The horror genre embraces the independent filmmaker, welcoming experimentation in both form and content. With little more than a story, some basic equipment, and some bodies, it is possible to make a feature in today's environment. While practically anybody who is truly determined can supply the above, less are capable of instilling any true sense of originality or craftsmanship into their homespun efforts. The last few years have seen a depressing amount of pap-smear passed off as movie making. Every kid with two dollars and a digital camera seems to have gathered the gang together to make a zombie or slasher flick, further diluting the effectiveness of the form. John R. Hand injects a shot of adrenaline into the uneven pulse of do-it-yourself filming, proving the exception to the rule with Frankenstein's Bloody Nightmare, an intimate descent into madness, obsession, and love splashed with expressionistic techniques and moral shadows.
With a story as refreshingly old fashioned in tone as its style is rooted in a retro seventies 'look,' this grainy bruise of modern Gothicism and mythic archetypes manages to be both innovative and nostalgic. A conscious homage to the groovy grain of Super 8, Frankenstein's Bloody Nightmare douses classic archetypes in an experimental hue. A riff off of Faustian desires and the Frankenstein motif, the expressionistic-like plot features Victor Karlstein struggling through tragic loss and ragged depths of professional turmoil after his love dies while under his own care. In grand mad scientist fashion, Victor uses a corpse to harvest parts from young women for her new body. Amidst such ghastly going ons Victor also wrestles with the hallucinatory confines of his increasing insanity.
In a time and age where digital technology rules the independent filmmaking process and fans shit their pants if even a speck of grain mars the prints of the favorite films, Hand's decision to shoot with this archaic medium reflects both his original approach and the uniqueness of the story's approach. It is precisely this sense of individualism that lends passion to a somewhat uneven story. If the plot is somewhat haphazard in construction, given over more often to experiment than thematic substance, the intensity and gritty beauty of the visuals themselves compensate for any narrative looseness. This surprising debut is an orgy of picture and sound, artful without being pretentious. While it is by no means totally successful, partially derailed by the very visual intensity that it seeks to emphasize, the style and energy displayed here by Hand makes one anticipate what he can achieve with a bigger scope.
The DVD itself is attractively packaged and presented. The feature, presented in 1.33:1, is as clean as can be expected, considering that it was filmed so very cheaply. The result is grainy and hazy, just as the director wished. This is one of the few times that a DVD can actually be praised for being murky! Yet this is precisely the case, as the muddled colors and bleeding shadows are responsible for so much of the film's atmosphere. Here the medium truly is the message. The 5.1 surround sound is crisp and moody, submerging you into the otherworldly delirium. Extras are insightful and fun (if not as comprehensive as we've come to expect from Unearthed). The most substantial of these has to be the Audio Commentary with writer/producer/director John R. Hand. His intense and educated persona is engaging as he discusses his influences and struggles. Most notable is his lack of hubris, and the love he clearly has for the genre and the craft and art of filmmaking itself. This is further featured in the disc's Making Of Feature, wherein he discusses his introverted early life, living in a rural community, and how an early love for horror sprouted into a long journey into filmmaking. A Photo Gallery and Trailers for other Unearthed features rounds out this surprisingly effective release.
Review by William Simmons
|Released by Unearthed Films|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|