Murphy's work in Frankenstein's Daughter. Indeed, Murphy's madman matches the tempo of the late 1950s: Oliver Frank is as earnest, obsessed, and maniacal as any "classic" mad scientist while possessing the arrogance, charm, and oiliness of a Las Vegas lounge lizard. In fact, it may be said that Michael Gough later perfected Murphy's smarmy, nasty style in such films as Horrors of the Black Museum (1959), Konga (1961), and The Black Zoo (1962).
     Wolfe Barzell as Elsu, the gardener who doubles as Frank's assistant, beautifully complements Murphy's mad doctor. With his leering, grizzled expression and soiled clothes, Barzell is the very embodiment of degeneracy. In one scene, he approaches Knight, hands her a flower, and states: "I didn't like killing it. But some things are more beautiful dead." Barzell's Elsu also reminds Murphy's Frank of his Frankenstein lineage, telling the mad doctor how he obtained bodies for his father's unholy experiments and encouraging Murphy's Frank to continue in the family tradition. But Barzell also resembles Bela Lugosi's Ygor in his desire to protect and shelter Frank's homemade monster from the police and, ultimately, Frank himself.
     Indeed, Frankenstein's Daughter is literally stolen by Murphy and Barzell, who give us the film's only interesting and enjoyable performances. Felix Locher is atrocious as Carter Morton, Frank's doddering employer. Locher is unable to emote or to speak his lines in any intelligible way. Yet his garbled delivery and Germanic accent do add to the film's fun, with such lines as: "I somehow get the impression he's a-spying on me," or "You vill drive me to distraction." While Locher's facial ugliness and foreign accent add to the film's dreary, grim tone, his enunciation makes Tor Johnson sound like John Barrymore by comparison.
     The film's sleaze quotient is somewhat increased by the presence of Sally Todd, a low-budget fifties "B" girl, who seems to have modeled her clothing and walk after Mamie Van Doren. In both The Unearthly (1957) and Frankenstein's Daughter, Todd played sultry, tawdry bombshells that flirted, teased, and then came to a nasty and abrupt end. Todd was built for speed (her shapely derriere adorns the posters for The Unearthly), but her acting was on a par with the equally sexy and untalented Irish McCalla.
     Sandra Knight, as the perky Trudy, is somewhat better than Todd, but her performance is still laced with forced melodramatics. John Ashley, as Trudy's heroic boyfriend Johnny Bruder, delivers the film's worst performance. It seems that the only actor to credibly play a leading man in a Cunha film was Ed Kemmer in Giant from the Unknown. Ashley seems far too fey to be the leading man in any horror film, despite the somewhat interesting work that he did in some of the 1950s juvenile delinquent films, such as High School Caesar (1958).
     But Murphy and Barzell are not the only saving graces of Frankenstein's Daughter. H.E. Barrie's script is a joy. In one scene, Murphy tries to seduce Knight as she prepares for a swim. When she rejects him, he asks where she's going. Her reply: "Into the pool to take a cold swim. And I suggest you take a cold shower!" When Knight tries to tell Ashley that Murphy is turning her into a monster, Ashley responds with: "The day someone as pretty as you turns into a monster, is the day the moon comes down in my backyard!" Murphy has one of Barrie's best lines when he sews Todd's head onto his homemade monster and proclaims: "Tonight, you'll live again, you vixen!" And after Barzell befriends Murphy's she-monster, he tells the sleazy scientist: "...she's nicer than the males your father and grandfather made!"
     The reliable Meredith Nicholson also redeems himself beautifully after being nearly absent in Missile to the Moon. Nicholson's lighting throughout Frankenstein's Daughter is particularly eerie, framing Sandra Knight's she-monster in bizarre street lighting in the scenes in which Knight prowls the streets of a Los Angeles suburb. Nicholson is also adept at using "shock cuts" that gradually show Knight's monstrous deterioration and disfigurement. In fact, it's Nicholson's camerawork that allows the film to be limned with a patina of grimy dissolution, similar to the look and feel of She Demons. Note, too, the scene in which Murphy advances toward Sally Todd just before he runs her over. Nicholson's camera focuses strictly on Murphy's wild, wide eyes, as he repeats to himself: "I need a brain ...I need a brain!" Two other Nicholson shock cuts distinguish Frankenstein's Daughter. The first represents our initial view of Frank's monstrous, hand-made creation. At first, we see only the creature's hands groping, then an outline of the body rising in the dark from the operating table, and then a fully lit view of the thing's awful face. There is no point in comparing Frankenstein's Daughter with James Whale's original masterpiece. But the scene revealing Frank's monster is indeed reminiscent of Arthur Edeson's gradual shock cuts, which revealed Boris Karloff's monstrous visage. Nicholson's other, even more effective shock cut comes in the film's conclusion, when Murphy's Frank gets a fatal facial with a thrown bottle of acid. Nicholson's camera unflinchingly shows a close-up of Frank's bubbling, burning face just before he collapses and dies. This close-up of Murphy's acid-eaten face is the film's supreme shock moment, exceeding even the revelation of the monster. And, as I mentioned in my essay on the film in Midnight Marquee Press's SON OF GUILTY PLEASURES OF THE HORROR FILM (Midnight Marquee Press: 1998), this scene is probably the first of its kind. Before Frankenstein's Daughter, I can't think of another horror film that contains a scene as singularly gruesome.
     But Frank's homemade female monster---the "Frankenstein's Daughter" of the title---is the film's crowning touch. Harry Wilson, who doubled for Wallace Beery for 25 years, plays the monster. (Wilson can also be seen in 1954's Them! as the detox patient who complains about his "nerves"). Wilson's portrayal will not be immortalized in the pantheon of genre performances. But his monster has jerky, robotic movements that look downright creepy. And the face on Wilson's monster looks as if its left side was ground down with a high-speed power sander. A bandage covers the entire head, and black rubber gloves and a shiny black rubber suit add a bizarre touch The nose is split, broadened, and showing a nasty, bloody gash down the center that extends upward to the top of the forehead. The monster's swollen, protuberant lips are smeared with lipstick---the result of the makeup artist's being told only at the last minute that Frank's creation was supposed to be female!
     In the Tom Weaver interview, Cunha expressed disappointment with the final result of the monster's makeup but said that money ran out before he could perfect the desired appearance of the creature. However, Wilson's monster makeup is eerily, appropriately dissolute, denoting mutilation and corruption even more effectively than the work of Hammer's Phil Leakey.
     There is debate over who performed the makeup chores in Frankenstein's Daughter. The film itself credits Harry Thomas as the makeup artist. Thomas worked on many low-budget 1950s horror films, particularly for Ed Wood and AIP. Yet in the Weaver interview, Cunha contended that Paul Stanhope designed the makeup for both Harry Wilson's monster and Murphy's acid scene. Cunha credits Harry Thomas only with Sandra Knight's two monstrous transformations. On the other hand, Thomas told Tom Weaver that there was never any other makeup man on the set but him ("They couldn't afford it!"). Thomas also described to Weaver the process of fashioning Murphy's acid-burned face, using hair gel stuck to wrinkled pieces of lens paper, then filling holes in the paper with chocolate. In fashioning Harry Wilson's monster, Thomas used spirit gum, stretched cotton, plastic collodion, and liquid makeup. But both Cunha and Thomas were disappointed in the final makeup of the creature, with both men desiring to make the thing look more like Sally Todd. Budgetary constraints compelled the ultimate result, but neither Cunha or Thomas should have worried. Frankenstein's Daughter exemplifies how gruesome and unforgettable makeup effects can be performed quickly and cheaply.
     Finally, Nicholas Carras' musical score appropriately sets the tone for each scene in the film. Murphy's attempted seductions are characterized by sleazy, jazzy notes, while the scenes involving Knight's and Wilson's monsters are punctuated by loud, brassy crescendos. With the exception of his dull work in Missile to the Moon, Carras was certainly one of the most reliable members of Cunha's stock company.
     Another of the film's major delights is its reference to the classics---something we saw in both Giant from the Unknown and She Demons---which Cunha would probably deny. The film's opening title font is written in classic, gothic style. In one of the film's early scenes, Barzell hands Murphy the Frankenstein notebooks, so ubiquitous in Universal's Frankenstein films of the 1940s, and states: "Father to Son. That's the way it should be!" Just before Murphy and Barzell bring the homemade monster to life, both proclaim the new creature "Frankenstein's Daughter!"---resembling Ernest Thesiger's announcement heralding "The Bride of Frankenstein" in James Whale's 1935 masterpiece. And near the film's conclusion, Murphy echoes Colin Clive when he proudly displays his monster to a police detective and declaims: "I created her!" Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) had an appropriately gothic look and attempted to somewhat track Mary Shelley's source material. But no other horror film of the 1950s hearkened to the Hollywood classics as faithfully or as effectively as Frankenstein's Daughter. The film's tacky production values, stilted dialogue, and limited acting are superseded by Murphy's memorable mad doctor, Barzell's delightfully deranged lab assistant, some exaggeratedly deformed makeup, excellent shock photography, and Cunha's overall respect for his cinematic predecessors. And, like all of Cunha's films, Frankenstein's Daughter is pure fun, devoid of the brooding, troubled, and depressed teenagers that inhabited so many fifties monster movies.

     In his introduction to the Cunha interview (conducted in 1982), Tom Weaver discusses the fact that Cunha's catalog has been ignored for too long. As usual, Weaver is deadly accurate. Despite the carping of cranky critics, Cunha's horror films are edgy, nasty, fun to watch, and infused with the director's own unique, grimy, sleazy sense of style. The attention paid to Ed Wood's films was a refreshing diversion from the serious, analytical approach that many of us have taken to classic horror films. But I believe the Ed Wood phenomenon has played itself out. Richard Cunha---and his "pearls of putrescence"---is a fine alternative for those of us who enjoy both high-budget distinction and low-budget decrepitude.
     Special thanks to John Stell, George Stover, and Greg Luce (Sinister Cinema) for their help in preparing this article. All of Richard Cunha's films are now available on DVD from Image Entertainment. The covers of the DVDs are featured in the article. Bloodlust is available from Madacy Entertainment as part of their "Killer Creature Double Features" line. It's co-feature is Atom Age Vampire.
     This article originally appeared in MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT #8 back in the spring of 1999. Since this issue sold out years ago, we're reprinting it on our Web site so that the readers who joined us too late to get a copy can get a taste of what it was like. We plan to have more articles from our sold-out issue on our site in the future.


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