WARNING! SPOILERS ARE ALIVE & KICKING WITHIN! WARNING!
“Tuesday, January 14th 2013. My name is Victor Frankenstein and I’m about to embark on a journey of discovery that will change the world forever…”
Outside of Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) and The Wolf Man (1941), I’ve never really been a fan of Universal’s classic monsters. Frankenstein (1931) and The Mummy (1932) never interested me and Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (1931) didn’t do a thing for me either. Only when Hammer Films got a hold of them and did their own versions did I became a fan of some of them. To this day, though, Frankenstein and The Mummy still don’t interest me, but put them all in a single movie then the whole becomes more than the sum of their parts and now I’m a fan, which is probably why I love Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad (1987) and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).
In the ensuing decades Universal has actually done remakes of a lot of their classic monsters (they’re even in the middle of remaking them again) and a lot of low-budget versions from just about anyone who can hold a camera have come along too. The latest independent flick I can think of that had notable presence was House Of The Wolfman (2009). It was done in black and white and the tone was to mimic the House Of Frankenstein (1944) and House Of Dracula (1945). I can’t comment on how well House Of The Wolfman was since I never bought it and it’s now out-of-print, but the trailer certainly looked like an enjoyable missing throwback to those previous House Of… movies.
Now comes another B-movie homage to Universal’s monster lineage—Frankenstein Vs. The Mummy and quite frankly I was utterly surprised at how good this movie was. I first heard about it back in 2013 when Dread Central broke the news and it’s very cool looking poster (lucky for us it also became the DVD cover). But sadly not all movies live up to the hype of their posters, and my knee-jerk reaction to this one was exactly that. I did, however, take note in the article that the filmmakers were intending to make this a serious horror movie. That’s a bold statement, I thought, when not even Universal themselves could crank out a serious horror movie when it came to their 1999 Mummy remake or when they tried to do a “monster squad” type flick with Van Helsing (2004). That last one looks like something based on a graphic novel rather than a horror movie.
If the studio themselves couldn’t, or wouldn’t, live up to their very own original horror movies how was this new B-movie going to?
I remained skeptical but hopeful as the years went by…and then the trailer hit the web late December of last year. With fingers crossed I played it and was utterly dismayed to see Frankenstein sporting long, black, shoulder length hair. The final scenes shown were of Frank and the Mummy coming to blows, but I could not get the image of Frank’s full-blown head of hair out of my brain. That’s not Frankenstein, or the Frankenstein we all know. The Mummy looked very much like his iconic Universal self, which pleased me, but Frank’s visual departure in the head department? Hmmm, I don’t know…and yet there was something my subconscious saw in that trailer that allured me. I cannot tell you what it was, all I know is, despite my condemnation of Frank’s new mane, I still wanted to see this movie.
Now that I have seen it I only have two complaints, which is extraordinary because I assumed I’d be complaining up, right and center about it. The first one is still the aforementioned coiffure, but in a recent interview on Famous Monsters Of Filmland’s site with director, Damien Leone, he reveals in Mary Shelly’s novel the monster is in fact described as having long hair, which would mean, in that respect at least, Leone’s version of the monster would make it the most accurate depicted on film. He also reveals certain aspects of the monster are copyrighted by Universal and may not be duplicated in any way shape or form. I’ve heard rumor of that for years, with all the monsters actually.
My second complaint concerns the ages of the two lead characters. Both are teachers, Victor a professor, at this university and I just didn’t buy them being in that capacity. I would have cast those roles a little older, say, late thirties or early forties, but their class scenes are only one for each so as the flick moved on that concern got shoved to the back of my mind. Had there been more classroom scenes I probably would have taken more issue with it. Both of these “complaints” didn’t deter me from loving this movie though, and I actually got used to seeing Frankenstein’s monster with his long ass locks.
The movie is set in modern day and when it starts out Victor Frankenstein (Max Rhyser), only known as “Professer F” to his students, and to the audience, is already in the midst of creating his “monster.” He’s in an abandoned warehouse a little ways down from the university he’s teaching at paying off a rather despicable looking character for the fresh body parts he needs procured. Carter (John Pickett) is this man’s name and he’s the university’s janitor, but you’ll eventually recognize him as this version’s “Igor.” And this “Igor” is a psychopath. I found it odd that Victor never questioned where these fresh body parts were coming from and is genuinely shocked to learn later from Carter he’s been getting them from murdering the local homeless. Hard to believe Victor was so myopic in his passion to conquer death he totally ignored where his “supplies” originated.
Our next main character is Naihla Khalil (Ashton Leigh), a very young and attractive Egyptologist who’s just come back from a trip overseas. But she didn’t come back alone. She’s brought the bandaged and desiccated remains of an Egyptian douchebag by the name of Userkara (Brandon deSpain). A quick bio of Userkara is given to us by Professor Walton (Boomer Tibbs), the man in charge of this department, and Userkara paid the ultimate price for his douchebaggery by having his ears sliced off, his nose cut off and his eyes kept intact so he could witness his dick being cut off. A sorceress was then called in to place a curse on his soul that would ensure it would never pass on and remain forever within his rotting corpse.
The flick starts out focusing on Userkara’s resurrection and subsequent psychic domination of Professor Walton, then it bounces back and forth between Victor’s experiments and Userkara’s murderous rampage, while in between we get a budding romance subplot with Naihla and Victor which starts off promisingly enough but falls apart once the police get involved to find out why a couple of key people have gone missing in Walton’s area. It’s not blatantly explained but the hint I got was that Naihla thinks Victor had something to do with it and she freaks and breaks off any further contact with him.
Victor’s monster (Constantine Tripe) troubles start when Carter (aka Igor) returns one night with a fresh brain and demands $30,000 rather than the customary $5,000 Vic was giving him. This is when Vic learns of the killings and the situation escalates to full on fisticuffs as Carter pulls his trademark blade on him. An accident leads to Carter falling on his knife and the brain getting squashed. But Victor only frets momentarily. There’s still a fresh brain in his presence he can use. Carter’s! Which may not be the greatest of ideas, but Victor just wants his “monster” to live and live he does. Yes, the trademark, “It’s alive!!” is ported over. How could it not be?
Naihla ends up being the center of attraction for both monsters. Userkara wants her because he sees a photo on Walton’s laptop of her wearing an Egyptian necklace, the eye of Horus, and tells Walton she’s the sorceress who can break the curse, go fetch her. The monster seeks her out because Carter, who now realizes what’s happened to him and who’s responsible, attempts to blackmail Victor; put me in a better body or I’ll kill your chick. He then goes off to pay her a visit and kidnap her but decides to sexually assault her as well. Not a full on rape but gropes her and tries to put his lips all over her. He does indeed, however, try to rape her at the very end of the movie, seconds before his demise by meat cleaver in the skull courtesy of his maker.
Let’s talk now about the gore, for those gore hounds reading this and wondering how the FX stacks up to previous movies these monsters have been in. I will say without a doubt it’s the goriest movie I have ever seen them in. Not even the remakes Universal did (the 2010 remake of The Wolfman comes the closest) or the Hammer Films went this gory, and as I learned recently Damien Leone is also an adept FX artist, which goes a long way in explaining why the carnage and monster FX is so top notch. I only noticed two possible CGI shots. One involving Carter’s body after Victor has extracted his brain and the top of his head is missing, and one where a cricket comes out of Userkara’s mouth. I wasn’t sure about the cricket. It might have been a real one.
Since both monsters are raging psychopaths here’s a quick breakdown of the carnage they engage in: two separate heart extractions with a bare hand; cannibalism of one of the hearts; forced cannibalism of one of the hearts upon a hapless person; ears, nose and dick slice off with an ancient Egyptian knife; two separate Egyptian lobotomies upon a hapless human; crushed chest, lower intestine disembowelment; lower jaw ripped off all with inhuman strength; sexual assault and an attempted rape.
Other sundry gore not directly related to the monsters: a twitching disembodied hand in a dish; a cringe inducing slit throat (blood from which drenches inert Mummy’s face and gets drank up through the pores of the skin); stabbing in a stomach; aforementioned brain extraction from a human, aforementioned cleaver to a monster’s cranium and a painful looking ancient Egyptian knife stabbing in back of thigh. I think that about covers it.
The actual monster fight doesn’t come until the 1:40 mark, but trust me the whole movie leading up to it is very well plotted out with a nice interesting turn of events once Nailha gets captured and brought before Userkara. I thought, okay, ‘now how the hell is she gonna get out of this?’ I won’t spoil it but it leads to some gruesome carnage not involving Naihla. I also liked the monster’s first reaction when he sees the Mummy… “What the fuck?!” he mutters. The actual fight is well choreographed to show off both their inhuman strength. There’s even a short knife fight between the two, but don’t worry it’s not cheesy. Neither have any knife fighting skills so all they can do is slash at one another until by chance one of them lands a slicing blow.
I enjoyed the cinematography too. Not sure why but it gave me a nostalgic vibe in certain scenes, like something I may have come across in the 90s, yet there is no obvious reason why I should think this since it’s set 100% in present day. Regardless I liked that vibe.
Before this movie I was not familiar with director Damien Leone but now I’ll keep an eye out for the movies he does. In that Famous Monsters article I linked he states he’s pretty much all done with “monster mash” movies. Too bad I liked this one so much I was hoping he was perhaps thinking about a Dracula Vs. The Wolf Man follow-up. On the plus side he does have an idea for a future Wolf Man movie he’d like to do and I’d like to see him do too.
On February 10th Image Entertainment releases Frankenstein Vs. The Mummy on DVD only.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen—English 5.1 Dolby Digital—No subtitles even though it says on the back of the case close captioned for the hearing impaired.
The only extra included is a commentary with Writer/Director Damien Leone and cinematographer George Steuber. It’s mostly technical as they talk about how shots were constructed, the lighting, type of camera used and so forth, but they do hit other topics too like casting, the reason for the movie itself and the two places where CGI was used and neither one involved the cricket. That cricket was real.
As I very briefly mentioned before Universal is currently in the middle of remaking their monsters again, but sadly as action/adventure tales rather than horror. I consider Leone’s entry in their monster pantheon to be more significant than House Of The Wolfman, since it brings these two back into the horror fold in way that hasn’t been done before (i.e. set in the present day and with a very significant presence of bloody carnage). Seek this one out, fans, and let’s hope Damien Leone pulls the trigger some day on his Wolf Man idea.