Blackenstein as a concept is pretty interesting; it was the brain child of Frank R. Saletri, a criminal lawyer with no real knowledge of filmmaking, who truthfully seems to have used the popularity of the blaxploitation horror movement – like Blacula‘s burgeoning success – as a means of cashing in with a loosely-related idea. Saletri’s biography is even more intriguing than the film itself, since his later murder is still unsolved. As a cinematic contribution, however, Blackenstein is a poor representation of the style, and its execution is about what one would expect from an inexperienced writer/director. The film lacks the finesse of Blacula, the racial criticisms of most blaxploitation, and even the lurid nature and nudity of those offerings; instead, Saletri often adheres to the common tropes present in most Frankenstein adaptations, except with more tedious direction.
Saletri’s plot is actually quite intriguing from a scientific perspective, following a Vietnam veteran named Eddie (Joe De Sue) after he loses his arms and legs in the war. His girlfriend Winifred Walker (Ivory Stone) takes a position with the brilliant surgeon Dr. Stein (John Hart) so that he can reattach his limbs, using a special blend of Eddie’s own DNA to help facilitate the process. The jealous laboratory assistant Malcomb (Roosevelt Jackson) mixes another person’s DNA into Eddie’s serum and voila! Eddie becomes Blackenstein, enraged and murderous.
Blackenstein‘s opening moments delve deep into the scientific process, even making Winifred into a surprisingly strong female protagonist. While Saletri’s writing – and certainly his choice of actors – is often suspect, the film has a particularly strong beginning setting up the conflict and even constructing some societal criticism about the treatment of war veterans. However, Blackenstein quickly devolves into chaos once Eddie becomes the titular monster.
That’s because Saletri seems to lose all sense of direction, featuring scene after scene of Blackenstein out on the streets causing destruction. There’s not much reason behind each of the attacks besides getting them on-screen and filling the time, and for the most part Saletri forgets about the dynamics between Eddie and Winifred after he becomes Blackenstein. As mentioned earlier, the film doesn’t explore black themes either – the blaxploitation style is simply a marketing device rather than any meaningful representation of culture. Even the exploitation is minimized to the film’s conclusion, with brief flashes of nudity and some poor attempts at gore thrown in haphazardly.
Pair this with some unnecessary scenes involving comedian Andy C and singer Cardella Di Milo and you have a lumbering horror film that’s nearly as slow as the character himself. Blackenstein truly misses the mark, and it’s unfortunate that this Frankenstein adaptation was unable to achieve the same results as the culturally important Blacula before it. Saletri’s one attempt at filmmaking results in a Frankensteinian creation that ultimately fails to deliver on its promise of horror or blaxploitation elements.
Click next for the Blu-Ray review.