There is an art to reviewing movies, an art that I will never master. At the same time, there is something to be said about the art of watching movies. You see, not all movies can be approached the same way. If you attempt to apply the same criteria to every movie, you are bound to have a lot of disappointment come your way, not to mention the fact that you will not likely be able to develop a love, nor even some small amount of joy, from B- and lower-grade movies. Why do I mention this? The Frankenstein Syndrome distinctly falls into the pantheon of B-movies and if you have developed your B-love over the years you may actually enjoy it.
Writer/director Sean Tretta has taken his inspiration from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It is a story that has been looked to for inspiration from any number of other horror and science fiction films, including those which seem to have a close lineage to The Frankenstein Syndrome, Splice and Re-Animator to name a few. Here, those influences are then married with the current hot button topic of stem cell research, the resulting tale being one that looks at medical ethics while still being a horror film, complete with requisite bad guy, violence, and bloodshed.
The movie opens with a look around a medical center in lockdown, there are closed doors and empty hallways, a headless body lay s slumped against a wall. A woman runs from an unseen assailant. She gets into a room, shuts the door and scrawls a message on a bed just as the door is kicked in. The time jumps ahead and we catch up with a couple of detectives investigating what it was that happened in that facility. At this point we are introduced to Dr. Elizabeth Barnes (Tiffany Shepis). The story takes us back to the start and leads us by the hand into the horrors that were to come.
The film focuses on a medical project using stem cells in research to cure cancer and other diseases. A benefactor dying of cancer has brought together a team of specialists to work on this, including Barnes. At first there is some reluctance on Barnes part to be involved in the illegal research, but then she has an epiphany and joins, a serum is then developed that appears to be able to regenerate just about anything.
Obviously (see the film’s title) issues arise when the chemical cocktail has an undesired effect when used on a dead body. Experiments continue until they come to David, a man who was part of the security team until something happened to change his mind about working in the facility, this leads directly into the main conflict of the movie. David becomes a subject of the experiments, but something happens and our story takes a dark and violent turn as the ethics of the experiments come into question and the results close in on questions more theological in nature.
This is definitely a B-movie, but it is one that takes chances with the material. Sean Tretta shows that he understands the material and much of what Shelley was addressing in terms of ethics and the God-complex. Is the movie perfect? No, far from it. There are definitely areas where the depth could have been beefed up. The ethics could have had a little more time, the individual personalities could have been developed more. While these issues would have sunk a bigger film, this is not a big Hollywood production, this is a movie that does not have the same resources or time to give everything it needs. What it does do is successful and makes the movie eminently watchable.
The cast does a fine job of telling the story, mostly due to two people. The first of these is Tiffany Shepis, a name known all around the B-horror industry. The scream queen is constantly improving her craft and here she steps into a role that requires a different approach than many of her screamer roles and she goes right with it. She brings an aura of believability to her doctor, intelligence and emotion in equal parts. Additionally, Scott Anthony Leet brings a dark, intelligent menace to David, The man is just flat out creepy, and for some reason reminds me of Ray Liotta. He brings a good screen presence as the charismatic villain. I would not want to run into him in a dark ally!
I like this movie. It does take a little while to get going but once it finds its feet, it is quite enjoyable. It asks interesting questions and has a decidedly mean streak running throughout. It gets sidetracked here and there, but it is still well worth watching by the connoisseur of B-horror movies.
This movie was provided as a screener and was not finished product so I cannot comment on the final quality of what you will find on store shelves. If this is any indication, the image will be a bit soft and lacking in fine detail. Colors are on the washed out side, although I believe that to be by design. Other issues, such as the detail problems, may be due to the low budget source. Audio fluctuates in level from scene to scene, and sometimes within the scene, hopefully this will be corrected in the final mix. The screener does have the trailer on it, but nothing else in the way of extras.