Horror, Satire

Blackenstein (1973)

Comments Off on Blackenstein (1973) 30 November 2017


Studio: Severin

Theatrical Release: 1973

Blu Ray Release: May 30, 2017

Director: William A. Levey


Review by James Klein

Due to the success of Blacula, a rather decent and atmospheric blaxploitation horror film from 1972, it seems that a string of African American horror films started to get produced such as Scream, Blacula Scream and Dr. Black & Mr. Hyde to name a few. One of those films, Blackenstein, was brought to the screen by writer / producer Frank R. Saletri whose backstory is much more interesting than anything in Blackenstein. In fact, Blackenstein with its cheap production value is a bore (Borenstein) and at times a chore to sit through despite the short running time. 

Dr. Winifred Walker (Ivory Stone) has traveled to L.A. to meet scientist Dr. Stein (John Hart who played The Lone Ranger when Clayton Moore had a contract dispute in the early 50’s) in his mansion who has a few patients residing in his home, including one who seems to have discovered a fountain of youth (Dr. Stein calls it a “blood disease” as the woman appears to be in her 60’s but is in fact 90), and another who has already survived a limb transplant whose other leg is deformed to the point of looking orange. Dr. Stein’s experiments and transplants is what brought Dr. Walker to see him as she tells the good doctor about her boyfriend Eddie (Joe De Sue) who stepped on a land mine in Vietnam, losing all his limbs. 

As Eddie is being abused by a white orderly at the hospital he is staying at, Dr. Walker and Dr. Stein take Eddie out of the hospital and bring him back to Dr. Stein’s mansion where the doctors experiment on this poor sap. Attempting and almost successfully completing a limb transplant, Dr. Stein’s assistant Malcolm (Roosevelt Jackson) expresses his love for Dr. Walker much to her dismay. Having gotten the shaft, Malcolm decides to fuck with the experiment by switching Eddie’s DNA injections, thus transforming him into a mumbling monster with a giant mongoloid forehead. 

Eddie first goes after the orderly who would verbally abuse him, calling him a freak and mocking his patriotism. Once Eddie rips the orderly’s arm off (off screen, this film is too cheap to show actual effects) he takes down Malcolm and then just goes on a killing spree, knocking off everyone in sight. Blackenstein then takes an odd turn as Dr. Walker, who seemed to be the star of the film is never seen again as Eddie goes to a night club, killing a few people until a couple of Doberman’s rip apart Blackenstein in hilarious fashion as these happy looking dogs walk off with his limbs in their mouths.  

A few things to note about Blackenstein; race is never mentioned once in this film and while that is a bit refreshing, I wondered why the film makers were afraid to mention race since this movie is a semi-serious spoof / take on the Frankenstein legend. Second, this film is so damn cheap. From wooden acting to poor sound to cheap looking sets to phony make up, Blackenstein is just bad film making which will force some viewers to reach for the fast forward button.

Severin’s blu ray release contains two versions of the movie; the theatrical cut and a video release which contains more scenes (and some extra gore) that has never been seen until now. Blackenstein is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 for both the Theatrical Release and Video Release. The theatrical cut looks pretty good, especially for such an older, low budget film. While there is some minor print damage and murky night sequences, overall the picture looks pretty good and seems sharp.  The Video Release has more wear and tear as new sequences or cutaways definitely look much different, taken off a 1″ master tape. While the Video Release isn’t as clunky or choppy as the theatrical version, there are moments such as the monster slowly walking down the stairs that one can’t help but think it was a good thing this sequences was shortened. The 2.0 mono soundtrack for both versions is passable but due to the budget of Blackenstein, the sound quality isn’t very good or clear. 

The special features is what I found most fascinating as most of the featurettes revolve around the mysterious murder of writer / producer Frank R. Saletri who was actually a criminal defendant lawyer that loved movies, especially horror. Having purchased Bela Lugosi’s home, Saletri wrote several scripts after Blackenstein (Black the Ripper was my favorite title) which never came to fruition as he was shot in the head execution style in his home, in the summer of 1982. Saltri’s sister June Kirk discusses his life and the unsolved murder of his older brother. There is also an actual news broadcast of the murder being discussed on the news that is included on the blu ray. There is also brief interviews with Actors / Producers Ken Osbourne and Robert Dix, telling their stories of Saletri. The last featurette which doesn’t seem to fit with the theme of discussing Saletri, as the viewer is granted a quick interview with prosthetic artist Bill Munns who went on to bigger and better things such as Swamp Thing and The Beastmaster. Also included is a rather long trailer for the film. 

While not scary and slow paced with cheap production values, Blackenstein has a few unintentional laughs that do take place occasionally. However, Blackenstein overall is just not very good and while I really liked listening to and finding out about Saletri and what happened to him, it’s not enough to make me want to keep Blackenstein on my blu ray shelf. 

Movie Rating: ★½☆☆☆ 

Blu Ray Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

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