dark mansion in LA, present day: down in the basement / secret laboratory, an experiment is taking place. Lights flash on a small board, lightning-type-stuff zips about in one of those long tubes (and in a little glass sphere), and the AIP Sound Department dig out the 1930s analogue machine bubbling noises. Just another day in the crazy life of mad white scientist Dr Stein (John Hart).
As the gothic style credits appear on screen (courtesy of an agonisingly slow green mist that suddenly dissolves into the title “Blackenstein…The Black Frankenstein”,) we follow Winifred Walker (Ivory Stone), a young, attractive black doctor from New York who is travelling to Dr. Stein’s mansion. When she arrives, she is greeted by the good Doctor’s manservant Malcomb (Roosevelt Jackson).
Screeching, howling music comes onto the soundtrack as she sits still at the bottom of Dr. Stein’s stairs. It continues to screech and howl as she sits, mildly waiting for Malcomb to walk to the intercom to speak to Dr. Stein. Nothing happens. The music stops.
Malcomb slowly makes his way to the intercom and presses a button. A deafening alarm and flashing red light goes off in Dr. Stein’s laboratory. (n.b. What must be Malcomb’s voice comes through the intercom, but it is suddenly deeper, with a German accent – see below.) In one of the film’s first 'classic' repetitive dialogue exchanges, Malcolm says: “Doc-tuh Styn, Doc-tuh Woor-kuh izz hee-uh to see yoo.” (Apologies to any German readers.) “Ah yes,” replies Dr. Stein, “Dr. Walker.”
It seems that Dr. Walker is a “former pupil” of Dr. Stein’s. She’s travelled to LA to work with him and to be close to her fiance Eddie Turner (Joe DeSue), who has been wounded while fighting in Vietnam and is residing in a nearby Veteran’s Hospital. Dr. Walker won’t tell Dr. Stein what is wrong with Eddie, even over dinner. Even though the camera circles the table in a menacing fashion, clearly showing that the table is in the middle of a black, unlit soundstage (rather than in, say, a dining room, as one may reasonably expect a dining table to be part of).
The next day Dr. Stein and Dr. Walker travel to the Hospital to see Eddie. Before they arrive, Dr. Walker tells Dr. Stein (in a laughably poor bit of post-production dubbing) that Eddie had his arms and legs blown off in Vietnam.
Meanwhile, as they travel towards the Hospital, Eddie is being cruelly taunted by an Orderly (Bob Brophy), who breaks off mid-taunt to tell Eddie a long and reasonably pointless anecdote about what happened to him when he went to enlist. Then Dr. Stein and Dr. Walker arrive, and between them they manage to talk Eddie into having treatment to try to help him. At no point does Eddie change the expression on his face or the tone of his voice – not when being taunted, not after being jabbed with a giant needle, not when seeing his fiancee. One can assume that in addition to his arms and legs, he lost all ability to act.
Eddie is transferred to Dr. Stein’s mansion, and begins having futuristic and impossibly scientific (haha) ‘DNA’ injections. We meet two other patients of Dr. Stein – Eleanor (Andrea King) and Bruno (Nick Bolin). Eleanor is having treatment for her appearance. She is 90 years old, and yet after ‘DNA’ injections she looks a lot younger (well, about 70, to be honest. Still pretty old, anyway). The other patient is Bruno, who had lost both legs but has had someone else’s leg grafted onto him. His other leg is a yellowy-orangey Zebra-striped leg – an experiment by Dr. Stein, who is trying to sort it out with ‘RNA’ – a different type of injection. Why? Well, it looks nice, I suppose. (Actually, it looks like someone has painted Bruno’s leg orange and yellow, and then added a couple of black stripes. But we won’t dwell on that.)
Eddie has his first operation, and is slowly being ‘rebuilt’. Meanwhile, Bruno has gone temporarily mad and has to be put in a straitjacket. This happens from time to time, says Dr. Stein, and is a side-effect of ‘DNA’ injections.
Before Eddie’s final operation, Malcomb confesses that he loves Dr. Walker. She rebuffs him, saying that she loves Eddie, and he takes his revenge by messing about with Eddie’s injections. This is pretty easy, as Eddie’s ‘DNA’ shots are kept in a plastic tub with ‘Eddie DNA’ written on in biro.
The upshot of this villainous meddling? After his final operation, Eddie says he doesn’t ‘feel right’. He starts to turn blue, develop hairy hands, and his head begins to turn into a cube. Dr. Stein decides to increase the injections by 50cc, but this has the alarming effect of turning Eddie into a blood-and-entrail craving monster...
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By: Jimmy Green
What can you say about this film? It’s simultaneously hilarious, stupid, inept and post-modern (although this last one may be unintentional). I’ve got a soft spot for it though, as it makes me laugh every time I see it, which is more than can be said for a great deal of so-called ‘comedies’ nowadays.
Although it is doubtful that this was the intention at the time the film was released. Anyway, where can I start with a summary of what it’s like to watch? Well, it’s a curious mixture of what the film-makers must have thought was cutting edge science at the time (‘DNA’ injections?), and hopelessly dated equipment in Dr. Stein’s lab. (What do DNA injections do? Well, in this movie you don’t find out per se…only that they help people regrow limbs. I think. Or something like that.) What about the hopelessly outdated machines and equipment in the Doctor’s lab? Most of it seems pretty abandoned. No-one uses it. It just sits there as a backdrop to the endless shadows of Eddie wandering about off-camera, arms outstretched.
The musical score is just…well, abysmal. Most of it is stock music, so it’s pretty generic, but the way that it’s used is just appalling. JUST APPALLING. It seems randomly dubbed onto bits of film when nothing else is happening. There is an odd camera angle here and there that seems reasonably imaginative, but most of the time you can imagine the DP pointing the camera quite wantonly and the cast walking in front of it to speak their lines (rather than the more traditional approach to film-making, when you move the camera about from time to time and use a complex procedure called ‘editing’ every so often).
Shots are included that don’t match (the whole ‘difference between day and night’ problem that Ed Wood had in ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ is a recurring one, it would seem), pointless interludes are included, single shots drag on and on until you scream at the film to “CUT AWAY! CUT AWAY!” A great deal of time and effort seems to be put into the montage as Eddie walks slowly towards the Veteran’s Hospital to wreak his painfully slow revenge on the Orderly that tormented him, with several different shots establishing that he is, in fact, WALKING FORWARDS, (I would love to have seen the storyboards for this film, oh yes…) only for the camera to stay static when Eddie actually attacks. Most of the attack takes part behind a curtain anyway, and there is almost no cutting to anything else at all. It becomes rather silly, especially when Eddie rips the Orderly’s arm off. Laugh? I couldn’t stop.
The final scene seems to be almost psychotically cut together…one minute there’s Eddie, wandering about. Then there’s some dogs running fast. Then there’s Eddie wandering about again, this time with dogs barking on the soundtrack. Then there’s Eddie facing the dogs, which look at him and bark, and then jump up at him a bit. Then Eddie falls over (despite the fact that he can lift a man up and throw him clear across a room as easily as most people would move a dustbin bag). Then the dogs rip his sleeve and some of his shirt. Then the dogs run away. One of them appears to have a couple of sausages in its mouth. Then what are supposed to be Eddie’s intestines are hanging out of his ripped shirt. The camera zooms into Eddie’s intestines, then fades to a random shot of what appears to be a woman in silhouette being comforted by what appears to be a random man, also in silhouette. Then the film ends with the credits rolling down from the top of the screen. To steal a line from the Satellite Of Love (or the MST3K space ship, for the uninitiated): “Just because you CAN edit, doesn’t mean that you SHOULD.”
The structure of the film seems a little awry, too – the first half is slow, studio bound and boring, spliced together with weird outdoor shots. The second half, simultaneously boring AND amusing, is almost from a different film altogether. Eddie wanders about ripping off random women’s breasts, pulling out various intestines and eating them, and generally roaming the surrounding area, miraculously unnoticed and mostly un-hunted.
There isn’t a great deal else to say about this film. It’s a confusing hotchpotch of rubbish and amusement. What CAN you say about a film that has a climax that relies on the ‘final girl’ being chased round and round the same water tank, and then suddenly losing the ability to climb a ladder? (Oh, how I laughed and laughed.) What can you say about a film that features a man called Bruno with a painted ‘zebra leg’? (This has become an injoke in our household.) What can you say about a film that stops halfway through a monster’s (ahem) ‘rampage’ to cut pointlessly to a musical number and one of the most mangled jokes of all time (courtesy of the comedian Andy C)?
If you like terrible films and you get a chance (and you like Mystery Science Theater 3000), then watch it and do your own riffing with your friends. If you like quality cinema, then stay away. Really. It is no exaggeration to say that I made my long-suffering girlfriend sit through this (she likes MST3K too), yet at the end of the film she actually started crying out of frustration that it was so bad. Really crying, not putting it on. Damn, I’m an inconsiderate partner, but I really thought she’d like it…
But I have to go on record as saying that, along with “King Of The Streets” (from 1985), “Blackenstein” is the worst film I have EVER seen. On one level it deserves a ZERO rating for most terrible film of all time (as far as I know). On the other hand, there’s something so majestically bad about it that it achieves some kind of terrible, terrible greatness. Mmmmmm…….. I have justified it to myself like this: “No matter what I see during the next few years, there is NO WAY that it is EVER going to be as bad as Blackenstein.”
The film was AIP’s 100th film, and they planned for it to be the first in a trilogy – “Blackenstein”, “The Fall Of The House Of Blackenstein”, and “Blackenstein III”. Studio boss Samuel Z. Arkoff has been quoted as saying at the time “We plan to devote our full resources to making this hundredth picture particularly outstanding.” However, the options for the sequels were not picked up... I wonder why?
Although this film was featured in the Medved Brothers’ “Golden Turkey Awards” (1980), I have doubts that they actually watched it. There are two reasons for this: first, it didn’t win the award for ‘Worst Blaxploitation Movie Ever Made’ (which it most certainly is) – that honour went to the infinitely more watchable ‘Scream Blacula Scream’. Second, their synopsis of the storyline is inaccurate – and I quote: “The plot, such as it is, concerns the loveable idiosyncracies of a young BLACK medic named Dr. Stein. To prove that he is a true SOUL BROTHER despite his Jewish sounding name, the good doctor uses real African zebra legs in his experiments, grafting them onto his UNSUSPECTING FEMALE victims.” (The capital letters are mine for reasons of criticism.) Now take a moment to re-read the above synopsis, taking note where I have mentioned (a) what colour Dr. Stein is (there WAS a reason for me to write that, you see), and (b) whose leg is a Zebra’s leg. Although the Medveds do mention Eddie and Dr. Walker, somehow I think they probably went on second hand information and didn’t get round to actually watching it before they reviewed it. As my girlfriend pointed out: “There’s NO WAY ‘Blacula 2’ was worse than this.”
Andy C, the ‘comedian’ / MC in the nightclub scene, ruins the punchline of a perfectly good joke. It was the one about a talking wonder dog named Rover who disappears after being given $5 and asked to go and buy some cigarettes as a bet (to see if he really is a talking wonder dog). Rover disappears for a while, and when his owner goes looking for him he finds Rover behind some bins, getting ‘friendly’ with a (ahem) professional lady dog. When the owner shouts “Rover! You’ve never done this before!” Rover replies “Aaah, but I’ve never had the money before”. For some reason, Andy C ends the joke with “Heck, you ain’t never sent me to the store with $5 either!” I don’t doubt Andy C’s proficiency as a stand up comedian, but... why change the rhythm of the punchline so the joke doesn’t work anymore?
Despite the film being called “Blackenstein... The Black Frankenstein”, the Doctor isn’t called Blackenstein. Neither is he actually black. This causes me to believe that the title was a rather lame attempt to cash in on the much, MUCH more entertaining “Blacula” (from 1972). I have yet to see “Dr Black and Mr Hyde”, which I suspect is another, similarly poor attempt to insert the word ‘black’ into the title of a famous horror novel in the wake of “Blacula”. I shall keep you posted. (October 2003)
According to the liner notes on the DVD release (Xenon), Dr. Stein's lab contained electrical equipment from the original Universal Frankenstein. This seems plausible, since Ken Strickfadden supplied them to Al Adamson two years before for Dracula Vs. Frankenstein. [Thanks to JimD]
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The main theme isn't that bad, although it has absolutely NOTHING to do with the film itself. The library score is hilariously used. Abysmal.
Soundtrack Available: Unknown
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No tagline - it's too awful to deserve one
|William A. Levey|
Ivory Stone, Joe DeSue, Roosevelt Jackson, Nick Bolin,
Bob Brophy, Don Brodie, Andy "C"|
| || |
|It's horribly, horribly fascinating. Like a car crash. Absolutely abysmal, but if you're in the right mood then it's hilarious. |
|Terrible. Really terrible. Normally I can find something good in most things, but this is easily the worst film I have ever seen. |
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