Serum (2006)

Serum reviewStarring Derek Philips, David H. Hickey, Bill Sebastian, Lizbeth Cardenas, Dennis O’Neil, Bethany Zolt, Shawn Kurz

Written & Directed by Steve Franke

Future brain surgeon Eddie Kanopolus broke up with his longtime girlfriend Sarah a year ago but has now decided that he wants her back, unaware that Sarah is now dating a big oaf named Trey. Sarah still loves Eddie but is reluctant to get back together with him because she’s still mad at him for breaking up with her. Eddie’s best friend is Walt, who is dating a skanky Sheryl Crow look-a-like whose breast implants he bought and now she can’t stop asking guys to feel them up. Eddie’s mom passed away years ago and now his rich doctor father, Richard, has a blonde trophy wife named Norma who is awfully flirtatious with her new stepson. Eddie’s uncle “Dr. K” is a brilliant researcher who set out to find a cure for cancer but instead developed a serum that may prove to be the key to immortality. Uncle Dr. K comes over for dinner and pleads with his wealthy brother to get him some major funds from their own late rich doctor father’s trust so that he can finish his life-altering research independently of the pharmaceutical corporation he’s been working for that are now putting ridiculous demands on him and who he is convinced intend to steal his life’s work. Uncle Dr. K doesn’t get the money, but he does get to go next door for a booty call with the slutty, big breasted neighbor that Walt is always peeping at whenever she’s out sunbathing topless. Eddie and Sarah reconcile and immediately Walt’s girlfriend begins cheating on him with Trey. Then Eddie falls victim to a hit and run that leaves him on death’s door.

I’m telling you it’s like a freakin’ soap opera this movie! All this Southern melodrama and romantic angst and corporate politics and wondering how a woman that constantly sunbathes topless could still have unsightly tan lines on her breasts – Serum is one oddball movie. The film opens like a zombie flick with one of Dr. K’s mutated test subjects running rampant and having to be put down. Then it spends the next half hour playing out like some sort of CW Network primetime soap opera with allegedly college age characters played by actors that all look far too old for their roles. It follows that up with about fifteen minutes of mad scientist shtick, and then finishes things off in a manner that reminded me a bit of a similarly-themed Z-grade flick from 1974 called Twisted Brain. Sadly, there was no mutated guinea pig named “Mr. Mumps” in this one.

The secret ingredient in Dr. K’s serum that could free the world of disease and disability turns out to be human brain fluid. He’s getting closer to success, but his test subjects have a nasty habit of transforming into mindless, brain-munching, facially deformed zombies. Dr. K feels that he can fix this problem with just a little tweaking, not the least of which involves the need for a live test subject to extract the brain fluid from. Sure, such human experimentation is both unethical and illegal, but then again, we are talking about the key to immortality. Besides, who’s going to miss a few dead hookers?

Dr. K convinces his brother to let him administer the serum on his critically injured nephew. But before he can save Eddie and perfect his serum in the process, he has to order a hooker, knock her unconscious, shave her head, and extract her brain fluid. Give the man props for actually managing to choose a prostitute free of HIV, hepatitis, or any other bloodborne illnesses. But you still know Dr. K is truly a mad scientist when, well, let’s just say this extraction of brain fluid is hardly a bloodless, pain-free procedure for the ill-fated call girl.

Speaking of ill-fated, Dr. K injects Eddie with the serum and it works. Okay, it works in the sense that it resurrects him as a facially deformed, brain-eating zombie just like the guy from the film’s opening sequence. Dr. K seems strangely surprised by this outcome. So Eddie ends up on the loose suffering from a Jekyll & Hyde syndrome that causes him to constantly transform back and forth between normal Eddie and his homicidal side with the Elephant Man meets Frankenstein facial features and that unfortunate hunger for brains.

It’s too bad that just when the movie really should be kicking into high gear it begins to sputter and fall apart. It’s like writer/director Steve Franke said, “To hell with the story! I’m just gonna kill everyone I spent the first half of the film introducing,” but forgot that he still had another forty minutes to fill. The whole Jekyll & Hyde aspect never really pans out; Eddie spends almost no time in normal human mode and when he does it’s just for long enough to show us his bubbling face transformation effects. I really don’t see what the point of having those few scenes of Eddie looking like his normal self was since nothing ever comes of accept a brief scene where Sarah sees him in a window, unaware that he had been rundown by a speeding car and brought back to life as murderous mutant by his crazy uncle’s mad scientist serum. After so much story in the first half, the second half of Serum is virtually plotless aside from Eddie showing up at random to stalk and kill people.

First time writer/director Steve Franke shows promise, but he also makes one of the same critical mistakes that many filmmakers, novice or otherwise, are prone to make when making a movie like this: needlessly long scenes of characters going about their regular business or in some cases just walking wherever until the killer finally pops out kills them. Like I said, he still had forty minutes to fill.

Franke also puts up graphics on the screen so frequently telling us the date and time, as if the specific timeframe by which all of this is occurring really matters, to the point of it becoming parody. I haven’t seen a movie use this concept to such a pointlessly ridiculous degree since Octopus 2: River of Fear.

Yep, Serum is an little oddball fright flick alright, one that succeeds better at being a schlocky B-movie than the scary Jekyll & Hyde variation it seemed to start out trying to be. But, hey, sometimes schlocky is entertaining enough in its own right. The amount of Texas twang coming from the character’s mouths alone will have you thinking you’re watching the Blue Collar Mad Scientist Tour.

2 1/2 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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