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Blackenstein

a/k/a Blackenstein: The Black Frankenstein

Part Two of Sinister Soul Cinema

     "Raarrnh! Movie BAD! End GOOD!"

-- The Ghosts of all Frankenstein's that came before.   

 

     

Reviews:

Gonzoid Cinema

 

 

Buzzkillers!

I say it was Dr. Stein, in the laboratory, with a Tesla Coil.

Anybody got a CLUE card says I'm wrong?

 

Watch it!

AMAZON

DVD

 
Sights &
Sounds:
Blackenstein
(1973)
 Director:
  William E. Levey
 Screenplay:
  Frank R. Saletri
 Producer:
  Frank R. Saletri
  Ted Tetrick
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Soul Cinema:

Scream, Blacula Scream

Blackenstein

Dr. Black and Brother Hyde

Black the Ripper

The Black Werewolf

Sugar Hill

Abby

 

We open in the thick of it. It being some kind of scientific experiment that's bound to go awry -- or it's going to be an awfully boring movie, right? Right. Well, he typed ominously, anyways ... Tesla-coils pop off, Jacob's-ladders spark and buzz, and beakers of colored liquids broil and bubble ... Now, this type of hardware is an obvious sign that the experiment being conducted by these two, as of yet, unknown people is of a dubious, if not totally legal, nature -- or approved by the FDA. Then, the film's editor brings his meat-cleaver into play and we abruptly jump outside, where a storm is a brewing, and the credits roll. 

Seems we're watching Blackenstein, and just in case we didn't get it, they added The Black Frankenstein. Just how stupid do they think the audience is? And already am I checking the film's running time, seeing how much longer I have to suffer ... Ack, too long.

When the magical editing meat-cleaver falls again, we jump to the airport, where the soundtrack turns super-funky soulful as we catch up with Dr. Winifred Walker (Ivory Stone), who then winds her way to the mansion home of her old college professor, Dr. Stein (John Hart). Ringing the doorbell, Malcolm (Roosevelt Jackson), Dr. Stein's creepy assistant, let's her inside. How do we know he's creepy? Well, he's trying real hard to sound like Bobby "Boris" Picket trying to do Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre at the same time -- and failing miserably I might add ... She asks to see the doctor, who, at this very moment, is in the lab we saw earlier. The electrical equipment is still raging in all it's cacophonic glory, but somehow he hears a buzzer sounding and sees a particular red light flashing over all the other noise and lights. (That's some paging system.)

Dr. Stein is happy to see his gifted pupil again and invites her to stay for supper. Once more with the editing meat-cleaver, then, as we instantly move to a darkened dining room, where the diners sit on opposite ends of a very large table. Stuck in a holding pattern, the camera laps the table thrice before the dialogue picks up again. (*sshht* Roger, copy that, tower, we have dialogue. Over. *sshht*) Apparently, Winifred has come for two reasons; one, she needs a job; and two, her fiancÚ, Eddie Turner (Joe DeSue), was badly wounded while serving in Vietnam and has been transferred to nearby VA Hospital; and ultimately, she wants to know if Dr. Stein can use some of his scientific breakthroughs in DNA and grafting limbs to help Eddie recover. When Dr. Stein asks the nature of his injuries, Winifred turns all cryptic and won't tell him. (Why?!) Regardless, Dr. Stein offers her a job as a lab assistant and is happy to help anyway he can. And combine that kooky lab with the name Stein, and, yeah, no matter how much "help" Eddie gets this will probably all end in fire...

Blackenstein has the stigma of being thee worst interpretation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein ever committed to film. That's not quite true. Not only is it the worst interpretation of Frankenstein I've seen, it's in the running for the most inept movie ever made. Period. And I've sat through a lot of ineptness. So, Sinister Soul Cinema has taken an even more sinister turn with this week's movie. Sorry, everybody...

I knew I was in trouble the minute I brought the tape home. I'd bought it used at a vintage vinyl store while visiting a friend in Omaha, and something wasn't quite right with the tape, physically, as we could not get his VCR to accept it. Usually a VCR takes a bad tape, then spits it out when it won't play. Not this time. You couldn't even get the damned thing into the slot. Taking the tape home, I eventually forced it into my own player with much exertion. Once in, the tape played fine, but, obviously, the VCR knew something I didn't. And I'd like to take this opportunity to express my full and sincerest apology to both VCRs.

Anyways ... I had heard from other, prominent sources that Blackenstein was, quite possibly, one of the worst movies ever made. Armed with this information, I was able to steel myself before watching it. Expecting the worst, then, there's some kind of psychological defense mechanism that takes over when watching this movie. You keep telling yourself "It's not that bad" -- relieved to know it couldn't get any worse. How could it? As I said before, this film isn't so much a painfully bad movie, but a painfully inept movie.

How inept? Well, let's look at the evidence as our leads head over to the hospital. On the way, Winifred finally reveals that Eddie stepped on a landmine and lost both his arms and legs. Meanwhile, the patient in question is having trouble with a surly orderly (Bob Brophy). Well, surly isn't quite the right word for this guy. Let's try evil and psychotic bastard instead. (That's getting warmer...) When Eddie asks for some water, the orderly tells him to get it himself, and then points out, and rubs it in, that he obviously can't. Jealous of Eddie's military service, saying he couldn't go because he was 4-F, the chickenhawk orderly then starts ranting about how he pays taxes, and since Eddie got wounded defending the Republic, now, he'll have to foot the wounded veteran's medical bills until he dies. (Come to think of it, evil & psychotic bastard doesn't really do this ass-clown justice, either.)

Luckily, Winifred and Dr. Stein arrive, scaring the odiously obnoxious orderly off. But Eddie isn't exactly thrilled to see Winifred. After receiving his traumatic injuries, he tried to call off their engagement but Winifred refused to give up on him. She introduces Dr. Stein, winner of the Nobel Peace Price for cracking the genetic code [...and resident quack.] Dr. Stein offers no guarantees, but if Eddie's willing to subject himself to some radical experimentation there's a chance he could become normal again. With nothing to lose, Eddie agrees ... And while the patient is transferred to Dr. Stein's mansion, the Soulful Soundtrack Siren flexes her pipes again. Back in the lab, Stein and Winifred conduct an experiment by bombarding some poor rabbit with cosmic rays. (Live! Dammit! Live!) When the red-light and buzzer go off, either Eddie has arrived or it's Commissioner Gordon and the Riddler's back in town ... Once he's settled in, Eddie admits he isn't quite sold on his chances, but Winifred begs him to trust in Dr. Stein and things can be like they were before. (And I don't know about the rest of you, but Winifred is coming off as awful shallow. If she really loves Eddie would she subject him to some unknown experiments or take him as is?) Laying it out, Dr. Stein says the procedure will proceed in three stages:

The first stage begins with a series of injections of Stein's Super-Secret, World Shattering DNA formula. After administering the drugs, they leave Eddie to rest and move on to the doctor's other patients. First up is Eleanor (Andrea King), who is around 90 years old but, thanks to Dr. Stein, she doesn't look a day over 75. Wow. Science is amazing ... However, science has it's boundaries and Eleanor needs a SSWS-DNA booster shot every 24-hours or she'll shrivel up like a desiccated prune. The next genetic freak -- excuse me, patient, is Bruno (Nick Bolin). He's had someone else's legs attached to his body by laser-beam fusion. And while one leg looks fine, the other, to Winifred's horror, is striped like a tiger! Dr. Stein comments it's a bad reaction to a new, Super-Secret Not Quite Yet World Shattering RNA formula. According to Herr Doktor, the plan is to eventually replace the SSWS- DNA shots with the sturdier SSNQYWS-RNA since, in theory, it should last longer than the first generation injections. But first, they have to resolve these *ahem* unpleasant de-evolving side-effects.

The hell? I knew I should have paid more attention in science class, and I flunked out of anatomy, but, dammit, none of this makes one lick of sense.

Phase two of Eddie's procedure commences after he's wheeled into the lab. Firing up the equipment, Dr. Stein begins to attach some new arms onto his hulking frame. (And where exactly did those arms come from, MISTER man?) Then, Stein runs up his electrical bill for awhile before claiming the operation was a complete success. (Huu-zzah.) That night, yet another storm is brewing. (Does it really rain this much in Los Angeles?) And the household is awakened by some primal screaming. This is one of the hazardous side-effects of the SSNQYWS-RNA shot that Dr. Stein warned us about: Bruno, locked in a violent seizure, is frothing at the mouth. As Winifred watches Malcolm wrestle the patient into a straight-jacket, Dr. Stein assures her not to worry (-- move along ... nothing to see here...); this kind of thing happens when breaking in a new drug. 

And how come you didn't mention these side-effects from the beginning, you quack!

So, does Winifred cut her losses, pack up her fiancÚ and leave? Nope. She closes her eyes, hopes for the best, and helps Dr. Stein prepare Eddie for the final stages of his restoration process. (Now that's love, baby!) We've also been noticing that Malcolm has been acting awful lecherous around Winifred lately. And he confirms our suspicions by admitting his infatuation, and then professes his love for her. To her credit, Winifred let's him down easy, saying she's already engaged to Eddie. She really is quite nice about it, but Malcolm doesn't take rejection very well and sabotages Eddie's latest rounds of injections, replacing the dose of SSWS-DNA with a dose of the unstable SSNQYWS-RNA. Then, with Eddie out of the way, Winifred will be all his. Thus, Eddie is given the bogus injections and wheeled into the lab for more surgery. And as the sparks start flying, Dr. Stein and Winifred attach the new legs, but then something starts to go wrong as Eddie goes into convulsions until they get him sedated. However, over the schizophrenic soundtrack, we hear a thumping heartbeat growing steadier and stronger. After a little more tinkering, the operation is complete, the patient is wheeled back to his room, and despite these unforeseen complications Dr. Stein claims Eddie will be just fine.

After a few days of recuperation pass Dr. Stein assures a worried Winifred that Eddie should now be able to get up and walk on his own. But when they check in on him the patient takes a turn for the worse, saying he doesn't feel right, and Winifred is shocked to see a prominent bony ridge starting to protrude over Eddie's eyes. Concerned, Stein calls for Malcolm and they wheel Eddie back to the lab for some blood tests. But, unable to find anything wrong, they decide run the tests again; and this time, Winifred makes a startling discovery: black pubic hairs have sprouted on the back of Eddie's hands! (You monsters! What did you to do him? What sin could a man commit in a single lifetime...) Worse yet, Eddie has slipped into a coma and doesn't respond to any stimuli. Ordering Malcolm to increase the dosages of SSWS-DNA, beyond that, the befuddled Stein decides to sleep on it and get a fresh start in the morning.

At some point during the night, strange guttural noises start emanating from the lab. Seems Eddie's awake, but he has been transformed into Blackenstein! The Black Frankenstein -- or, more appropriately, The Black Frankenstein Monster but now I'm just nitpicking, and, believe you me, this film just isn't worth it. Frankly, I don't even want to fathom why Dr. Stein dressed up his patient in high-water pants, sport coat, and patent leather shoes but, nonetheless, Eddie Monster (*hee*hee*) shambles off into the night, like a drunk trying to act sober, grunting like an obscene phone caller. 

I guess I should thank my lucky stars that the monster isn't naked, right? Right...

Making it all the way back to VA hospital -- and judging by his rate of speed this should have taken him about three days, but, thanks to the editor and his magic editing meat-cleaver, Franken-Eddie makes it in no time at all. Shuffling inside, our monster finds that surly orderly, pummels him mercilessly, and then pulls one of the victim's arms off and proceeds to beat him to death with it! Once finished, Franken-Eddie shambles off. But the night is young, and the magic meat-cleaver transports us to a bedroom, where Doc Severnson and Dolly Parton are engaged in some foreplay (-- well, that's who they reminded me of.) Things come to a quick halt because Dolly's worried about her dog, who's barking up a storm outside. And when the barking abruptly ends with a loud whine, Dolly tells Doc if he wants to get any he'd better go out and check on the dog. He does, and we soon hear his death-yipe, too. Heading outside to investigate, Dolly finds the body of Doc and the dog. Now, she appears to be more upset about the dog -- until she spots Franken-Eddie, who grasps her in a deadly bear hug. And then, well, the editor's meat cleaver gets another magical workout as we see some legs, then hear some wet sounds, more legs, and then Franken-Eddie playing with Dolly's entrails. 

The next morning, Winifred checks on Eddie (-- who I assume snuck back in sometime. Why? No, I'm asking you!) Alas, Eddie has slipped back into a coma and is not responding at all. Suspicious of Malcolm, Winifred starts to run some experiments on Eddie's medication -- but then we hit some kind of time-warp, and suddenly, it's nighttime again. And after the bubbling and buzzing noises of the lab rock Winifred to sleep, Franken-Eddie grunts and grumbles back to life, and then shambles off again, into the night, looking for more entrails to play with ... He finds his next prey in the park, where a young couple has come to make-out. But when the creepy young man cranks up his tunes and starts putting the moves on his date -- Omigod. Listen to the song! Is it? It is! It's Good King Wenceslas! You know, I've always found public domain holiday tunes make great make-out music, too -- the girl feels he's getting a little too fresh and rejects his grab-fanny advances. Rebuffed, he pulls the "put out or walk home" card. When she chooses the latter, true to his word, Douche McTurdburger roars off, leaving her behind. And so, we watch her legs walk through the forest. Then, we switch to Franken-Eddie's feet shuffling along. Her feet stop, as if her toes heard something following her. They hear it again, and her feet pick up some steam while Franken-Eddie's clod-hoppers ramble along at the same plodding pace until, inexplicably, her feet collide with his feet at the bridge. And as we ponder just how in the hell he managed to get in front of her, the girl's feet, legs and hips are drug off into the darkness.

An awful lot of shots of feet in this damned movie...

The next morning, things are rather glum around the breakfast table at the Stein house. All except for Malcolm, who is acting pretty smug. Confounded by Eddie's lack of progress, Dr. Stein and Winifred return to the lab to run more tests, where they hear some grunting coming from Eddie's cell. (He came back again?) When Franken-Eddie reaches through the bars and paws at Winifred -- c'mon, he just wants to play with your entrails -- Dr. Stein fights him off with an awful convenient piece of chain. (Waitaminute ... You mean he  not only came back, but he came back AND locked himself in his cage?) When called upon to chain Franken-Eddie up, Malcolm also informs Dr. Stein that the police are here and would like to question him about several ghastly murders in the neighborhood. When Stein meets with Detective Oblivious and Sgt. Unaware, they asks if he's noticed anything strange the past few nights. And when Stein says no, he hasn't, Detective Oblivious and Sgt. Unaware thank him for his time and leave. (You're tax dollars at work people.)

Wohoo! Let's do the magical meat-cleaving time-warp again! Night falls (-- rather abruptly), and since Malcolm obviously "neglected" to lock Franken-Eddie up, the monster gets out and shuffles his way down the boulevard toward the Parisian Club, where comedian Andy C wastes the next ten minutes of the film with his lame-ass act. How lame? We really, really want to see what his entrails look like after the talking dog joke. And our hopes are raised high when Andy C goes outside for a cigarette after finishing his set. (C'mon movie. You can redeem yourself right here. Please-oh-please...) But Eddie shuffles right by him and attacks a couple making out in the alley instead. He kills the guy quickly, as the woman, whose top has mysteriously fallen open, watches helplessly. Then Eddie rips her apart and shakes her guts around for awhile.

And this makes us wonder if Dr. Stein gave Eddie the mutant power to put the hypno-whammy on people that causes men to fight like Joe Besser and causes women to freeze in their tracks until their entrails are pulled out. 

Andy C, who watched the whole thing, calls in the cops. And though the police quickly cordon off the area, Franken-Eddie -- very noisily -- walks right through their barricade completely unseen. (Again, your tax dollars at work!) Once more, Franken-Eddie returns to the mansion, where, at this very moment, Malcolm is trying to rape Winifred! Busting in in time, Franken-Eddie starts throwing Malcolm around the room until Winifred screams, drawing his attention, allowing her attacker to escape. As the monster shambles toward her, Malcolm returns with a pistol and empties it, point blank, but the bullets have no effect. Grabbing him by the neck with both hands, the monster lifts Malcolm off the ground before strangling him to death. Taking advantage of this distraction, Winifred escapes from the bedroom. All that noise alerted Dr. Stein, too, who finds Winifred, and they retreat to the lab while Franken-Eddie moves from room to room and kills all other patients. Shuffling on, looking for his creators, Franken-Eddie lumbers down the long spiral staircase, meaning he should get to the lab in about two to three hours. In other words, movie, hurry the hell up.

Oh Mr. Magical Movie Editor? A little help please?

*whack*

What? Wait ... Sonova -- THAT'S NOT WHAT I MEANT!!!

*sigh* Anyways...

When Franken-Eddie finds Winifred in the lab and attacks, we discover it was a ruse, allowing Stein to grab him from behind. But his dastardly creation easily tosses him into the electrical equipment, which promptly short-circuits and electrocutes the good doctor. Turning back on Winifred, the monster closes in for the kill -- but at the last second, the soundtrack turns all syrupy as Franken-Eddie finally recognizes her and backs off. Winifred reaches out and calls to him, but the monster rejects her and angrily roars off in a rage -- well, shuffles off in a rage ... Now, if you're sniffing the end, here, sorry -- you're smelling something a little more malodorous as the film prolongs our misery, when we suddenly cut to a completely different house, where a woman comes out and jumps into her dune-buggy. What the? Yeah, but -- Who the hell is this now?!? Aaarrrggghh!! Of course the thing won't start, and the thumping heartbeat on the soundtrack means Franken-Eddie is somewhere nearby -- and sure enough, there he is. After putting the hypno-whammy on her, the monster carries her off to parts unknown.

Back at Dr. Stein's mansion, Detective Oblivious and Sgt. Unaware find the lab a shambles, Stein dead, and Winifred in shock. Elsewhere, Eddie carries the mystery girl to some warehouse, where she promptly escapes and leads him on a merry chase until the film reaches the required 90-minute running length. And finally, at 90-minutes and one second, the girl is disemboweled just as the LA County Canine Corps roars up and unleashes the Doberman Gang. In due course, then, the Dobermans find Franken-Eddie and attack. And at 92-minutes and 37-seconds, the dogs tear Franken-Eddie to shreds. And at 95-minutes and 45-seconds, Franken-Eddie's thumping heart finally stops beating. And at 97-minutes and 52-seconds, this film finally comes to and end. And at 98-minutes and 3-seconds, my head detonated all over my living room.

The End

And we, as the viewer, now that it's finally over, realize the movie was about 90-minutes and 50-seconds too long. Sweet monkey-bajeebus but that was bad! Whose fault was all this, I mean aside from us, who were stupid enough to watch this turgid turd-burger?

First, let's pick on the script and it's author, Frank R. Saletri. By 1972, the Frankenstein mythos was so engrained in pop culture that you'd think there would be no way a person could screw it up. We all know that Frankenstein is the name of the monster's creator -- not the monster itself. Here, the monster is black but "Blackenstein" is obviously white. (Played by actor John Hart, whose only real claim to fame was replacing Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger for a year.) And I ain't even going to touch the bogus science behind the super DNA and RNA formulas. Saletri has insulted the audience enough already. To make matters worse, director William Levey gets a little too arty-farty for his own good. I don't know if he was trying to be avant-garde -- or aping Hitchcock, or, more likely, with all those shots of feet, Jacques Tournuer -- but he failed miserably. Too many bad camera angles, too many low angle shots of nothing but feet, too many fancy framed shots, and too many shots of  shadow-puppets. The first few shots like this were laughable, but that soon grows tiresome, which then quickly becomes irritating, before degenerating to full blown annoyance. Levey went on to gain more fame as a bad movie director with The Happy Hooker goes to Washington and the truly odious Skatetown U.S.A. Saletri, meanwhile, stuck with monster blaxploitation and penned Black the Ripper, but hasn't been heard from since.

I've already made fun of the editor, Levey again, and his magical editing meat-cleaver but let's continue, shall we? The film sets a record with 1226 establishing shots of Stein's mansion from the outside. I definitely see a heavy influence from Dark Shadows, here; the gothic soap opera that brought monsters to daytime television. Now, if you watch that show, you realize with almost each seen change there is a quick cut to the outside of Collinwood manor or wherever the action is taking place. Blackenstein is the same way, with a shot of the manor, or a lightning crash -- right out of a clear blue sky! -- for the transitions. And that meat-cleaver reference isn't much of a stretch as the film actually appears to have been edited with a real meat cleaver -- or some other, blunt instrument, and then spliced back together with some masking tape. Lot's and lot's of jarring cuts, here, that gives the film a schizophrenic feel that really doesn't help things at all.

Speaking of multiple personalities ... If the editor is a mad butcher that never allows you to get a sense of time, then the soundtrack mixer is a malevolent hack as well. Bouncing around from funk to soul to sampling riffs from some old horror and sci-fi movies, most noticeably IT! The Terror Beyond Space -- the soundtrack is like nails raking at a chalkboard. The music just never seems appropriate anywhere in this movie, either.

Next, let's look at the mad scientist's laboratory. The only thing that they did do right was to dig up Kenneth Strickfaden and borrow the equipment used in the original Universal production. Strickfaden had kept all the equipment in his garage all that time, and Mel Brooks would do the same thing for Young Frankenstein a few years later. And we get to see every single piece of equipment spark and blink as the camera lingers on them for eons and eons, filling up precious screen time. Putting all of this equipment into a Day-Glo colored room, and add to that a wildly beeping-n-booping soundtrack, it resembled less of a maniacal devil's workshop and more like Muppet Labs -- where your future is being made today! Hell, I kept expecting to see Dr. Bunsen Honeydew detonating Beaker's head somewhere in the background. Which leads us to another pertinent question: Why is the electrical equipment always running during the operations? Is Stein just showing off? Victor Frankenstein stitched his patient together and then turned the equipment on to imbue life into the dead. Eddie, meanwhile, is alive and kicking, right? And only getting some spare limbs attached. These machines are overkill. You'd think with all that electricity in the air the room would turn stale, rancid, and start to stink of burnt copper, ozone and, yes, the air would even start to taste bad. 

I could go on about the film's pacing, lighting, structure, acting, motivations, and reasons for being ... but another psychological defense mechanism is already in full swing, as my brain beats all memories of this film into a state of repression. So, if this movie has taught us anything it's that there is a huge difference between badly inept and ineptly bad. To it's sole credit, Blackenstein: The Black Frankenstein does manage to accomplish the one thing I thought was impossible: the film is actually worse than that asinine title would imply. Still, as the memories of this movie fade to black, I will say that Blackenstein is by no means the worst movie ever made -- but! I also cannot, in good conscious, recommend seeing it to anyone.

More Sinister Soul Cinema

Originally Posted: 10/13/02 :: Rehashed: 11/05/10

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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