Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Frankenstein vs the Creature from Blood Cove

Director: William Winckler
Writer: William Winckler
Producer: William Winckler
Cast: Larry Butler, Bill Winckler, Dezzi Rae Ascalon
Country: USA
Year of release: 2005
Reviewed from: screener DVD

Or, to give the film its full on-screen title, William Winckler's Frankenstein vs the Creature from Blood Cove. I know some people are a little ambivalent about proprietorial credits in film titles (like Roger Corman's Frankenstein Unbound or John Carpenter's Career Continues to Decline) but I suppose that if a chap writes, directs, produces and stars then he has earned the right to stick his name in the title, even if it is already an unwieldy length to begin with.

So: Blood Cove. Let's not beat about the bush - this is a sort of coded way of saying 'Black Lagoon' which is of course a phrase that is copyrighted to Universal Studios. But the crux of this film is a fight (actually two fights) between Frankenstein's monster (Lawrence Furbish) and an aquatic, reptilian humanoid referred to as 'the Creature' (Corey J Marshall). We all know what is really happening here, but in order to avoid a visit from copyright gorillas in the middle of the night everyone has to pretend that it's something else. It's not.

You know that late-night drunken conversation you once had about how the Gill-Man, despite being an iconic monster, didn't appear until the main monster cycle had finished so he never got to share the screen with the other classic horror icons (apart from in The Monster Squad, obviously)? Well, despair no more because here is his cousin, going monstro a monstro with Dr F's lumbering creation, filmed in glorious black and white-o-vision.

However, this isn't some 'living fossil' from the Amazon. This Creature has been 'genetically created' by loopy scientist Dr Monroe Lazaroff (Larry Butler: Animal Instincts III, Legend of the Phantom Rider) in the laboratory beneath his house up above the inexplicably empty beach that is Blood Cove. Here he lives and works with the assistance of Dr Ula Foranti (Alison Lees-Taylor) and tall, scarred, pony-tailed assistant Salisbury (make-up guy Rich Knight who designed all the monsters in the film). The movie starts with the Creature escaping out to sea but Lazaroff thinks it will probably die soon so that's alright then.

Having lost his creation, there is only one alternative - which is of course to travel to Shellvania (located, according to an on-screen map, just beyond Transylvania) and there dig up the Frankenstein monster who turns out not to be in the ruins of a castle as everyone expected but in an unmarked grave, guarded by a mad old gypsy woman. While digging, Lazaroff and his two colleagues are attacked by a werewolf for no narrative reason that I could see (played, like the Creature, by Corey J Marshall).

Back in California we meet photographer Bill Grant (Winckler himself) who works for a low-rent glamour mag, assisted by hair stylist Dezzirae Lee (Dezzi Rae Ascalon) and fat, camp make-up man Percy Featherstone (Gary Canavello). They head out to Blood Cove to shoot some pictures of bikini model Gabrielle (Tera Cooley) which they do at great length. There is no full-frontal nudity in this film but this is one of three quite lengthy T&A scenes which frankly drag on a bit. If I want to watch sexy young ladies climbing out of microscopic bikinis there are whole films consisting of nothing but that sort of thing - heck, there are whole cable channels. The T&A sequences just interrupt the monster fun; apparently they may be cut down for a more TV-friendly version and that would be an improvement in my opinion.

Anyway, Bill, Dezzirae, Percy and Gabrielle are interrupted by the appearance of the Creature and high-tail it out of there. But editor/publisher Harry Granville (George Lindsey Jr) isn't happy about the abbreviated photo-set, even though it includes a shot of the beastie in question, and he argues with Bill - in a rather clever and fun bit of dialogue - about whether it's just a guy in a rubber suit. Bill, Dezzirae and Percy are sent back to Blood Cove with another model named Beula (Carla Harvey) who takes the same inordinate amount of time to divest herself of her itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny. You would think that a professional model who does that sort of thing all day would be able to undo whatever knot or catch is holding the thing up... (Actually, I must note some sympathy for this actress as these scenes seem to have been shot on a very windy day and the poor love must have been freezing her tits off. Suffering for your art, it's called.)

When the Creature attacks again, Beula is killed and the others escape up to a house which they haven't previously noticed but which is presumably closer than their cars. Of course, this turns out to be Dr Lazaroff's pad. Dr Foranti initially tells them to bugger off but lets them in when the Creature turns up. Annoyed at this intrusion, Dr L has to keep the three prisoner until his diabolical plans are hatched.

And what might those diabolical plans be? As far as I can understand, Lazaroff thinks he can defeat global terrorism with one suitably indestructible monster, whether a genetically created fishman or a bunch of sewn-together charnel house remains which has been buried under East European soil for a century or two. Using 'mental programming' (no more details are given, so let's just leave it at that), the Frankenstein Monster will be dispatched to the homes of terrorists and will despatch those terrorists when it arrives. Quite how the Monster will actually find these evil masterminds if they're surrounded by thousands of armed guards or hiding in a cave in the middle of nowhere (or both) isn't a subject that is touched upon, but I suppose such logical leaps are the mark of a truly mad scientist. And at least the Monster has an advantage in desert conditions over the Creature which would probably just dry out and shrivel up.

It must be said that, for this reviewer, bringing terrorism into a comedy fantasy story like this, however peripherally, is a little uncomfortable. This is no reflection on current events; I'm writing this review only a week or so after the 2005 London suicide bombings but good heavens, I'm a 37-year-old Englishman and have therefore lived under the threat of Irish and/or Islamic terrorism my entire life. It's just that Dr Lazaroff's ultra right-wing, ultra-naive view that there are certain people who are 'terrorists' and if you kill 'em all the problem goes away seems uncomfortably close to the overly simplistic views genuinely held by some of the loonier fringes of American society (some of whom, unfortunately, run that country).

I have no idea where Bill Winckler's own views lie in all this and I certainly wouldn't ascribe a fictional character's politics to that character's creator (especially when the character is a mad scientist who digs up patchwork bodies and transports them halfway across the globe). But to an international audience, hearing an apparently educated American character pontificating on a simple solution to terrorism - especially when so much terrorism over the years has been funded by either the US government or private US citizens - just rankles. I'm sure the whole thing is meant to be satirical but it's not played broad enough for comedy and it just seems to play into the hands of xenophobic idiot rednecks (although Lazaroff himself is certainly not portrayed that way) and that doesn't strike me as a good thing. This is all a personal reaction and I'm not for a moment suggesting that one should not make jokes about terrorism, but the net result in cinematic terms is that this idea jolted me out of the story, interrupting the monster fun even more than the bikinis did.

Lazaroff could have had some other reason to want the Creature and/or the Monster which would have been equally valid. But an anti-terrorism project it is, so on we go. Some official looking guys in dark suits (credited as 'Soldiers') do turn up at one point to collect the Monster - one of whom gives the most incredibly wooden performance I have seen for many a long year - but after that the subplot is dropped in favour of more monstroid action. One of the soldiers speaks into a radio in a foreign language but the meaning behind that escaped me, unless they are meant to be rotten old terrorists themselves, duping poor Doctor Lazaroff into working for the bad guys.

But enough of all this and back to the monster stuff, which is what we have come here to see. As previously noted, the Frankenstein Monster does square off against the Creature on two occasions. There is also a subplot about the Monster stalking Dezzirae who reminds him of his Bride (played in brief flashbacks by goth chick Lisa Hammer, "the darling of New York's nouveaux noir underground film scene"). The ghost of Dr Frankenstein himself also makes an appearance, played once again by a heavily made-up Corey J Marshall who must just be a sucker for punishment.

Marshall does get to appear sans make-up in the background of a sequence in a bar which is apparently situated just along from Dr Lazaroff's house although nobody has mentioned it previously. Porn legend Ron Jeremy and Troma supremo Lloyd Kaufman are also among the bar patrons (though each was clearly shot separately). Three other names also making 'special appearances' are Raven De La Croix (Up!, Screwballs, The Phantom Empire) as the Shellvanian gypsy woman, author David Gerrold as a writer in the magazine offices (who says he is off to the Mojave in search of giant ants!) and 'Patrick Lilly' who plays the human form of the werewolf seen briefly in the Shellvanian sequence. This isn't the first time that this actor (who usually goes by a slightly different name) has played a werewolf - he did so on TV for a couple of years in the 1960s...

Porn actress Selena Silver doesn’t get a ‘special appearance’ credit but she does perform a pole dance, holding up the action once again. To be honest, if I wanted to see her naked I would rent one of her other pictures such as Anal Perversions 3, Stick It Where the Sun Don't Shine, Cum Fart Cocktails (no, honestly!) or that sensitive study of rebellious youth Gang Bang Darlings 2: Cocks Aplenty.

I'll leave the plot summary at that, but I don't think it's a spoiler to imply that this film finishes with the good guys still alive and a lot of other people dead at the hands of one monster or another.

Winckler's first movie, The Double-D Avenger, was a superhero spoof which paid homage to the works of Russ Meyer (several of the cast here were in that picture, and Ms Ascalon was assistant director). For his second feature he has crafted a deeply affectionate tribute to the monster movies of the '40s and '50s and you know what, he pretty much succeeds. This is no Young Frankenstein but it's done with respect, enthusiasm and talent and the result is terrific fun. Winckler directs with a professional touch and he's no slouch as an actor either (some other cast members are... less good) but this doesn't come across as a vanity project, even with his name in the title. He has brought together a talented crew, not least DP Matthias Schubert whose lighting and monochrome photography are simply superb. I have pointed out in the past that one does not leave a movie whistling the cinematography but, you know, in this case I think you do - it’s that good. Also contributing to the authentic vintage feel of the movie is the music by Mel Lewis (Demon Slayer, Legion of the Dead, Bloodfist 2050; he also appears briefly as one of the soldiers), much of which is based around Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. As this is famously the only music in the 1931 Dracula, its use here may be a way of making up for the lack of vampires in this otherwise packed monsterfest.

And then of course there is Rich Knight's make-up on the long-suffering Corey J Marshall, on himself and on the various victims and other characters. Knight has had a field day designing and creating a whole house of monsters, probably on a budget which wouldn't pay for the eye-liner on a Hollywood blockbuster. The werewolf is a nicely-designed head let down slightly by a body which is just a hairy suit with no acknowledgement of quasi-lupine anatomy. The Frankenstein Monster is a scarred, stitched, decomposing monstrosity with the long, dank hair which was pretty much the only specific part of him ever described by Mary Shelley. (Shelley's novel, incidentally, gets an 'inspired by' credit which is rather generous but a nice touch.)

The double-exposure ghost and the flashback bride are both also terrific but of course the star is the Creature. This is a fabulous full-body suit - the head is separate with a flap around the neck - and it is a thing of wonder for monster fans, putting Rich Knight onto a list of talented, hard-working make-up guys like Paul Blaisdell and Jack Kevan who could create a whole new species without forgetting that there has to be an actor inside. Squeezed inside the costume, Marshall runs, fights, even swims - yes, there is underwater photography which is worth another round of applause for Schubert I think. Knight's skill at crafting full-body suits comes as no surprise when one considers that he previously constructed monsters for Power Rangers.

Among a hard-working cast, the stand-out is Alison Lees-Taylor as Dr Foranti who invests genuine intrigue into a character which could have fallen either way: as a sidekick providing nothing but a voice to ask questions or, as here, a complex character whose motivation and morality remain equally difficult to fathom. There is another woman in Dr Lazaroff's house, a busty maid named Mimi (Mimma Mariucci) who appears from nowhere, without explanation, being snogged by the dirty doc - but sorry, Dr Foranti's the girl for me. It is also worth pointing out that, despite spending the entire film in a lab coat, Lees-Taylor comes across as considerably sexier than any of the young ladies climbing in and out of G-strings (she also scores points for not having appeared in any film with a title like Cum Fart Cocktails).

William Winckler's Frankenstein vs the Creature from Blood Cove is a lot of fun for monster fans. It doesn't mock, it doesn't spoof, but nor does it take itself seriously. The dialogue and acting just balance on that knife edge of affectionate homage to something dated but glorious. Winckler and his team can be proud of having created a film which will be enjoyed by a lot of people and - I have no doubt this is partly the intention - will make those viewers want to ferret through their DVD collections for some of the original monster films that inspired this one.

MJS rating: B+ (or A- if the T&A scenes are cut down a bit)
review originally posted 15th July 2005

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