I have always had a soft spot for homage films. More often than not they are labors of love for their writers and directors and that often translates into a fairly entertaining 90 minutes of celluloid. It seems that in the past few years the number and quality of these self-described B-movies have been on the rise. No doubt owed in some part to the user-friendly nature of the do-it-yourself DV revolution. Besides the element of tribute that these flicks embody, they often supply a hint of parody to even out the inherent cheesiness of the production. Director William Winckler provides both of these elements in spades with his ode to all things antiquated.
Historically speaking, the films of the 1930’s Universal Era were monster masterpieces of the highest order, inventing virtually every cliché, writing the book and influencing literally thousands of imitators over the years. The films themselves always featured a cast of bland actors cowering at the terror of the men behind the masks. The plots were simple and the direction sparse, but the effect was nonetheless ferociously entertaining. Later, as the Cold War progressed into the 1950’s and the atomic age of film began, the rise of the poverty row studios and the emergence of the Drive-In generation paved the way for the zero-budget-alien-attack-big-bug-movies we most often associate with the ear. These films supremely upped the schlock quotient of mainstream cinema and heralded the reign of cult kings like Roger Corman and William Castle.
It is from this cloth that Winckler has cut his latest directorial extravaganza. No stranger to the cult homage, Winckler’s last production was the Pseudo-Russ Meyer meets Andy Sidaris cum Jack Hill throwback, The Double-D Avenger. This time around Winckler skewers those favorites of the 30’s and 40’s with a bit of mid 60’s exploitation thrown in for good measure.
The plot, updated for the modern age, features a rogue mad scientist (as if there is any other kind) held up in a compound near Blood Cove. Unbeknownst to the outside world, Dr. Monroe Lazaroff (Larry Butler) is bent on creating a genetic superbeing in an effort to combat the ills of terrorism. This post September 11th take on the atomic age mentality is a splendid attempt at satirizing our nations governmentally imposed “fear” of foreign enemies. Lazaroff’s creation, know to the viewers as simply “The Creature” escapes and wreaks havoc on an unsuspecting skin mag crew shooting a provocative pictorial in picturesque Blood Cove. Unfazed by his apparent inability to control his creation and hell-bent on ridding the world of the purveyors of evil, Dr. Lazaroff and his two assistants travel to Shellvania to retrieve the body of the legendary Frankenstein Monster. Upon retuning with the monster Lazaroff and company soon discover that the monster will no more adhere to their lofty instruction than would the escaped creature. Such utter incompetence on the scientists’ part must inevitable leave the task of brining down both creatures to our intrepid photographer (Director: William Winckler) and his motley hair/makeup crew. With precious little time to protect the citizens of Blood Cove from two unrestrainable beasts, the slowly dwindling cast must promptly find a way to stop the deadly creations before they wreak unmitigated havoc on the quiet seaside townsfolk.
The suspension of disbelief that is required to sit down and watch a DVD or a film in 2005 that is for all intents and purposes attempting to capture a little bit of the magic that made the atomic era such a hallmark for nostalgia is not, by any means, an easy task. With that in mind, Winckler pulls no punches in delivering the goods with this subversive little lark of a film.
The performances from the cast are perfectly in tune with their McCarthy era counterparts. The sole shining exception to those dry and hubristic characterizations being that of Gary Canavello, whose portrayal of flamboyant make up artist Percy Featherstone holds court as one of the campiest routines I’ve seen in years. Bravo to Canavello for making Harvey Fierstein look like Clint Eastwood with his histrionic theatrics.
The film also features an assortment of great genre cameos from the likes of Butch Patrick (The Munsters), Raven De La Croix (Russ Meyer’s Up), Troma Entertainment founder Lloyd Kaufman and adult film stars Ron Jeremy and Selena Silver. Direction and Cinematography are equally impressive with the quaint black and white cinematics evoking the mood of the film perfectly. Overall, I find it difficult to fault the films few misjudgments. Including a perhaps unnecessary amount of female flesh, simply because Winckler seems to be at the heart of the film, running through a gamut of pop culture lampoonery.
Overall, Frankenstein vs. The Creature From Blood Cove is a rollicking piece of neo-cold war propaganda. Skewing everything in its wake while delicately paying tribute to a bygone era of cinematic innocence. It’s a helluva good time and I for one cannot wait to see what Winckler has up his sleeve for his next feature.