Blackenstein [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Severin Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (13th May 2017).
The Film

When her fiancé Eddie (Joe De Sue) loses both of his arms and legs to a landmine in Vietnam, physicist Dr. Winifred Walker (Ivory Stone) travels to Los Angeles to work for her Nobel-winning mentor Dr. Stein (The Lone Ranger's John Hart) in the hopes that he can help Eddie with his experimental all-purpose DNA serum. Stein has already used the serum to fuse the detached leg of patient Bruno (The Devil's Daughter's Nick Bolin) and restored ninety-nine year old Eleanor's (The Beast With Five Fingers's Andrea King) looks to middle age. Despite some instability with the drug – which has caused an adverse RNA reaction that has turned Bruno's other leg into a primordial throwback – Stein believes he will be able to transplant all four of his limbs and restore full use of them. When Winifred rebuffs the romantic overtures of Stein's assistant Malcomb (Roosevelt Jackson), however, he sabotages the Eddie's dosage of the DNA serum. Soon enough, Eddie is exhibiting a prominent primitive brow ridge, club feet, significantly longer limbs, and super strength. Almost comatose by day – with Stein and Winifred frantically working to discover the cause of his impending cortical brain death – Eddie frees himself from confinement by night and goes on a rampage, first ripping apart a sadistic orderly (Soylent Green's John Dennis) from the VA hospital before turning his bloodlust on innocent couples (among them Desperate Living's Liz Renay and make-up artist Jerry Soucie (Animal House). The "Midnight Murders" bring unwelcome attention to Dr. Stein's mansion clinic from the police (Dan Brodie and Friday Foster's James Cousar), but there may not be anything human left of Eddie by the time Dr. Stein and Winifred find a cure.

A significantly different Blaxploitation horror entry than Blacula or Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde from rival drive-in distributors American International and Dimension Pictures respectively, Blackenstein (subtitled Blackeinstein: The Black Frankenstein) was the brainchild of Frank R. Saletri, a lifelong monster movie fan who became a successful and newsworthy attorney who divided his time between defending some notorious clients (Renay was the girlfriend of mobster Mickey Cohen) and doing legal work (some pro bono) for low-budget filmmakers and catching the fame bug with court TV appearances. Enough of a horror fan to make Bela Lugosi's mansion his home, Saletri started writing scripts, with Blackenstein was the first of a proposed slate of titles to be produced by his Frisco Productions company, but it was not his shocking and still-unsolved execution-style murder in 1982 cut his dream short. Although intended as a spoof, lead performances and the direction of William A. Levey (Hellgate) are much too flat to send up the blatantly formulaic aspects of the story or the few actual attempts at comic relief. Creature effects are relatively accomplished for the budget while the gore effects are considerably less convincing (with an appliance so obviously set atop the skin of one character's ripped out throat). The most accomplished aspect of the production is the photography of genre stalwart Robert Caramico (Lemora, A Child's Tale of the Supernatural) which provides wide angel distortion to the corridors of Stein's mansion, gives an expressionistic touch to some shots of Eddie stalking the city and casting a menacing shadow far ahead of his hulking silhouette, and adding strobing gel lighting to the laboratory scenes. Singer Cardella Di Milo (Dolemite) provides two Blues-y songs for the soundtrack – one of which she performs onscreen during some nightclub scene padding that also includes a standup comic routine by Andy C – while the score credited to Lou Frohman (The Slime People) sounds more like library music (Frohman's other credits have been as music supervisor). Besides writing and producing, Saletri is also credited with "electronic effects" alongside Ken Strickfaden who had already lugged out the electrified Frankenstein-esque lab props for Dracula Vs Frankenstein and would again for Young Frankenstein.

Video

Released theatrically by Prestige Pictures and then on VHS and Beta at the dawn of home video by MEDA (later Media Home Entertainment who would reissue it a couple years later), Blackenstein wound up with Xenon Pictures for a nineties VHS release followed by a barebones, fullscreen 2003 DVD. The film exists in two versions, the original theatrical version and the video version which was expanded by ten minutes with some alternate shots, extended scenes, and some different music choices. Severin's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen Blu-ray features both of these versions, the theatrical cut (77:46) restored by Vinegar Syndrome from materials provided by Xenon, and the video release cut (87:05) which has been reconstructed using the theatrical cut's HD master and a 1" master tape. The HD master gives a semi-professional sheen to Caramico's gel lighting but some averaging seems to have been done with the darker scenes, rendering shadows as well as black clothing and hair in varying degrees of dark gray to black. The 1" tape inserts to the video release version range from pale and soft in well-lit scenes to noisy and blown-out in the scenes with special lighting. This is not as meticulous a composite cut as we have seen with the mix of HD and SD materials in masters from companies like Arrow and Shout! Factory as there are plenty of scenes that remain in SD where there is an HD equivalent in the theatrical cut since Severin has elected to switch between the masters at shot cuts rather than having the quality change within a shot itself for extended shots in the video release version. There are several scene minor extensions in the video release cut with the major differences including the addition of some additional lab footage during the pre-credits sequence (featuring Stone before she appears in the film proper), an extended version of the first dining room scene with more cliché classical music scoring and a full circular arc around the table, scenes of Stein and Winifred going to see Eddie before meeting Stein's other patients, additional dialogue during the interrogation scene between the cops and Stein, and the placement of Andy C's shocked reaction to the creature before his attack on the couple. More dramatic music is used during the final scene and end credits in the video version rather than a reprisal of the Di Milo opening credits song.

Audio

Both versions feature English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and Dolby Digital 2.0 mono tracks, with the audio on the theatrical version sounding cleaner and fuller while the video release version's audio was at least partially derived from the 1" analog tape master. English SDH subtitles are provided only for the theatrical release.

Extras

The bulk of the extras focus on producer Saletri, starting with "Monster Kid" (19:02), an interview with Saletri's sister June Kirk who discusses her brother's childhood love of monster movies, his education and move to Hollywood where he bought and lived in Bela Lugosi's house until it was razed to widen the freeway, his celebrity clients (among them Renay), his work on Blackenstein as well as his unproduced scripts - all of them spoof with titles like Drac the Ripper, The Skid Row Slasher, and even a Blackenstein sequel - as well as the circumstances of his murder (including some news coverage clips). Additional coverage is provided in Archive News Broadcast on the Murder Of Frank R. Saletri (6:17) from 1986 discussing the still-unsolved crime and casting a sinister light on his dealings with pimps, prostitues, and mobsters as clients. Another segment (6:36) composed of excerpts from interviews with actor/director Ken Osborne (Cain's Cutthroats) and actor/producer Robert Dix (Five Bloody Graves) shot for an upcoming documentary on director Al Adamson (Blood of Dracula's Castle) in which they recall their working relationships and friendships with Saletri. "Bill Created Blackenstein" (9:15) is an audio interview with creature designer Bill Munns (Superstition) who recalls the film as his first professional assignment after taking classes with veteran make-up artist Michael Westmore (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and doing make-up for the Universal Studios tour demonstrations. He got involved in the film through colleague Gordon Freed (The Hazing) who handled the gore effects while Munns was put in charge of the monster's prosthetics. He goes into detail about the difference between the 1931 design of Jack Pierce for Frankenstein and his use of more advanced molded prosthetics. Also included is the film's theatrical trailer (3:24).

Packaging

The cover's reproduction of the original poster art was submitted to Amazon.com in a slightly censored variation but is uncensored on the actual release.

Overall

 


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