At first glance, it’s easy to take 1973’s Blackenstein as a vast improvement over Mary Shelley’s classic novel. Did Shelley’s story include muscle cars or soul music? Blackenstein does. While Victor Frankenstein is focused on the trite conquest of bringing back the dead, Dr. Stein is in the unique business of rewriting the genetic code, because even nature can’t get it right with the first draft. Sure, Blackenstein ditches the big ideas surrounding Man’s relationship with its maker and puts absolutely no effort in finding the humanity in its monster, but that stuff’s a downer, right? When you go see a movie called Blackenstein, you’re looking to have fun, at the movie’s expense or otherwise.
I’m saddened to report that Blackenstein isn’t nearly as fun or self-aware as its name suggests. It’s an excruciatingly boring, shoddily constructed reworking of a classic story that strips away all the substance and adds only superficial changes. It begins when Dr. Winifred Walker (Ivory Stone) goes to visit an old mentor of hers, Dr. Stein (John Hart), who lives in a mansion perfectly situated beneath a storm cloud. She pleads for him to help her boyfriend, Eddie (Joe De Sue), who is laid up in a veteran’s hospital after getting his arms and legs blown off in Vietnam. Dr. Stein agrees to take Eddie on as a patient, but what he and Winifred don’t count on is the gooey center of Dr. Stein’s assistant, Malcomb (Roosevelt Jackson), who falls in love with Winifred after being within her general vicinity once or twice. Out of jealousy, Malcomb switches the experimental treatments of Eddie’s with another patient, who is receiving animal DNA. This causes Eddie to not only gain new limbs, but also the instincts of a raging animal. Whereas the Frankenstein monster was something akin to a toddler, endearingly exploring the boundaries of society, Eddie goes on a murderous rampage, stopping only to feast on the intestines of his victims.
“…goes on a murderous rampage, stopping only to feast on the intestines of his victims.”
Just reading this, the movie sounds like a series of ridiculous, laughable moments that pile upon one another until the whole thing becomes a beautiful disaster. Instead, everything plays out as a slow drip of nonsense. Even the monster’s murderous rampage, which should be prime real estate for schlocky thrills, has no energy to it; it’s a perfunctory series of dimly lit skirmishes. As expected, the actors are hopelessly stiff and their dialogue chiefly consists of drab proclamations or, in Dr. Stein’s case, pseudo-science gibberish. Perhaps the movie’s most heinous crime is not taking advantage of its era. Other than the vehicles, the occasional song and the fact that Eddie is fresh out of Vietnam, the movie has no personality of its own, unlike other B movies from the same period.
As slow, lifeless and sloppily stitched together as its monster, this movie is a massive dud, undeserving of its goofy name. Imagine if you met someone named Skippy Bluebeans and then found out he was an accountant, listened to Top 40 radio and didn’t eat carbs. You would feel betrayed, especially if you spent an hour and twenty minutes waiting for him to do or say something worthy of a Skippy Bluebeans. Blackenstein elicits a similar feeling of betrayal.
Blackenstein (1973) Directed by William A. Levey. Written by Frank R. Saletri. Starring Ivory Stone, Joe De Sue, John Hart, Roosevelt Jackson, Andrea King, Nick Bolin, Liz Renay, Cardella Di Milo.
3 out of 10