Against the backdrop of an eerie castle on the first of what will prove to be many “dark and stormy nights,” the title “Blackenstein: The Black Frankenstein” materializes on the screen. I love it when a relationship between filmmaker and audience is built on mutual disrespect of each other’s intelligence.
William A. Levey’s Blackenstein is a cautionary tale of the dangers of science gone horribly wrong in the hands of madmen that have not decency or respect for human life. Wait. No, actually it isn’t that at all. That was the point of the original Mary Shelley novel. Blackenstein is about Dr. Winifred Walker (Ivory Stone), a physicist, who calls on her mentor, Dr. Stein (John Hart), to help treat her Vietnam veteran fiancee, Eddie Turner (Joe De Sue). Eddie had the misfortune of stepping on a landmine back in the ‘Nam, and as a result, had his arms and legs blown off of his body, with absolutely no other scarring or injury.
Fortunately, Dr. Stein has nearly perfected organ replacement using his patented “DNA Solution” injections, laser fusion bonding, and a whole slew of other science-y sounding words. The process would have been a rousing success, except Dr. Stein’s assistant, Malcomb (Roosevelt Jackson) has fallen for Dr. Walker, sabotages Joe’s treatment, resulting in Joe becoming a Frankenstein. Thus the slow, meandering rampage of “death-hugs” ensues.
The one thing I wanted to know more about was how often this situation has happened before in Dr. Stein’s experiments. When the experiment starts going wrong, and Joe grows a cro-magnon brow and the top of his head grows about three inches, resembling Boris Karloff in Frankenstein (1931), Dr. Stein doesn't appear at all shocked. In fact, he just happens to have a cage in his basement, and a black outfit, just like the original Creature. I half expected him to tell Dr. Walker, “Don’t worry, the ‘Blackensteining’ is simply a side effect of my DNA solution. It’ll pass.”
But don’t worry: what the film lacks in coherent dialogue, it more than makes up for with NOTHING HAPPENING! Levey appeared to be particularly interested in showing the drama of people entering and exiting rooms, walking up and down stairs, and cars arriving. Unfortunately, he did not bother to light anything, or edit any of these events in a way that would let the audience actually know what it going on. Which is an impressive feat, considering how little actually happens in the movie.
Most of the action occurs in the last ten minutes, as if Levey noticed that nothing had happened and was trying to make up for it. On the same note, I think he also noticed that for a blaxploitation movie, he’d only cast 4 African Americans, and shoved in twenty more in the last reel. I think this is part of the real downfall of the film: In trying to cash-in on Blacula, William Levey created the first-ever “blah-sploitation” film. Maybe if he had focused more on Bruno, the patient with the tiger leg, it would've been a better picture.