Teenager Trudy Morton (Sandra Knight), who lives with her uncle Carter Morgan (Felix Locher), has nightmares in which she dreams that she is a monster running about the streets at night. Trudy believes the dreams are real. Her boyfriend Johnny Bruder (John Ashley) doesn't, nor do her friends Suzie Lawler (Sally Todd) and Don (Harold Lloyd Jr.). Little does Trudy know, but she actually does turn into a monster at night, thanks to Carter's unpleasant lab assistant Oliver Frank (Donald Murphy). He lives with them, works in Carter's home lab and has been spiking Trudy's fruit punch with the formula that he and Carter are developing. Carter's goal is to eliminate all disease so that people can live forever; Oliver's goal is something quite different.
Carter's project stalls and he breaks into Rockwell Labs for Digenerol, the chemical he needs for his experiments. He doesn't know who Oliver actually is or that, with the help of Elsu the gardener (Wolfe Barzell), Oliver is secretly assembling what he calls a "perfect being." For Oliver Frank is Oliver Frankenstein, grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein.
Police Lt. Boyd (John Zaremba) and Det. Bill Dillon (Robert Dix) investigate a report from a frightened woman (Charlotte Portney) that a female monster in a swimsuit attacked her. It is of course Trudy. They spot her and fire a few shots but miss. Oliver grabs her and drags her home to recover.
The next morning Carter asks Oliver if he has seen the newspaper story about a "Frankenstein monster" on the loose. Oliver scoffs at the story, but when Carter disparages the Frankensteins, Oliver literally jumps to his feet in their defense. Boyd and Dillon are visited by Mr. Rockwell (Voltaire Perkins) of Rockwell Labs. Rockwell says that the stolen Digenerol may be somehow related to the monster issue.
Back at the home lab, Elsu mistakenly enters through a secret door while Carter and Oliver are working. Oliver silently shoos him out and to distract Carter knocks the bottle of Digenerol from his hand, spilling every drop. Carter says that he must now steal more Digenerol.
Suzie visits Trudy, but they quarrel and as Suzi flounces off she makes a date with Oliver. The date goes badly, with Oliver attempting to force himself on Suzie. Since he needs a brain for his perfect being, he runs Suzie over with his car, killing her. Oliver will create a female perfect being, something the Frankensteins have never tried before. When Elsu asks whym Oliver says that "now we're aware the female mind is conditioned to a man's world. It therefore takes orders, where the other ones didn't." In awe, Elsu exclaims, "Frankenstein's daughter!" after which they always refer to it in the feminine.
While Oliver tries to reanimate "her," Boyd and Dillon arrive. As they tell Oliver that they suspect Carter is the Digenerol thief, "she" (Harry Wilson) comes to life, hideously scarred and looking not in the least like pretty, blonde Suzie. After the police leave, "she" escapes and kills a warehouse worker (Bill Coontz). Another worker, Mack (George Barrows), calls the cops.
At the house, Trudy and Oliver are talking when someone knocks on the front door. Trudy answers. It's the monster! Trudy screams and faints. Elsu coaxes "her" into the lab. When Johnny arrives and tells him what happened, Oliver convinces Johnny that Trudy has an overactive imagination.
Oliver wants the lab for himself and decides to kill Carter. But as he starts strangling him, Boyle and Dillon show up with more questions about the Digenerol. Oliver tells them that Carter stole it; Carter tells them that Oliver tried to kill him. Oliver persuades them that Carter is mentally ill. They arrest Carter. Oliver then argues with Elsu, who refuses any further assistance, and Oliver has "her" kill Elsu. Afterwards, Oliver tells Trudy and Johnny that Carter has been arrested. When Johnny leaves for the police station, Trudy stays behind. Oliver reveals that he is actually a Frankenstein, not a Frank, and shows her his creation again. Trudy faints once more, but awakens and goes to the police station herself. Boyle tells her and Johnny that Carter has died.
Boyle and Dillon return to the house to further question Oliver. When Boyle leaves, Dillon stays behind to keep an eye on Oliver. Dillon stumbles across "her" hiding place in the house and Oliver orders "her" to kill Dillon.
Trudy and Johnny come home and also find the monster's hide-out. Oliver orders "her" to kill them, too. "She" and Johnny fight in the lab. Johnny throws a vial of acid at "her," but hits Oliver instead, melting his face. As Oliver falls screaming to the floor, the monster accidentally sets "herself" alight on a Bunsen burner. Trudy and Johnny flee as "she" is consumed by flames.John Ashley as Johnny Bruder
Sandra Knight as Trudy Morton
Donald Murphy as Oliver Frank/Frankenstein
Sally Todd as Suzie Lawler
Harold Lloyd Jr. as Don
Felix Locher as Carter Morton
Wolfe Barzell as Elsu
John Zaremba as Police Lt. Boyd
Robert Dix as Police Det. Bill Dillon
Harry Wilson as The Monster
Voltaire Perkins as Mr. Rockwell
Charlotte Portney as Frightened Woman
Bill Coontz as First Victim - Warehouseman
George Barrows as Mack
Page Cavanaugh and His Trio
Frankenstein's Daughter was shot over six days for approximately $65,000 and sold to Astor Pictures for $80,000. It was filmed at Screencraft Studios in Hollywood, although the house in which much of the action takes place was the home of producer Marc Frederic. Production of the movie wrapped up in May 1958.
Film Critic Bill Warren notes that Frankenstein's Daughter was titled She Monster of the Night when it was available in 8 mm format and that it "may have been retitled 'The Wild Witch of Frankenstein' for a Chicago Theater." Although he does not name the theater or provide a reason for the change in title, he writes that other films were also retitled when they were shown in Chicago at about the same time. British critic Phil Hardy also refers to the film as "Frankenstein's Daughter aka She Monster of the Night."
Although the credits use the words "and introducing" in reference to Harold Lloyd Jr., his first film role was in 1953's The Flaming Urge. Sally Todd was Miss February 1957 in Playboy magazine.
The specific release date of the movie in the USA is somewhat confusing. The American Film Institute (AFI) simply states that it was released in November 1958, while the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) gives a more precise date of 15 November 1958 for its New York City premiere. However, Warren writes that the release date was "December 15, 1958 (March 4, 1960 in Los Angeles)."
Frankenstein's Daughter was released theatrically in Canada and West Germany in 1959, Mexico in 1960 and France in 1962, as well as at unspecified dates in Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and the UK. It was distributed theatrically in Canada by Astral Films; by Sunderfilm Zwicker in West Germany; and by Benelux Films in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. At some point it played as the first feature on a double bill with The Giant Gila Monster in the UK. Frankenstein's Daughter was given an X-certificate by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC), restricting its viewing to adults age 16 and over, while The Giant Gila Monster got an A-certificate, which meant that the film was considered more suitable for adults than children.
The film has been referred to, had clips used or been shown in its entirety on television numerous times over the years. For example, it was referenced in the "Reluctant Hero" episode of the situation comedy program My Secret Identity in February 1990. Clips from the movie were used in the "Frankenstein's Friends" episode of 100 Years of Horror in December 1996 and in the Cinemassacre's Monster Madness episode "Dracula vs. Frankenstein" in October 2010. The entire movie was shown on Frightmare Theater in May 2017.
Frankenstein's Daughter has also been included in at least one theatrical film series. In December 2011, it was shown, along with Lady Frankenstein, as part of Michael W. Phillip's "Shock Theater" film series, which specialized in showing 16 mm prints of "drive-in movie horror fare." The series ran on Friday nights at the Wicker Park Arts Center in Chicago.
Frankenstein's Daughter has been available for individual home viewing in the USA since 2000, when Vintage Video released it on VHS and both Englewood Entertainment and Image Entertainment released it on DVD. Synergy Entertainment distributed the movie worldwide on DVD starting in 2008. And it has been available on DVD from Bach Entertainment in France since 2009; from L'Atelier in Spain, also on DVD, since 2009; and from Edel Media & Entertainment in Germany on DVD since 2013.
The reviews written in 1958 and 1959 appear to show that critics did not think well of Frankenstein's Daughter. According to Warren, the movie was "greeted by the few who reviewed it with the contempt it deserved." He notes that "the Los Angeles Examiner called the film 'a dismal clunker,'" while critic "Paul V. Beckley in the New York Herald-Tribune felt it was 'a little better [than Missile to the Moon], although much more confusing." New York Times critic Howard Thompson wrote that "'it's a toss-up whether [Frankenstein's Daughter or its cofeature] Missile to the Moon is the cheaper, duller piece of claptrap. Both are horror movies, being simply horrible bores.'" BoxOffice magazine in its "Review Digest" for the issue of 9 February 1959 gave the film a rating of "fair" and recorded a "poor" rating from the New York Daily News.
Modern-day critics generally think poorly of the film, as well. Hardy calls it "a decidedly shoddy teenage monster movie ... weighed down by the usual scenes of teenage partying" and eventually ending with a "routine conflagration when the required running time has been reached." Also taking note of the "teenage partying" segments of the film, critic Robert Horton writes that the pool-party song-and-dance numbers give viewers a "Z-movie view of Eisenhower America" and that "Frankenstein's Daughter blends early rock movie devices (lover's lane, nightclub combo) with an old-school monster story." But the Austin (Texas) Chronicle's film critic, Mike Emery, has a more favorable perspective. He calls the movie "not bad for an evening of nostalgia and laughs. Not to mention a reminder of an era when fun 'creature features' were cranked out by the dozen."
Warren dislikes the monster makeup worn by Harry Wilson and the gender confusion that results from a man playing Frankenstein's Daughter. He writes that "it's never clear if the monster is entirely a female - it certainly doesn't look like a woman - or has the body of a man and the head of a woman ... we never know if the monster is male, female, or a mixture - or why that would make any difference." He blames much of this on the makeup, writing that "when he learned at the last moment the monster was supposed to be a woman, [makeup artist Harry] Thomas hastily scrawled lipstick on its mouth and sent it on to movie immortality." In an interview, Cuhna laid the blame for the makeup not on Harry Thomas, but on a short shooting schedule and low budget, telling crtitc Tom Weaver that "it was a situation where we just got trapped, again, without any money. We had no preparation time, and Frankenstein's Daughter was designed on the set on the first day of shooting ... we just didn't have enough money to create a monster that would represent Sally Todd. Thomas told Weaver in a separate interview that he "wanted to make Sally Todd up as the monster, but the producers didn't think she was big enough to fight and look menacing."
Critic Bryan Senn says that "though there's much to scoff at in this gender-bending cheapie, director Cuhna and cinematographer Meredith Nicholson at least try to invest the proceedings with some visual interest, utilizing shadows, depth of field, and even change of focus within a shot to bring a character into sharp relief at a dramatic moment." Those attempts do not sound entirely successful, though. Hardy writes that Nicholson's "shadowy lighting, however, can't fully disguise the few cramped studio sets and banal exteriors ... and so the picture possesses a cheap, claustrophobic feel."
The acting has drawn mixed reviews. While Emery writes that the movie is "filled with awful acting and even worse rock & roll dance numbers," when it comes to a major character, "Dr. Frankenstein was never slimier than when he was portrayed by Donald Murphy." He describes Oliver as "part mad scientist, part Ivy League jerk" and says that he is "one of the more lecherous and humorous characters to bear the legendary doctor's name." Senn is also favorable toward Murphy's acting, writing that he "gives a hearty performance as the arrogant, brilliant Oliver. He imbues his scornful scientist with a superior air and a wealth of passion." On the other hand, "hero John Ashley's toneless playing adds to the production's woes. His deadpan delivery and immobile countenance are so stiff you could light a match on them."
Currently, the film has a 3.8/10 on the Internet Movie Database, with 647 ratings, 36 user reviews and 12 external reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, there are no ratings from professional critics and 14 reviews from the general audience. Twenty percent of the audience says it likes Frankenstein's Daughter and gives the movie an average rating of 2.5/5, based on the responses of 315 viewers.
Page Cavanaugh and His Trio performed the song "Special Date" on-screen during the movie and with Harold Lloyd Jr. providing the vocals, a second song, titled "Daddy Bird." The latter was released on Surf Records as the A-side of a 45-rpm single in 1958, with "Grind Me a Pound" on the B-side. Lloyd is credited on the record as Duke Lloyd. A CD of instrumental music from the soundtracks of Missile to the Moon and Frankenstein's Daughter, simply titled "MIssile to the Moon/Frankenstein's Daughter," was released in October 2012 by Monstrous Movie Music. The "marvelous-but-unheralded composer and orchestrator, Nicholas Carras" scored each film for between $9000 and $10,000 in 1958.