Monkees Vs. Macheen: “I Was a Teenage Monster”

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“He’s a Monster. He’s an Android. Monster! Android! He’s a Monster and an Android. Forget it Bronwyn, it’s The Monkees.” 

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Hurray for Halloween episodes! Of course, “I Was a Teenage Monster” didn’t debut on Halloween. It originally aired January 9, 1967. Since they shot it from November 1-3 in 1966 there was no way it would be ready for Halloween [This would require a time machine – Editor]. All the same, I love their spooky-themed episodes which would include: “Monkee See, Monkee Die,” “A Coffin Too Frequent,” “Monstrous Monkee Mash,” and this one. Like the previous episode, “The Case of the Missing Monkee,” this is a genre episode; this time it’s horror [This time, it’s personal!  Sorry – Editor]. The title is a spoof on the film I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) starring Michael Landon. This freaky horror fest was directed by Sidney Miller, and written by Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso and Dave Evans.

As in “Monkee See, Monkee Die” The Monkees arrive in a spooky house and are instantly disturbed by their surroundings. The boys are all wearing their matching blue Monkees shirts, ready to play a party, but their host, Dr. Mendoza, lets them know that it’s not the case. They’re actually there to teach a “youngster.” Groot, Dr. Mendoza’s “Igor” analog, interrupts and takes Mendoza away. They go to the lab where they pull a sheet off a giant Frankenstein type. It’s Richard Kiel, yeah!

When this ran on MTV in the mid ’80s I was so excited to see Richard Kiel on this show. I had seen him in The Spy Who Loved Me as Jaws a million times on cable and in that movie, he is genuinely scary. Here, he’s adorable. He’s so wonderfully expressive throughout the episode that it’s amusing the Monkees find him frightening.

The Monkees want to know if it’s Mendoza’s son they’ll be teaching and Mendoza creepily answers that it’s his “flesh and blood.” They go to the lab where Mendoza reveals to them the “little monster.” Micky breaks the fourth wall to tell us “The little monster IS a little monster.” He’s more of a big monster since Kiel is over 7 feet tall. There’s lots of breaking the fourth wall in this one, the most I’ve seen in an episode thus far. It gives this particular episode almost a “live” feeling. As does the mostly wide shots that resemble a stage-play.

The Monkees panic and try to make all sorts of excuses to leave. Except Peter of course. Peter gets attached and thinks the Monster’s harmless. Peter’s absolutely right, even though the Monster keeps roaring at them at a frightening volume. Mendoza explains they’re not teaching a monster, he’s really more of an android. Mike utters this little gem, “We can’t tutor a computer.” I never noticed before that Mendoza called him an android. In light of what happens later, the designation android makes perfect sense. Mike busts out the faux-macho deep voice again, and declares he can’t risk his men on this foolish plan. Mendoza exploits their need for money and offers to double the original payment from $100 to $200. So the Monkees agree in this little cutaway:

Science-Must-Be-Served

Left alone with the Monster, Peter becomes very much like a little kid and wants to keep the monster/android as a pet. Mike treats him like a child saying he’d have to take care of it. Super-scientist Micky explores the lab, nearly spilling a beaker that Mike rescues and notes could have been the monster’s mother. Upstairs in the parlor, they start to work on teaching the monster to be a rock star. Micky decides his image is wrong and thumps him in the chest. The Monster replies with a deep-voiced “don’t do that”. Micky conjures up a few items to dress the Monster: a Beatles haircut, dark glasses, groovy clothes, and a guitar.

longhaired-nearsited-monster-with-a-guitar

They call him “it,” but I’m going with “he.” It’s telling that they go with the superficial rather than teaching him any music. This is the stereotype of being a rock star, image over musicianship. What’s also humorous is their fear is also superficial; it’s just based on his size and his growly voice. The Monster hasn’t made any aggressive moves towards them at all. Next, they try to teach him to move on stage and play drums but both attempts end badly [Meg White, he ain’t – Editor]. He hip-checks Peter and Davy off stage and breaks Micky’s drumsticks. The Monkees want to leave, promising to come back tomorrow to work on his voice but Mendoza insists it late and they should stay the night.

The Monkees are in their creepy room. Meanwhile, Groot checks with Mendoza on the plan to transfer the Monkees talent and voices to the Monster.  He says some science mumbo-jumbo to explain it. The Monkees discover a girl in their closet, who introduces herself as the Doctor’s beautiful daughter. (There’s also a black lacy bra hanging in the closet behind her.) They shut her back in there and go to watch TV. A little meta-humor here, as the dialogue for the movie they’re watching involves a doctor transferring a man’s brain into and ape.  One by one, each Monkee disappears from the room.

Bonnie-Dewberry

Our boys find themselves chained to the wall in Mendoza’s lab, where Mendoza reveals his plan to give their musical talent to his creation. Mike tells Mendoza he could get the chair if they die, something he also told Bessie in “Monkees in a Ghost Town.” Nice of him to try and caution these wackos. Mendoza says the transfer won’t kill them and demonstrates by transferring current with two wires. He causes explosions to go off in the lab.

Amusing bit as Davy takes his hands out from where they’re supposed to be chained to make a pleading gesture. He breaks the fourth wall to apologize to the cameraman. Pink puffs of smoke go off behind each Monkee as Mendoza finishes the process. Mendoza asks the Monkees to sing, and they give an off-key rendition of the theme. The Monster meanwhile, opens his mouth and sings with four voices and all instruments. He’s more of a playback machine. The android description fits better than monster. Mendoza and Groot dance around with glee! This is so silly. I love it. It could have been a full length musical.

crazy-machinery

Mendoza warns them that he’s taking their memories away [Nothing the god of biomechanics won’t let you into Heaven for – Editor]. He has a long tube with two flat metal ends, and he puts one end to his neck and the other to each of the Monkee’s necks saying, “You will remember nothing.” They reply, “I will remember nothing.” I swear the actors or someone on set just pulled that out of their hat as a way to have them “hypnotized.” No wonder it doesn’t last long. I love Mike’s attempt to “resist” though. They have all this fabulous equipment on the set and this is the hypnosis device? It doesn’t compare to the amnesia ray in “The Case of the Missing Monkee.”

Back on the stage, the Monkees can’t play or sing or remember why. Mendoza actually takes back the money he gave them since they can no longer play. Wow, he really is evil. He takes their talent, AND has the nerve to take back the $200? Mendoza shows off the Monster, who plays “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day” with the Monkees voices.

The Monkees sit in their room and try to figure out what happened. Since the memory wiping was ridiculous, it doesn’t last long and they all remember having their talent stolen. They run to the lab, except Micky, who stops to ask the girl in the closet what she thinks of all this.

Sequel

Down in the lab, Micky is the one to try and figure out how to reverse the process. I guess Mendoza’s done playing with his toy, because there’s the Monster, in his old clothes and strapped to the wall. Speaking of that, it’s kind of a shame that Mendoza is talented enough to make a functioning humanoid android, and this is what he wants to do with it? That cynicism of the writers again, telling the audience everyone just wants to be in showbiz.

Mad scientist Micky starts monkeying around with everything in the lab to reverse the process. One of the bits of equipment looks like a turn-table with a stack of records on it. Micky realizes he can’t reach the devices while strapped to the wall so he gets a long cane to hit everything with. His first attempt changes the monster into a hippie, “Let’s split and go to my pad. That’s where it’s at. Groovy. Dig” Micky’s next attempt gives Mike the Monsters’s voice, “Kill! Kill!” But that’s not really the monster’s temperament.

Meanwhile, Mendoza suffers various distractions. He asks the mirror who’s the evilest one of all, and is disappointed it isn’t him. Well, he’s got my vote! The Mirror voice was provided by James Frawley. Mendoza next gets a call from a lady asking if he wants bossa nova lessons. That’s just got to be Miss Buntwell from “Dance, Monkee Dance,” right? Groot reminds Mendoza he promised to turn him into a tall, strong monster. Mendoza promises to turn him into a vampire.

decorator

Micky’s lever-pulling in the lab turns the monster momentarily into a flamboyant decorator. I just want to mention how great Richard Kiel’s acting is through all this; comical and engaging facial expressions and gestures. He may be an android, but he’s no stiff! Mike gives us a skeptical look. Micky promises to get it right. Instead, he spills a glass container, alerting Mendoza and Groot. They rush in and try to stop Micky. Micky shouts a non-sequitur “Curse you, red baron!”

Mendoza orders the monster to attack the Monkees, but Peter tries to use his friendship to stop him. The friendship could have been developed a little more, but Peter is the only person to give him a name, “Andy” presumably short for android. Also, this is the first real aggression we’ve seen from the monster. Peter tells the monster that Mendoza wants 60% of the monster’s income and the monster turns to kill the Doctor instead. The Monster goes back and forth between Mendoza and Peter, not sure who to attack, until his swinging back-and-forth outstretched arms turn into a dance, leading into the romp for “Auntie Grizelda” (Diane Hildebrand/Jack Keller).

That was truly a genius moment, the lead-in to the romp. The romp is fun too, one of the best of the series and the second really good one in a row. Lots of chasing and fake scare bits, and the song suits it very well. Highlights include the Monster dancing, Micky as a DJ, and footage from the movie Reptilicus (1961). Davy leaps into the Monster’s arms and materializes a boxing glove. The monster also meets the “villagers with their torches” aforementioned in “Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth” and he roasts marshmallows with them.

Romp-highlight

Mike calls the police and tells them to pick up the bad guys on “Rosebud” lane. Cute and random reference to Citizen Kane when Mike says, “I thought that was the name of the sled.” The Monkees try to play their instruments but instead they break them all. Also, what are they going to do with the monster, just leave him down there? I know he’s an android but will they just leave him shut off? No really, I’m very worried about this. He’s the best character.

There are a couple of loose ends I’d say. Not that they have to tie everything up in a neat little bow. I like shows that leave some things to the imagination. Also, the events of these episodes never have consequences anyway. Next episode, The Monkees will be able to play again. There were no plot strings like in today’s TV shows. Every episode can stand alone. This one stands alone as a groovy and charming monster movie parody, in large part due to the fabulous guest cast, cool set direction and a smashing romp.

If you’ve missed any of these previous recaps, they are now conveniently available in an archive page.

Evil-Monster

Look-Out-For

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

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