Need a distraction from all things spin? Is that third or fourth helping of “Fahrenheit 9/11”, out this week on DVD, weighing heavily on the soul? Or maybe you’re just an ordinary film geek looking for your next fix? May I suggest “Dr. Hackenstein,” yet another resurrected “classic” from those good folks at Troma. Written and directed by Richard Clark, “Dr. Hackenstein” is a late 80’s horror spoof just goofy enough to provide that much needed distraction, or guilty indulgence, whichever the case may be. It’s everything a good spoof should be: fun, intelligent, and reverent to the source material. Is it cult material? I doubt it. Compared with say, Polanski’s “The Fearless Vampire Killers, “ a masterpiece of the genre, which coincidentally is also out on DVD this week, “Dr. Hackenstein” is little more than a (mildly) amusing curiosity: not especially funny and sorely lacking an anarchic spirit. On the other hand, did I mention the inspired cameos by the likes of Phyllis Diller (!) and Anne Ramsey (aka Mrs. Fratelli!)?
With a name like Dr. Elliot Hackenstein, chances are he’s not accepting your insurance. That’s probably a good thing, as the good doctor is clearly not an obstetrician, as he claims, or anything else ending in –cian for that matter. Yes, Dr. Hackenstein (the wonderful David Muir) is your standard mad scientist type, who’s just trying to get his wife back together. Literally. So far, he’s got a head (his dead wife’s) and a torso, supplied to him by the less-than-wholesome, though ever dependable, husband and wife grave-Bogarting team, Xavier and Ruby Rhodes (real life couple Logan and Anne Ramsey). Dr. Hack just needs three more women (wouldn’t one do fine?) to resurrect his beloved and, more importantly, silence her incessant nagging. And being the full-blooded American mad scientist that he is, can you make that three sexy babes with… um, the sexiest appendages and eyes?
Before long, the doctor gets his wish when three nubile young things (two sisters and their cousin) show up at his door after having crashed their car. (Note to dumb characters: the sign says “Dr. Hackenstein”, that means no knockee!) With his wife getting testier by the second, Dr. Hack is forced to revise his stance on involuntary amputation and soon lures the women one by one into his secret chamber. Only the girls’ pathetic brother, the doc’s deaf and dumb maid, and a local detective can help, if they get there in time, that is.
From its cheesy music and effects to its willful lack of seriousness, “Dr. Hackenstein” gets all the details more or less right. It tries, and mostly succeeds, at being a breezy romp, with some memorable lines (“We don’t care about live people, we only fool around with people who are dead.”), endearingly horrible acting, and the requisite dollop of blood and boobs. For 90 minutes or so you are entertained and everyone goes home happy. Yet “Dr. Hackenstein” isn’t nearly twisted or outrageous enough to live long in the memory and it certainly doesn’t seem destined for midnight moviedom, especially if it hasn’t made it already. Casual movie watchers never mind, this one’s for the aficionados only. Then again, the spectacle of Anne Ramsey and Phyllis Diller and Michael Ensign, as Dr. Hack’s incredulous boss, hamming it up superbly is probably worth a peak, and maybe repeat viewings.