Director: William A. Levey
Stars: John Hart, Ivory Stone, Joe De Sue
By Brian M. Sammons
Blackenstein. Yep, it’s pretty much all right there in the title. What Blacula did for Blaxploitation and vampires in 1972, this did for Blaxploitation and Mary Shelley’s most famous creation in 1973. So it’s not deep, but is it fun? Do we dare hope that it might even be good? Well, grab a lightning rod and your funkiest seventies outfit and let’s find out.
A large African-American man named Eddie is grievously wounded in the Vietnam War, losing both his arms and legs. His fiancée and doctor, Winifred, says she may know someone that could help him despite the odds stacked against it. That person is named Doctor Stein, naturally. However, instead of grave robbing and sewing rotting limbs onto Eddie, the good doctor uses DNA to grow the man some new arms, and things go surprisingly well. Unfortunately an unforeseen love triangle rears its ugly head, leading to a jealous rival to mess with the DNA process with monstrous results. Eddie starts to devolve, gets hairy hands, develops a caveman-like brow, and loses the capacity to speak and even think for the most part. To further set this Blackenstein apart from Frankenstein, this monster also has cannibalistic hungers. Yummy. This of course leads to a big confrontation between afflicted Eddie, the woman who still loves him, and the doctor who unwittingly turned him into a monster.
Blackenstein is Blaxploitation at its cheapest and most unintentionally ridiculous. From the iffy acting, to the bad lighting, to the big square afro of the titular monster. It is unimaginable that anything in this movie was supposed to be taken seriously, the whole thing is about as camp as Christmas. That said, it’s not without some goofy charm, and would be a good choice for a group watch where participants could give it the MST3K treatment. Serious cinema it is not, but in the right state of mind it could be a lot of fun.
On to the extras Severin has included on this new Blu-ray release. First it should be said that both the 78-minute theatrical release and the 87-minute video release are presented here. So there’s that. Then there is an interview with the sister of writer/producer Frank R. Saletri about how he was always a horror movies fan, and that runs 19 minutes. Then there is a sad bit of archival news footage about the mysterious, execution-style murder of Mr. Saletri that’s six minutes long. That murder still remains unsolved to this day. Appropriately enough, there is an homage featurette to Frank R. Saletri, remembering the man and his work, and that runs six and a half minutes. There is an interview with Blackenstein creature designer, Bill Munns, that’s nine minutes long. Lastly there is also the ever present theatrical trailer. Not too shabby for a low budget movie about a black Frankenstein monster.
Blackenstein is not a great movie. It’s not even as good as the other Blaxploitation take on a famous Universal monster, but it is fun. It’s silly, groovy, outrageous, and a must-have for fans of 70s African American low-budget flicks. If that is you, then give it a shot when it comes out May 30th.