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Frankenstein Reborn (DVD)

Starring Rhett Giles, Thomas Downey, Jeff Denton, Joel Hebner

Directed by Leigh Slawner

Released by The Asylum


Young Mary Shelley wrote what may be termed as one of the most pregnant stories in the history of horror. The tale of the Modern Prometheus is effective and affecting, even in this duly advanced age, not just because of the message but also the prophetic qualities derived from it. The idea of man defying God, losing his mind in sheer obsession of knowledge, biting from the forbidden fruit, is a story that harkens not only the purest forms of intrigue but also serves as a warning to all of us who share the human condition. Deep within a flood of bloody ideas it produces issues that we humans are forced to deal with. Each step we take to better our lives through science stretches the limits of what we can do, how long we can live, and where and what death truly means…but at what price?

I want to pour writer and director Leigh Scott 5 Mugs O’ Blood for finding an engaging format from which to update Mary Shelley’s original. The tale had been recounted in flashback to a sea captain of a ship bound for the North Pole with Victor Frankenstein regaling the horrified and skeptical crew of men who view him insane. Ironic then that the wraparound in Frankenstein Reborn should be that of a man charged with murder spinning the tale in a mental institution to a clinical psychologist. Victor Franks, a neurosurgeon of questionable manner played with a subtle cunning by Rhett Giles, is being analyzed for his ability to stand trial. Franks is. Giles seems to get the role and have as much maniacal fun with it as he can.

Dr. Robert Walton is the intellectual foil for Franks. Walton is brought to life by Thomas Downey, who does his best with what he is given but is most effective when being a sounding wall for Giles’ story. For the center of the story, these two are not a bad place to start. They are above the material for most of the film, and it is their performances that make it easy to forgive most, but not all, of the rest of the film.

I want to give the film another Mug O’ Blood for the effects. Yes, I want to crank the meter up to six for the great job done by Dan Kaplan and Michael Kallio. The blood and gore are genuinely nasty and well placed for most of the film. The opening sequence, while a bit gratuitous, is amazing. I was very excited to see the rest of the film after the opening shock.

Another Mug O’ Blood goes to Dan Kaplan for the design of the Creature. It’s haunting and works well for the amount of care that was put into its creation. The monster’s visage is used sparingly and is well photographed. Joel Hebner doesn’t go overboard with the monster; he uses the makeup on his face in a manner that does not struggle against it but makes it work with him.

What are we at…? Seven? Seven Mugs O’ Blood for Frankenstein Reborn? Well, I do have a few detractions to make:

I drink one mug for the ludicrous advertising and packaging on the DVD. The TCM 2003 one-sheet poster rip-off on the cover is insulting to the horror fan who asks for some sort of artistic integrity in their movies. Although this does set the tone for a few other things in the film, the image is just unimaginative. Even worse is the quote on the back: “The Twisted Terror of Silence of the Lambs meets the gruesome violence of Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. This quote is not credited to anyone; yet, it does make sure to place the two movies mentioned in BOLD LETTERS to catch the attention of anyone who may just glance at it. In the end though, what do Silence of the Lambs and TCM have to do with Frankenstein or this movie? Zero, and the finished film is nowhere near the caliber that would allow it to be compared to either. Kudos for two TCM milkings on one piece of box art, but a bit of advice to those involved: Don’t pull the shirt-tails of those you admire; it looks bad and cheapens your film all the more.

I drink another mug for the blatant rip-off of Bernie Wrightson by Dan Kaplan. Included in the “Making Of” featurette, Dan Kaplan admits to being a fan of Bernie but then goes out of his way to say he was not trying to rip him off. Dan, I hate to admit this, but you did. The creature is a dead-on impersonation of Wrightson’s drawings for the Shelly book. All Kaplan did was add some staples and redden the blood. The pug nose, stringy hair, the muscled, lanky overall look of the creature are the same. I understand the draw of Wrightson’s art. He is a perfect person to illustrate the ideas that Mary’s mind gave birth to, but Kaplan’s irresponsible homage is misguided — and probably illegal.

I drink another mug for the supporting cast. Bad. Just bad. For what could have been such a great idea, it really comes off in full B-movie glory. Lines are flatly delivered and characters are poorly drawn. Elizabeth, Victor’s assistant and object of his affection, is a bewitching redhead who seems to have no purpose other than to cheat on him, have hot lesbian sex, and take a Calgon bath while either masturbating or having a nervous breakdown. Eliza Swenson’s performance is all over the place. Personally, I am shocked that her mismatched red lipstick was not seen more in the film, as gobs of it are plastered on her face in a silly and distracting fashion.

A big portion of the problem lies in the vanity casting of effects artist Dan Kaplan and “actor” Tim Travers as two cops. Such poor characters with silly cliche dialogue, flat delivery, and muggy performances nearly destroy any promise the film has.

I drink another mug for what has to be the worst commentary I have ever heard. The DVD put out by The Asylum Home Entertainment has the aforementioned “Making Of,” deleted scenes, and bloopers, all of which are trash. The featurette is uninformative and includes a lot of backpatting and autofellacio by the cast and crew. Scott/Slawner goes on to say that he got the idea from the book and both the 1933 and 1950’s versions of the story. His script seems to pull more from the movies than the work of Shelley, in childish and atrocious ways.

Joel Hebner goes on to talk about being the Creature. Hebner is nothing special; mostly, he is just unoffensive in the role. Unluckily, anytime he is seen in the film sans make-up, Joel seems to be doing his best to fulfill the requirements of chapter one of Acting for Dummies. Oh, and Kaplan admits to artistic theft.

But the real punch in the kidneys is the cast commentary, which equates to a roundtable of nonsense. No one is talking about the film; there are jokes, impersonations, and just drivel. A bunch of fifth grade boys could do the same thing as the crew did with the commentary. Way to go, guys. You took your movie and made a joke out of it. Way to show how proud of the project you are!

Note to ALL MOVIE MAKERS: Outtakes are a waste unless they are funny or amazing. Repetitious shots of no names fucking up their lines is ludicrous and a real waste of time. I am calling for a ban on all further blooper reels on DVD’s until there is a significant reason for them to be included. Otherwise, save the space on the disc.

I drink another Mug O’ Blood for the sound and music. The whole movie plays with the deep thrum sound behind the actors while it is on. I know the dark growl of a synthesizer can be effectively haunting or creepy, but when used for over 50% of a film, it becomes monotonous and boring. The music is credited to a person be the name of Regan — possibly a possessed adolescent, for the soundtrack seemed to be done by one. It was full of scare stingers and poorly conceived music with no purpose other than to precipitate forced emotions into the audience. Low tones mean creepy. Loud mean scare. Fast means running. Get the point? Also the sound is terrible; the actors mumble lines while the effects and music are way too loud. Want to hear what they are saying? You’ll have to either turn up the volume to dangerous levels, put on subtitles, or buy a mixer and re-edit the audio..

This leaves two Mugs O’ Blood for a film that I wanted to enjoy. I wanted to like Frankenstein Reborn. There was so much promise to it. The setup was great, and there seemed to be, albeit hidden, a modicum of care behind what was going on. Yet, for some reason when we watch Frankenstein Reborn, we get a joke of a film. We get a film that had the potential to give something to the ongoing meditation on Shelley’s work. It could have joined the pantheon of hallowed interpretations, but I do not think the people working on the film understood the subtext and nuance of what they were doing. In the end, Victor Franks comes off as just a doctor trying to reanimate the dead; there’s no reason, no passion…he’s just a caricature. The monster is just a killing machine, its search for meaning and truth muddied by the lack of attention to its development.

Although never once referred to in the film as such, the Creature is billed on the credits as FRANKENSTEIN.

I hold up one Mug O’ Blood and pour it onto the floor.

THAT was for all the people who love and respect the ideas put forth by Shelley. THAT was for those of us who read the book. THAT was for knowing that in the end it is not simply having a reanimated corpse that makes a film a Frankenstein movie.

Frankenstein is a difficult work, listed as one of the best pieces of literature ever written, but at the same time one of the most difficult to read. Scott/Slawner, you obviously did not either read the work or get it. The movie you did is a bad rip-off of past Frankenstein films, not Shelley’s work. The fever dream of a young girl, seeing her stillborn child brought back to life by the warmth of a fire, has given birth to a creation that will live on forever in film. The icon of Frankenstein is safe, even with abortions like this one clinging to the fertile walls of Shelley’s intellectual womb.


1 out of 5

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DW Bostaph Jr