Kim Newman was born in London in 1959, and grew up in Somerset. He is a freelance writer, film critic and broadcaster and his books include Anno Dracula, Dracula Cha Cha Cha, Life's Lottery, Unforgivable Stories and Seven Stars. His short science fiction and fantasy stories have been widely anthologised. He lives in North London.
I'm plumbing additional channels, homing on signals from as far away as Hilversum and Macao. With each twiddle, the dish outside revolves like Jodrell Bank stock footage from the Quatermass serials. Lightning crackles above the garden, approximating a Karloff-Lugosi mad lab insert shot from the '30s.
Unimaginable images and sounds are pulled down from the skies. With the new reflectors, this satellite system can haul in not only everything being broadcast but anything that has ever been broadcast. Shows listed as lost or wiped are beaming out to Alpha Centauri; now those signals can be brought unscrambled back to Earth.
This is my creation. Fuelled by coffee-bags and custard creams, I have substantially made the system myself, like Rex Reason assembling the Interocitor in This Island Earth. It was an interesting technical excercise, jacking in all the signal-boosters and calibrating the dish to the minutest fraction. My redundancy money was well spent, despite what Ciaran said when she left for the last time.
I admit it's true: I could spend the rest of my life eating biscuits and watching repeats on television. There is so much to see, so much to discover ...
Just tuning the first channels, I come across a Patrick Troughton Doctor Who which does not officially survive, and a stumbling, live Sherlock Holmes from the late '40s. If anyone on Mars or Skaro makes television programmes, this dish will pick them up. To be honest, there is no need ever to leave the house except for groceries. Everything ever hurled out over the airwaves, on film or videotape, will turn up eventually. The full listings edition of What's On TV looks like a telephone directory.
This is Completist Heaven.
Whoever assigns frequencies has a sense of humour, though it often takes minutes to get the joke. Channel 5 is a perfume infomercial. Chanel No. 5. Channels 18 to 30 are verité footage of drunken Brits being obnoxious on holiday in Greece, with 'The Birdy Song' on a tape-loop soundtrack. Channel 69 is Danish porno. Channel 86 is Get Smart reruns. Maxwell Smart was Agent 86. I clock a Martin Kosleck cameo in a vampire episode and make a mental note to list it on Kosleck's file card. Channel 101 is disgusting true-life mondo horror, rats and bugs and atrocity and burial alive; in a minute, I remember that in Nineteen Eighty-Four Room 101 is where you face the most frightening thing in the world.
What does that leave for Channel 1984?
Channel 666 is either a director's cut of The Omen or a Satanic televangelist. In the thousands, most of the channels are date-tied: Channel 1066 is a historical drama in unsubtitled Norman French, Channel 1492 is a collage of Columbus movies with Jim Dale being tortured by Marlon Brando, Channel 1776 is that Bilko episode set during the Revolutionary War. Channel 1789 is a mini-series about the French Revolution: Jane Seymour goes nobly to the guillotine while Morgan Fairchild knits furiously in the first row. It's not in Maltin, Scheuer or Halliwell, so it must be new. I don't count mini-series as movies, so I don't have to watch further, though I'm sure that's Reggie Nadler dropping the blade.
I hit Channel 1818. Dyanne Thorne, a couple of melons down the front of her SS major's uniform, tortures someone in black and white. A girl in a torn peasant blouse squeals unconvincingly as a rat eats cold lasagne off her exposed tummy. I figure this is a print of Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS that I've never seen. I get out the file card for the film and my notes make no mention of a rat torture quite like this. This is the sort of revelation I pay the monthly fee for: it is possible no one has ever seen this version of the movie before. I take up my red ball pentel, and prepare to jot down any information. The store of human knowledge must always be added to.
The crowning moment of my life was when my letter in Video Watchdog finally corrected all previous misinformation and established, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the correct German running time of Lycanthropus, aka Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory or I Married a Werewolf. Ciaran was especially cutting about that. Many people don't understand, but without accuracy all scholarship is meaningless and the least we can do is lay down the parameters of what we are talking about. Now, my mission in life is to force all periodicals and reference books to list Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General (the title as it appears on the screen) under M for Matthew rather than W for Witchfinder. Ignorant souls, starting with the film's distributors, have been committing this error since 1968. Heathens who list the Michael Reeves movie under C for The Conqueror Worm are, of course, beneath contempt and not worth considering.
The Ilsa movies are in colour, so I fine-fiddle the knobs. Snow crackles across the image as the victim screams. No colour appears. Ilsa gets out her nipple-clamps, sneering in a bad accent, 'Vellcome to SS Experiment Kemp Sex!' The camera pulls back, and on the next slab over from the abused girl lies the unmistakable bulk of a flat-headed, clumpy-booted, electrodes-on-the-neck, Universal-copyright Pierce-Karloff-Strange Frankenstein Monster.
Puzzled and intrigued, I gnaw a chocolate-coated ginger snap.
An ident crawl along the bottom of the picture identifies the film: Channel 1818 Feature Presentation Frankenstein Meets the She-Wolf of the SS.
Obviously, this must be some new retitling of a familiar movie. If the colour came on, I could identify it. More twiddling is to no avail.
I dig out Weldon's Psychotronic Enclyclopedia, Glut's The Frankenstein Catalog and Jones's The Illustrated Frankenstein Movie Guide. Frankenstein Meets the She-Wolf of the SS does not make these standard reference tools. I venture further: consulting Lee's sadly outdated Reference Guide to the Fantastic Film, Willis's three-volume Horror and Science Fiction Films, my bound collection of Joe Bob's We Are the Weird newsletter, some back issues of Shock Xpress, and such variably reliable sources as the Phantom's Ultimate Video Guide and the mysterious Hoffmann's Guide to SF, Horror and Fantasy Movies. No one lists a Frankenstein-Ilsa crossover. This is exciting, a discovery. I feel a thrill in my water, pull out a fresh file card, and write down the title. I curse myself for having missed the credits.
To celebrate, I hold a cheddar thin in my mouth and suck gently, until saliva seeps through the biscuit and dissolves it. With my tongue, I work the paste bit by bit into my gullet. The sensation is exquisite.
Officially, there are only three Ilsa movies (Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS, Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia) but Jesús Franco's Greta, Hause ohne Männer aka Wanda the Wicked Warden or Greta the Torturer, with Thorne in the title role of Greta-Wanda, is sometimes spuriously roped into the series. Could this be a hitherto-undiscovered entry in the Ilsa series, or some apocryphal adventure of a lookalike Greta, Gerta, Irma, Helga, Erika or Monika? The sync is just off, but I'm sure this is shot in English, not dubbed. A heel-clicking subordinate salutes and snaps, 'Heil Hitler, Major Ilsa', establishing this as indeed part of the Ilsa canon. The black and white bothers me still. Is this a flashback within a colour film? That would be a bit artsy for Ilsa.
The Nazi Bitch Queen is in an office, ranting. It's definitely Dyanne Thorne (once seen, those melons are unmistakable) and from the relative lack of lines on her face, the movie has to be from the mid-'70s. Oddly, it looks good in black and white: less like a bad dupe which has lost colour than a film lit for monochrome. The shadows gathering in the office as night falls make the scene look better than the cheesy images I remember from other Ilsa movies. Not James Wong Howe good, but at least George Robinson good.
I look through Glut and Jones, trying to find a Thorne credit in a '70s Frankenstein movie. Of course, just because a film is called Frankenstein Meets the She-Wolf of the SS doesn't mean it's a Frankenstein movie. Frankenstein's Bloody Terror is a werewolf movie and several Japanese giant monster films have Frankenstein forced into their titles for German release, since Frankenstein is a generic term for monster in Germany. This must have been retitled since Glut came out, since he lists non-Frankenstein Frankenstein titles. With the proliferation of fly-by-night cable and video, some movies have multiple titles into double figures. I need three file cards just to list the alternate titles of Horror of the Blood Monsters or No profanar el sueńo de los muertos. However, that Monster, noted in occasional cutaways, leads me to identify this tentatively as a genuine Frankenstein movie as well as an unknown Ilsa.
As the film plays on, I eat several bourbons, almost whole, chewing them like dog biscuits.
Something is definitely strange about Frankenstein Meets the She-Wolf of the SS. I'm convinced it was shot in black and white. Ilsa strides through what looks like the Universal Studios Middle European village (built for All Quiet on the Western Front, it shows up in all their monster movies) accompanied by pudgy SS extras. Wherever she stands in the shot, her mammoth breasts seem to be the centre of the frame.
The plot involves Ilsa establishing a Nazi experiment camp in a ruined castle. Cringing villagers avoid Ilsa's goose-stepping buddies. The village is called Visaria. I guess it's supposed to be in Czechoslovakia or Poland. It's hard to tell, because it seems more like generic Eastern Europe than a real country. The burgomeister wears lederhosen and an alpine hat with a peacock feather.
I flip back in Glut and Jones, trying to track down a niggling memory. I am right. Visaria is the name of the village in the latter Universal horror films: 1940s monster rallies like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and House of Dracula. Whoever wrote Frankenstein Meets the She-Wolf of the SS must be a monster trivia junkie. I assume Forry Ackerman will get a cameo, and the Ken Strickfaden lab equipment will be dusted off. That suggests the auteur touch of Al Adamson, who always liked to borrow leftover props from the Universals for atrocities like Dracula Vs Frankenstein. This looks too good to be an Adamson (no acid trip, no Russ Tamblyn, no bikers) but I feel I'm getting this movie pinned down. Maybe it's from about the same vintage as Blackenstein, the one with the Karloff-style monster sporting a flat afro.
I write: '1972 to 1975? American. Stars Dyanne Thorne (as Ilsa). The tortured girl looked like Uschi Digart.'
Then Lionel Atwill shows up as a police inspector with a prosthetic arm and an eagle-crested cap, with Dwight Frye and Skelton Knaggs as the most cringing of cringing villagers. They are from the '40s, like the sets and the photography, and I'm lost.
Bourbon biscuit crumbs turn to ashes in my mouth.
Even if - and it's inconceivable - I'm wrong and the leading woman isn't Dyanne Thorne but a lookalike, the scene with the rat and the nipple-clamps could never have been shot in the '40s. Even for the private delectation of Lionel Atwill's houseguests. Ilsa doesn't have the lipsticky, marcelled look of the women in '40s horror films. Her hippie eye make-up and butch haircut are '70s to the bleached blonde roots.
I swallow and am forced to assume this is a Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid gimmick, mixing footage from different films. Perhaps it has been overdubbed with wisecracks by Saturday Night Live regulars. I listen to the dialogue as Ilsa dresses down Inspector Atwill, and can't catch any deliberate camp. One-shots of Ilsa and Atwill alternate and I try to see inconsistencies in the backgrounds. The match is good.
Then Ilsa peels off one elbow-length black leather glove and slaps Atwill across the face with it. Thorne's Ilsa, from the '70s, is in the same shot with Atwill's Inspector, from the '40s, and their physical interaction is too complicated to be faked. Ilsa rips apart Atwill's many-buttoned uniform, yanking off his artificial arm, and squats on him, hip-thrusting against the stump that sticks out of his shoulder. Thorne's orgasmic moaning is as unconvincing as ever but Atwill looks as though he's getting something out of the scene. Unsatisfied, Ilsa gets up and rearranges her SS skirt, then has Atwill summarily executed. Black blood squirts out of his burst eye. The ketchupy '70s gore looks nastier, more convincing in hand-me-down '40s expressionist black and white.
The telephone rings and the answering-machine cuts in. It's Ciaran, complaining about maintainance. She jabbers on, an uncertain edge to her voice, and I concentrate on important things.
This is definitely a crossover movie. I fervently wish I had seen it from the beginning so I could tell whether the title-card was original or spliced in. Actually, trying to track this one down is pointless. Whatever it's really called, it's impossible.
It's the usual Ilsa story but the supporting characters are from the Universal monster series. Major Ilsa is the last granddaughter of the original Henry Frankenstein and the castle is her ancestral home. That would make her the character played by Ilona Massey in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Dyanne Thorne is even wearing an Ilona Massey beauty mark, which shifts alarmingly around her mouth from scene to scene with typical Ilsa continuity. She is supposed to be working on the creation of a race of super-Nazis for Hitler, but spends more time having weird sex and torturing people than contributing to the war effort.
To help her out around the laboratory, where Glenn Strange lies supine on the table, Ilsa drags Dr Pretorius, Ernest Thesiger's swish mad scientist from Bride of Frankenstein, and Ygor, Bela Lugosi's broken-necked gypsy from Son ... and Ghost of Frankenstein, out of their concentration camps. Pretorius keeps adjusting his pink triangle to set off his lab coat and Ygor leers gruesomely at Ilsa, tongue dangling a foot or so out of his mouth.
The sex scenes are near hardcore, but extremely silly. Ilsa needs a man who can sustain an erection for a whole night and most of the next morning if she is to achieve full satisfaction. She thinks she is in luck when virile Larry Talbot tears off his clothes as the full moon rises. In an unprecedented shot, yak hair swarms around the Wolf Man's crotch. Jack Pierce must really have given Lon Chaney Jr a hard time with that lap dissolve. Ilsa and the Wolf Man go at it all over the castle, with ridiculous grunting and gasping and Franz Waxman's Wedding Bells score from Bride of Frankenstein, but there's big disappointment at dawn as the moon goes down and the werewolf turns back into dumb old flabby Larry-Lon. Ilsa yells abuse at the befuddled and limp American, and batters him to death with a silver cane.
After this, Ilsa is so crabby she shoves the burgomeister's irritating daughter into the sulphur pits below the castle. As the little girl goes under, we cut to Ygor-Bela snickering over a lamp positioned under his chin to make him look scary.
In theory, Universal's creature features have contemporary settings. Dracula and The Wolf Man clearly establish 1931 and 1941 for the dates of the action, so their sequels must take place in the years of their production. Ghost of Frankenstein (1941), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945), the Visaria movies, are all set in an unspecified Eastern Europe of torch-bearing peasant mobs, gypsy musicians and saluting policemen. Though Atwill in Son of Frankenstein complains that he missed out on the First World War because the monster tore his arm off when he was a boy, no one ever mentions the then-current War. In its crazed way, Frankenstein Meets the She-Wolf of the SS is more 'realistic'. The war, as reflected in the Nazi pornos of the '70s, has leaked into the enclosed world of Universal horror.
I mix Kettle Chips and Jaffa cakes, washing them down with Appletiser.
Predictably, at sunset, a distinguished visitor arrives at the castle, nattily dressed in top-hat, white tie and tails, peering hypnotically over his long nose. John Carradine announces himself as Baron Latos. As Ilsa escorts him to her boudoir, Carradine's floor-length cloak sweeps into a wing shape. An animated bat lands on Ilsa's breasts and writhes, pushing her back on to a canopied four-poster bed. Reverting to human form, Dracula nuzzles his moustache between Ilsa's thighs. The Count unbuttons his immaculate trouser fly to uncurl a white length of vampire manhood and pleasures Ilsa all through the night. The end, though, is inevitable. At sunrise, Dracula turns to ashes on top of an unsatisfied and infuriated Ilsa.
A sunburst of realisation: Channel 1818 is showing not movies that were made, but movies that can be imagined.
Appletiser blurts out of my nose at the conceptual breakthrough.
The ending is guessable: Dr Pretorius charges the Monster and he gets up off his slab in time to be the insatiable stud Ilsa has looked for throughout the picture. Glenn Strange, naked but for asphalt-spreader's boots, pounds away at Ilsa's tender parts for what seems like hours as revolting partisan peasants burn down the castle around their ears. The Monster's tool is in proportion with the rest of him, scarred with collodion applications. As Ilsa finally comes like a skyrocket, burning beams fall on the bed and an end title flickers.
As usual on cheapo movie channels, the film fades before the end credits so there's no chance of noting down the copyright date. I howl in frustration and throw away the file card. With no concrete information, I might just as well not have watched the film.
In anger, I batter the cushions of my sofa. Then I'm drawn back to the television. Over a frozen frame of Boris Karloff as the Monster in a Beatle wig, Channel 1818 announces the rest of the evening's movie programme.
King Kong Meets Frankenstein. Willis O'Brien's dream project.
The Marx Brothers Meet the Monsters. Through the bungling of Igolini (Chico), Professor Wolf J. Frankenstein (Groucho) puts the Monster's brain into Harpo's skull. Margaret Dumont is Dracula's Daughter.
House of the Wolf Man. A 1946 Universal, directed by Jean Yarbrough. Otto Kruger and Rondo Hatton tamper with the brains of Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi and Glenn Strange.
Dr Orloff, Sex Slave of Frankenstein. Directed by Jesús Franco, with Howard Vernon and Dennis Price, plus hardcore spliced in a decade after Price's death.
Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster: The Director's Cut. The three-hour extended version, with additional beach party numbers.
My bladder is uncomfortably full but I can't get up to pee lest I miss anything irreplaceable. Channel 1818 is a treasure trove. If I keep watching, I'll be able to note down credits. I'll be the true source of information. Weldon, Glut and Jones will have to beg me for credits. My interpretations will be definitive. Hardy's Aurum Encyclopedia: Horror will have to be junked entirely. The history of horror is written on shifting sands.
Then come trailers: Peter Cushing sewing new legs on to disco queen Caroline Munro in Hammer's Frankenstein AD 1971; an hour-long print of the 1910 Edison Frankenstein; Baron Rossano Brazzi singing 'Some Lightning-Blasted Evening' in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Frankenstein!; Peter Cushing and Boris Karloff in the same laboratory; W.C. Fields as the Blind Hermit, sneering, 'Never work with children or hunchbacked assistants'; James Whale's 1931 Frankenstein, with Leslie Howard as the doctor, Bette Davis as Elizabeth and a still-living Lon Chaney, all staring eyes and glittering teeth, as the Monster; John Wayne and a cavalry troop tracking the Monster through Monument Valley in John Ford's Fort Frankenstein; a restored 1915 Life Without Soul, with Percy Darrell Standing; Frankenstein 1980 in 3-D, with a better script; James Dean and Whit Bissell in I Was a Teenage Frankenstein.
1818 was the year in which Mary Shelley published Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. This is the Frankenstein Channel.
My bladder lets go, but I don't mind. I can't make it to the kitchen without looking away from the screen, so I'll have to improvise food. As always, I have enough munchies to keep me going. Sleep I can do without. I have my vocation.
My wrist aches from writing down titles and credits. I have responsibilities.
David Cronenberg's Frankenstein. Dario Argento's Frankenstein. Ingmar Bergman's Frankenstein. Woody Allen's Frankenstein. Martin Scorsese's Frankenstein. Walerian Borowczyk's Frankenstein. Jerry Warren's Frankenstine. Akira Kurosawa's Furankenshutain. Ernest Hemingway's Frank Stein. Troma's Frankenslime. William Castle's Shankenstein. Jim Wynorski's Wankenstein. Wayne Newton's Dankenshane. Odorama's Rankenstein.
I watch, reference books strewn around the floor, all useless, all outdated. On and on, monsters and mad doctors, hunchbacks and mobs, blind men and murdered girls, ice floes and laboratories.
Channel ident 1818 flickers. I fight pangs in my stomach and eat the crumby paper which was wrapped around my last pack of digestive biscuits. Sammy Davis Jr slicks hair across his flat-head in a Rat Packenstein picture, as Dino and Frank Sinatra fix up the electrodes.
I recognise the strange smell as my own. There are enough crumbs behind the cushions of the sofa to sustain life. I pick them out like a grooming gorilla and crack them between my teeth.
Badly dressed black musicians rob the graves of blues singers in the endless Funkenstein series. Ridley Scott directs a run of Bankenstein ads for Barclays, with Sting applying for a small business loan to get his monster wired. Jane Fonda works the scars out of her thighs in the Flankenstein video.
I am transfixed. I would look away, but there is a chance I might miss something. I'm dreaming the electronic dream, consuming imaginary images made celluloid.
Brides, sons, ghosts, curses, revenges, evils, horrors, brains, dogs, bloods, castles, daughters, houses, ladies, brothers, ledgers, lodgers, hands, returns, tales, torments, infernos, worlds, experiments, horror chambers ... of Frankenstein.
I hit the exhaustion wall and burn through it. My life functions are at such a low level that I can continue indefinitely. I'm plugged into Channel 1818. It's my duty to stay the course.
Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis, Redford and Newman, Astaire and Rogers, Mickey and Donald, Tango and Cash, Rowan and Martin, Bonnie and Clyde, Frankie and Annette, Hinge and Brackett, Batman and Robin, Salt and Pepa, Titch and Quackers, Amos and Andy, Gladstone and Disraeli, Morecambe and Wise, Block and Tackle ... Meet Frankenstein.
I can barely move, but my eyes are open.
Credits roll, too fast to jot down. These films exist for one showing and are lost. Each frame is unique, impossible to recreate. I daren't even leave the room to get a pack of blank videotapes. It is down to me. I must watch and I must remember. My mind is the screen on which these Frankensteins perform.
The Frankenstein Monster is played by ... Bela Lugosi (in 1931), Christopher Lee (in 1964), Lane Chandler, Harvey Keitel, Sonny Bono, Bernard Bresslaw, Meryl Streep, Bruce Lee, Neville Brand, John Gielgud, Ice-T, Rock Hudson, Traci Lords.
The experience is priceless. A red sun rises outside, and I draw the curtains.
'Now I know what it feels like to be a God,' croaks Edward G. Robinson.
I will stay with the channel.
'We belong dead,' intones Don Knotts.
I will watch.
'To a new world of Gods and monsters,' toasts Daffy Duck.
(C) Kim Newman
Visit Kim's website at http://johnnyalucard.com
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.