Written and Directed by: Sean Tretta
Starring: Tiffany Shepis, Patty Tindall, Scott Anthony Leet, and Ed Lauter
Reviewed by: Brett G.
“Life is pain.”
Of all the literary stories that have been adapted (and sometimes butchered) by horror movies, my favorite might be the Frankenstein tale. Maybe this is because the Universal classic was one of the first films that introduced me to the genre; or it could just be that Mary Shelley buried a really interesting concept under the mountain of verbosity that is Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (see, even the title is wordy!). The simple moral laying at the center of the story (don’t play God or bad things happen) lends itself to a number of various iterations, and we’ve certainly seen a lot over the years. The latest entry into this cycle is The Frankenstein Syndrome, an independent production that wears its admiration for Shelley on its bloody, tattered sleeve.
The film begins with Dr. Elizabeth Barnes (Tiffany Shepis) running away from some hideous creature; it eventually catches up to her off-screen, and we cut to two years later. Here, Barnes is paralyzed and wearing a mask to hide a facial disfigurement, and she’s been summoned by some agents to tell the story of how she and other scientists was recruited by a man named Walton (Ed Lauter) to perform genetic experiments. They ended up creating a serum that could reanimate dead tissue, and they eventually created a misunderstood monster with a murderous bent.
The guys and gals behind this one have an obvious regard for the original Frankenstein novel--most of the characters’ names are derived from the book, and a couple of them even sport the surnames of Shelley’s parents (Wollstonecraft and Godwin). At one point, a character reads from the novel, while another drops some science about the Prometheus myth, which begs you to wonder how these scientists can be so oblivious to what they’re doing. But I digress; besides, the film best shows its respect for the novel by adhering closely to its themes, particularly the bit where the overly ambitious scientists initially end up being more monstrous than the creature they create. A lot of the film is rightfully concerned with the usual moral quandaries that accompany this tale, which leads to intense fussing and fighting between characters.
The main strife occurs between Elizabeth and another doctor Victoria Travelle (Patti Tindall), and it’s a rather catty rivalry. The two sort of duke it out for alpha dog status early, and Elizabeth assumes the position as the obsessed, morality-be-damned project leader. But somewhere along the way, she drops out, and Victoria actually becomes the Victor of the tale (I suppose her name foreshadows that). It’s an odd turn, and it leads to Tindall stealing the show a bit, as she develops a pretty perverse, motherly relationship with the creature. She does a fine job of playing a creepy villain, which kind of misses out on the sympathetic undercurrent that guides Shelley’s character. The movie tries to throw in some reasoning behind her madness late in the game, but it doesn’t really work. Shepis is just left to act terrified and earn her “Scream Queen” status by the end, which she does very well.
The monster (or “main monster,” I should say--the crew manages to cook up another one first, to disastrous results) is played by Scott Anthony Leet; it’s an interesting take on the mythos, as David starts out as the infantile man-child we’re accustomed to seeing in Frankenstein tales. However, he eventually not only develops a host of other talents (like turning water into fruit punch) that lead to comparisons to Christ. Of course, he ultimately opts for the more Old Testament approach by going nuts and wreaking vengeance on those who created him. It’s here that the flick pretty much becomes a slasher and makes great use of its creepy underground compound setting. Plenty of gore accompanies the blood-soaked third act, which ends up being interesting enough.
I suppose “interesting enough” sums this one up pretty well. Writer/director Tretta (who is actually Shepis’s husband) shows enough talent--the film is well-shot and the performances are fine. Louis Mandylor (whose brother Costas stared in the last few Saw flicks) is especially enjoyable as a slimy little prick who is largely responsible for the mess that gets made. Ed Lauter (who you’ve seen in half a million things without realizing it) is also kind of fun, even if he is stuck behind a desk and has maybe 2 scenes in the whole thing. The Frankenstein Syndrome will be hitting DVD on July 5th, so you’ll have something to entertain you as you work off that hangover from celebrating America on the previous day. MTI Home Video will be doing the honors, and their disc will feature a 16x9 transfer, 5.1 Dolby Digital Sound, deleted and alternate scenes, and a commentary with Tretta and Shepis. This movie hints that there’s room for the story to continue at the end; I’m not sure if Tretta intends to follow up on it, but I’d certainly give it a go if he’s so inclined. I guess that means The Frankenstein Syndrome did something right. Rent it!
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