Friday, March 6, 2015

Monster Team-up Reflection #22: Frankenstein vs the Mummy

Writer/director Damien Leone's "Frankenstein vs. the Mummy" is the latest in the monster team-up sub-genre (a follow-up to Johnny Tabor's "Day of the Mummy"), and it's a damn good entry. For one thing, it plays itself straight and never tries to reinvent either mythology. It simply let's the familiarity of its components carry the tale, with one driven by magic, the other by science, but as we all know from Thor lore, the two are often indivisible. 

The characters linked to the monsters also smack of tradition, even if they're relegated to modern times and contrivances. They're conscientious yet amoral, impulsive yet wise, and convincingly bridge the horror sequences. 

Victor Frankenstein, portrayed by Max Rhyser, is a young, hip chap and like Frankensteins prior, he's most insightful in the ways of anatomy and ambitious enough to cull life from death.

His archaeologist lady friend, Naihla Khalil, portrayed by Ashton Leigh, is more reserved in her intent, but also involved in the macabre, though more for study than reanimation. She's obtained a Egyptian mummy and plans to study it at the college where she and Frankenstein work: how conveniently fated. 

There's much discussion in the film regarding ethics and personal beliefs and how such notions impact the world. The monsters are brought to life by human ambition, after all, and they do kill: their victims the result of misguided perceptions. It all comes down to arrogance, really, and perhaps this human flaw, above all, becomes the film's message and warning, but regardless of the story's underlying gist, it never loses sight of what it is, always achieving the necessary chills and thrills. 

For example, the reanimation of each monster is deftly rendered, first catering to the Mummy, wherein scholarly colleague, Dr. Walton (Boomer Tibbs, who holds an uncanny resemblance to Peter Cushing) fiddles with the preserved specimen, removing a Horas amulet from its rib cage. This unleashes an unearthly dust which transforms the professor into a George Zucco-like "caregiver", who then proceeds to kill his assistant, so that the poor fellow's blood may bring the corpse to life (shades of Hammer, one might say).

The Frankenstein Monster is, of course, composed of various body parts, supplied to the doctor by a Burke/Hare character named Carter, portrayed with seedy relish by John Pickett. He delivers his "goods" to the doctor's dreary hideaway, which is equipped with grimy, electrical equipment: not quite Strickfaden, but edging in that direction. (It should also be noted that the after-birth sequence isn't far removed from what Mary Shelley describes in her book, give or take, and the interaction between creator and creation is quite enthralling once it gets rolling.)

Both Monster, portrayed by Constanin Tripes, and Mummy, portrayed by Brandan deSpain (in essence, reprising is role from "Day of...") are grotesquely detailed and imposing, thanks to Leone's outstanding make-up effects. They also exude the necessary body language to captivate: indeed, not just lumbering giants, but calculating, nuanced creatures. In the Monster's case, he does speak, but with a modern, Tom Waits gruffness, which might seem unintentionally comical by the mere mention, but instead invokes a glib creepiness. 

Khalil becomes the focus of each specimen: in the Monster's case, a would-be Elizabeth, and in the Mummy's case, a would-be Anaka. Though she's the common denominator that leads the titans to clash, it's not for the reasons one might expect, which adds a dash of originality to the inevitable confrontation. 

The "epic battle" (as the DVD packaging proclaims) won't disappoint. Like the slaughter that comes prior to the big brawl, blood and gore fly profusely in this altercation, with the melee taking place in Frankenstein's hideaway: a dimly lit sequence, but where the action is nonetheless easy to discern. 

On the whole, "Frank vs Mummy" is really the best form of indie movie-making going today. It presents creativity on all fronts, including superlative performances, crisp direction and deft storytelling. It certainly won't please high-brow critics, but for those who like good, old fashioned horror (albeit in a current context), with the unpretentious additive of two sprawling antagonists, this one won't disappoint. In fact, it's destined to exceed expectations.

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