Daily Archives: December 17, 2022

Blackenstein (1973)

*. A movie with a title like Blackenstein, with all that it connotes, coming in at only 87 minutes, has no excuse for being this dull and plodding. It could at least have been campy or shlocky fun. Instead it is simply inept and almost impossible to watch.
*. It was obviously made to cash in on the success of Blacula, which had come out the previous year, but it’s actually worse than that because a different producer wanted to beat Blacula‘s Sam Arkoff (who was thinking along similar lines) to the punch so he turned out this piece of shit in great haste and at no expense.
*. Just how cynical a move was this? Almost as cynical as re-releasing Blackenstein as The Return of Blackenstein after its initial run. The same movie. That cynical.
*. It might have been interesting. The basic premise is actually something a bit different. Dr. Stein has developed two new procedures: DNA injections and the use of lasers to fuse new limbs on to amputees. He doesn’t seem to be a bad man, and has a couple of patients he’s treating and keeping comfortable in his mansion. Then an old student of his named Winifred shows up on his doorstep with a problem: the man she was going to marry has been blown up by a mine in Vietnam and lost his arms and legs. Dr. Stein thinks he can help, but his program for Eddie’s treatment is undercut by his other assistant, who has fallen in love with Winifred.
*. So instead of being a corpse (or collage of corpses) brought to life, Eddie is someone who was alive whose brain is killed by the doctor’s treatment so he shambles through the rest of the movie as a powerful, bloodthirsty zombie.
*. That’s not an idea without potential, but it all goes unfulfilled. Even the lab equipment from the 1931 film goes to waste. Nor is it much of a blaxploitation movie as there is no racial angle to it at all. Despite Eddie being a vet, and the doctor being a white man, there’s no attempt to politicize anything. It’s just a dumb movie. So dumb that in the final ten minutes the Monster chases after a woman we haven’t seen before, and is then killed by police dogs, leaving Winifred to wander off with one of the detectives who had been tracking the Monster. It’s a ludicrous attempt at wrapping things up.
*. Before we get to that end the 87 minutes start to feel very well padded. There are lots of shots of the Monster’s shiny shoes. There’s a night club scene. There are several lab scenes when we really only needed one.
*. It’s interesting to note how, in their Golden Turkey Awards volume, the Medved brothers nominate Blackenstein in the Worst Blaxploitation Movie Ever Made category. I would question this just because it only narrowly qualifies as blaxpolitation and, as noted, there is no racial angle at work in the film. But even assuming it fits the bill, what they say about it gives every indication that neither of them had seen the trailer much less the movie.
*. They call it out for “overacting,” for example, despite the fact that it’s woefully underacted by almost everyone. John Hart’s Dr. Stein never becomes the deranged mad doctor, Roosevelt Jackson as Malcolm is a wallflower, Ivory Stone is a physics Ph.D., not a scream queen, and Joe De Sue as Eddie (latterly the Monster), in what I believe was his only movie, seems well aware of his limitations as an actor and so decides to just show no emotion at all.
*. Then — I’m still talking about the Medveds now — Dr. Stein is described as “a young black medic” when he is actually an older white man. Then they talk about how the doctor grafts zebra legs “onto his unsuspecting female victims,” but he only has one female patient and she is receiving the DNA therapy, not one of the grafted limbs. Really, even by the sometimes very shoddy standards of the Medveds this is embarrassing.
*. But I suspect Blackenstein, despite its well-known title, is a movie very few people have actually seen. There’s certainly little to say about it. In Nightmare Movies Kim Newman gives it a single reference where it is written off as “atrocious.” Let’s leave it there.