Wednesday, November 21, 2018

BLACKENSTEIN (1973) Blu-ray review

Blackenstein (1973) d. William A. Levey (USA)

Considered by many to be the nadir of blaxploitation horror, Levey’s clunker actually gets off to a (relatively) decent start, with injured Vietnam veteran Eddie (Joe DeSue) returning Stateside minus arms and legs due to a land mine close encounter. His science-loving sweetheart Dr. Winnifred Walker (Ivory Stone) remembers her old teacher Dr. Stein’s (John Hart) groundbreaking experiments in skin grafting and before you can say, “Seda-give???” the pair have soldier boy on the gurney menu served up with a slice of limb-burger cheese.

Oddly enough, the first act – outrageous as it might seem – is actually the strongest; once our hulking brute is on his feet, things go south in a hurry. Like the monster, the movie doesn’t quite know what to do with itself having accomplished the goal of rising from the slab and is left careening around aimlessly, grabbing anything or anybody that might cross its path to throw up against the wall and see what sticks (or splats). Meanwhile, Winnifred is being chased around the laboratory by Stein’s overly amorous assistant Malcomb (Roosevelt Jackson, yo-yoing between glum and leering).

Why Eddie’s Afro hairstyle suddenly assumes a blockheaded Karloff shape or why his new appendages are stiff as boards (forcing him to lumber around like a cardboard-box robot) or how he’s getting out of Stein’s institute unnoticed nearly every night is anyone’s guess; no character seems inclined to address these issues, which is perhaps for the best.

Equally puzzling is why, after murdering exclusively white victims for the majority of his onscreen rampage, Eddie (after the viewer is treated to a totally-not-padding-at-all stand-up comedy routine by “Andy C” and a torch song by “Cardella di Milo”) suddenly takes it upon himself to attack two of his own race (providing one of the more egregious examples of gratuitous nudity on record – thank you, cover girl Marva Farmer) before dragging another white lady off for what should be the climax of the movie! In which case, why doesn’t he carry off Winifred? Was Stone not available that day? Or am I merely meddling in things the human mind was never meant to know?

Severin’s loving high-definition release (in association with Xenon Pictures and Vinegar Syndrome) presents Blackenstein in both its theatrical version (78 min) and its home video version (87 min), the latter of which derived from the original video master, resulting in a longer cut as opposed to the tighter version that writer/producer Frank Saletri presumably supervised.

Almost a decade after its release, Saletri died in a gangland-style murder that remains unsolved to this day, making for a sinister footnote in an otherwise silly film’s history, and it is to his memory that most of the supplements devote themselves. There is an interview with his sister, June Kirk, talking about Frank’s love for monster movies growing up, collaborators Ken Osbourne and Robert Dix share their memories of working with him, and an archival news broadcast reporting on Saletri’s homicide.

On a lighter note, there is an audio-only interview with prosthetics creator William Munns (Swamp Thing, Beastmaster, Return of the Living Dead) who warmly discusses the challenges of working on a minimal budget while expressing great fondness for the movie that gave him his first professional credit. A theatrical trailer rounds out the extras.

Blackenstein is available now on Blu-ray from Severin Films and can be ordered HERE:


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