Kiss Me, Monster / Castle of the Doomed / Besame, Monstruo / Küss Mich, Monster (1969) -*½
I keep saying it, but that’s because it keeps needing to be said: don’t rush your sequels, damnit! As Kiss Me, Monster demonstrates, even back-to-back productions where everybody knows ahead of time that a follow-up film is in the offing can get into trouble if the creative types put the bulk of their mental efforts into the first picture, and mostly just wing it during the sequel. Kiss Me, Monster got underway more or less immediately after Two Undercover Angels wrapped, and any one- or two-sentence description of its premise would make this movie sound even more intriguingly loony than its predecessor. In fact, however, Kiss Me, Monster is a dull, directionless slog through a handful of endlessly repeated gags, which stubbornly refuses to reproduce the prior movie’s most endearing qualities, and which makes so little sense in its English-language version that just explaining how illogical it is requires lending it a degree of cogency that it doesn’t actually possess. Granted, Two Undercover Angels didn’t exactly distinguish itself with seamless plotting or insightful character motivation, but it’s easy enough to follow while you’re in the process of watching. In Kiss Me, Monster, the heroines have no idea what’s going on for the bulk of the running time, and the audience generally knows even less than they do. Only at the conclusion does it become possible even to attempt putting all the pieces together, and it won’t take more than a moment to discover that very few of them really fit.
There’s a framing sequence involving a visit to the Red Lips villa by Agent Francis McLune of Interpol (Chris Howland again) and a guy named Kramer (Barta Bari, from Monster Dog and Dr. Jekyll and the Werewolf) who claims to be McLune’s boss, but I’m going to disregard that except to say that Kramer is neither who nor what he says he is. The main story begins with an earlier unexpected guest, a delivery boy bearing an urgent message for the famed masked detective. But before Diana (still Janine Reynaud) and Regina (still Rosanna Yanni)— who, you’ll recall, take turns posing as Red Lips to keep regular law enforcement authorities too confused to impede their work— have so much as a chance to glance at the paper the boy hands them, somebody kills the courier by throwing a knife into his back. The assassin vanishes immediately thereafter. That leaves the girls to puzzle out the significance of the delivery unaided— and make no mistake, it is puzzling. Evidently the messenger was supposed to deliver orally the details of the assignment, for the paper is nothing but the sheet music to “The Abilene Anthem,” a folk song from an obscure island in the Spanish Caribbean. Unless there’s something hidden in either the lyrics or the melody, the only clue on the page is a curious seal, looking something like an eight-pointed compass rose. There isn’t even so much as the signature of whomever it is that wanted to hire Red Lips.
Somehow (there’s a lot of “somehow” in this movie) Diana and Regina at least figure out which island they’re supposed to go to, although that still leaves them completely in the dark about who their client is and what they’re supposed to do when they get there. And somehow (see?) word of Red Lips’ arrival on the island gets out immediately to no fewer than five separate sets of conspirators, each of them acting at cross purposes to the other four. I’m going to make this easier for you and me both by explaining up front what all these people are up to; understand, though, that Kiss Me, Monster itself is not so considerate. At issue for everybody is the work of a scientist named Bertrand, who disappeared promptly after creating a pair of synthetic humanoids called Andros 1 and Andros 2. Somehow (and again!) just about everybody on the island (and its nearest neighbors, for that matter) knows about Bertrand’s homunculus experiment, and they all believe that the secret to replicating it for their own purposes lies concealed close at hand, even though the scientist himself has vanished. Eric Vicas (Adrian Hoven, from Cave of the Living Dead and Succubus) and Yolanda (Caroline Riviere, of The Perverse Countess and The Sadist of Notre Dame, who was Franco’s stepdaughter by his first marriage) are deep-cover Interpol agents seeking to keep homunculus technology from falling into “the wrong hands.” (By the way, if anyone knows when Interpol began hiring thirteen-year-old girls as operatives, I’d love to hear from you.) Linda the nightclub proprietress (Anna Casares, from 1001 Nights) and Andy the hotel bellhop (Manuel Velasco) just want to turn a quick profit; if they uncover the professor’s secrets, they’ll turn right around and sell them to the highest bidder. Bertrand’s assistant, Jacques Maurier (Conquest of Mycenae’s Michel Lemoine, who is much more recognizable without all that wolf-man fur he was wearing in Two Undercover Angels), wants to pick up where his mentor left off, but he’s now working for an evil… well, maybe not quite mastermind… called Dmitri (Manolo Otero, from Two Males for Alexa and Tales of the White Sheets), whose world-domination plot would benefit from an army of nearly mindless supermen. Irina (Marta Reves, of Dr. Orloff’s Monster and The Girl from Rio) has a world-domination plot of her own. She and her coven of militant lesbians have seized upon Bertrand’s invention as the breakthrough that will enable them to exterminate the male sex without condemning the species as a whole to extinction. And the secret society of Krimi reenactors known as the Abilenes? Honestly, I have no idea what their objective is.
Anyway, since the only clue Diana and Regina have is a piece of sheet music, they hire on at Linda’s nightclub with an act that defies easy description. Sometimes they play saxophones (incidentally, theirs is the worst mimed musicianship I have ever seen in any movie or TV show) while dressed in sheer pantyhose and the top halves of tuxedos. Other times, they alternate torch songs and stripteases. But every time, the musical component of the performance is “The Abilene Anthem,” which they hope will lure someone who knows something out into the open. The Abilenes, meanwhile, get in touch with Diana and Regina through an absurdly convoluted routine of spy-movie bullshit, ultimately offering them $80,000 to find out what happened to Bertrand. (You might assume that means the Abilenes were the ones who sent that delivery boy to the villa, but you’d be wrong.) Linda and Andy go the easy route, seeking to ingratiate themselves to the detectives in the hope of being led straight to their quarry and avoiding any of the real work. The other parties to the contest prefer strong-arm tactics, refusing to believe that the vaunted Red Lips have come to the island not knowing shit about anything. It’s completely true, though— and what’s more they haven’t learned shit about anything since making landfall, either, because the Androi keep showing up to backstab everyone they turn to for information.
Go back and reread the bit where I laid out all the competing agendas at work in Kiss Me, Monster. This movie ought to be some wild, insane shit. It should leave Two Undercover Angels in the dust from an entertainment-via-incredulity standpoint. But instead, Kiss Me, Monster just feels sort of limp and weary. It certainly doesn’t help that the international version has one of the all-time terrible English-language dubs. The voice performers are all obviously reading their dialogue straight from the script, and only the women dubbing Diana and Regina (the same ones who provided their English-speaking voices last time) make any recognizable effort to act. The translation, meanwhile, is one of those atrocious direct-from-the-dictionary jobs that make nonsense of idiomatic expressions, and come out sounding like the work of a high school English-as-second-language student. There are several points at which I frankly have almost no idea what a character is supposed to be saying.
The bad translation exacerbates a problem that would be present no matter what language you were watching in, a fatal intersection of convoluted plot and character ignorance. That is, we mainly see this story unfold through the eyes of Diana and Regina, and as I keep saying (because there’s really no overstating its importance), they spend virtually the whole of the movie having no clue what the hell is going on. It’s amusing when Regina gets shanghaied to the island of man-hating lesbians, and has to waste an entire evening convincing Irina that she doesn’t know anything about Professor Bertrand or his work, but not nearly amusing enough to justify devoting half the film to rerunning the gag in various combinations of captive and interrogator. It’s one thing for the audience to be a step or two behind the characters, or for the characters to be a step or two behind the audience. But this state of affairs, with nobody knowing anything, and everyone being constantly thwarted in their efforts to find out, is just intolerable. No mystery story should go into the endgame without at least the contours of the solution visible.
The uselessness of the Red Lips girls as detectives this time around is another sticking point for me. In Two Undercover Angels, it was both obvious and important that whatever else Diana and Regina might have been, they were above all thoroughly competent. In Kiss Me, Monster, by contrast, they never get anywhere under their own power. Their scheme to turn up leads by playing “The Abilene Anthem” in front of audience after audience until somebody in the crowd reacts is as ineffectual as it is silly. (And while I’m on the subject of “The Abilene Anthem,” you might think that it would occur to somebody to write a specific melody for the song, since so much of the plot pretends to hinge on its recognition by various characters. Astonishingly, no one did any such thing!) Their efforts to pump people for information come to grief every single time at the hands of knife-throwing homunculi. And most galling of all, it never even occurs to them to follow the synthetic assassins back to their lair to discover who’s been controlling the products of Bertrand’s research. Also, as insignificant as this admittedly is, it irritates me that neither Diana nor Regina ever appears in their shared Red Lips disguise at any point in Kiss Me, Monster.
I do have a theory, though, as to why our heroines have turned into such hapless ninnies in their second adventure. You’ll recall me saying that Two Undercover Angels had been in part Franco’s love-letter to golden-age Hollywood’s comedy duo films. Obviously it diverged from that pattern in all sorts of ways, and among the most significant (yet easily missed) of those divergences was the very fact that Diana and Regina were so damn good at their jobs. In old-timey Hollywood, comedy almost always meant ineptitude, at least when comedy was crossbred with some other genre. The canonical example, of course, would be Abbott and Costello bumbling their way through five movies’ worth of encounters with Universal’s senescent stable of monster characters, but there were plenty of others. So grating as it is to see the Red Lips girls eventually uncovering Professor Bertrand’s secret stash of notes and equipment through absolutely no fault of their own, doing it that way brings Diana and Regina more into line with their primary inspiration. The same holds true for the abandonment of the Red Lips persona, which sat a little uneasily beside both the 40’s comedy elements and the 60’s Eurospy stylings of the previous movie. Unfortunately, those changes in the formula deprive Kiss Me, Monster of exactly the things that most made Two Undercover Angels interesting in the first place.