Monday, 9 September 2013

Dr Hackenstein (1988) Richard Clark

With the exception of the more offbeat, tasteless and splattery, I'm not a great fan of horror comedy. Sure, the two are just opposite ends of the same snake, they should work so well together, but somehow I find much horror comedy has the two ends going in opposite directions instead of feeding off of each other. So I wasn't exactly well primed to watch Dr. Hackenstein but I settled down to it all the same. Mostly for the name. Just can't resist a name like Dr. Hackenstein. And really, neither can you. Most of you aren't even reading this right now because you just opened another tab to go load the movie up on Youtube. I could spend the rest of this review besmirching your saintly mothers and virtuous maiden aunts and you'd be none the wiser. I won't though because I'm a mature adult, ass dick titty poop. 

Anyhoo, this isn't much to write home about. A couple of hot bitch sisters, their annoying ass whiny creepo little brother and cute nice girl cousin crash their car and wind up at the house of the titular doc. He just so happens to need a sets of limbs, as his wife has been reduced to a severed head and is none too pleased about the state of affairs, communicating through telepathy. Fun fact, severed heads are capable of developing awesome telepathic and telekinetic powers, as their functions are unimpeded by the needs of the body. Unfortunately they still need the whole support structure of heart and lungs so few remain alive long enough to develop such powers. But back to the film. From the outset, this is remarkably sane and competent for something distributed by Troma. The story, the structure, the humour, all very conventional, the acting mostly restrained, production values fair and direction and editing all up to snuff by "normal" standards. This is good in some ways, giving the film an innately easy watchability. But without any intrinsic weirdness to go on the requirements are a good deal higher for the rest of the film to impress. 

There's some good stuff here, but not enough and some judicious pruning would have helped to make it stand out more. The title role is charmingly essayed by one David Muir, with the right weird enthusiasm and undercurrent of menace. He seems like he probobly had the chops to be a fair b horror player but his only other role outside of television was in Neon Maniacs (which I've not seen). The three girls are attractive and likeable enough to watch, with the lead played by Stacy Travis, who went on to star in Richard Stanley's classic Hardware. There are a couple of kooky old graverobbers played by Anne and Logan Ramsey, they bring the frankly dim material alive by playing it like second nature and seeming to have a good time, the same goes for a short appearance from Phylis Diller as an irascible biddy. The house in which most of the film takes place is a sturdily imposing place, and the laboratory well kitted out with pipes, bottles, tubing and frothing colourful fluids. There's brief nudity (including corpse boobs, nobody doesn't like corpse boobs) and what effects shots are there (too few really) are actually pretty well handled. And there's an interesting if not especially original detour into dark poignancy in the climax. But at the same time there's too much walking, driving, sitting and staring. Lots of dead space and not really the good kind. And some mostly unfunny deaf mute housekeeper humour. The sort of thing that's only funny when pushed to ludicrous extremes, which here it is not. So I guess this is kinda dull in spells. Not quite enough to get truly tedious, but definitely dull. Still, you could do a hell of a lot worse on a slow evening. Watch if you must, I guess. 

Leptirica (1973) Djordje Kadijevic

I'm most fond of delving into the output of countries less well represented in the international community of fear, I find sometimes a most pleasant dislocation even before approaching the nuts and bolts of story and scares. But alas, sometimes I find myself caught out as a less than ideal audience, or even just straight up disappointed. Such is the case here, with apparently Yugoslavia's first ever horror film. Leptirica to be fair starts rather well, an old miller sleeps for the night as the wheels turn, but soon eyes rise from the dark. Long, hairy fingers, fearsome fangs, attack and bloodied neck in flour. It's a fine scene in the vampire as monstrosity tradition, and an ideal set up. Who will step up to the job, face the beast and provide a small village with their vital flour? Why, it's the sort of endeavour that could make a hero of a poor young man and win him the dainty hand of the local rich man's daughter! 

Things do not go as you might expect. While some kudos are I suppose merited for a film avoiding the traditional structure of such a tale, Leptirica fails to replace it with something more interesting. There's a first night for young hero, Strahinja, who survives the ghoul and is hailed by the villagers, but rather than continue his job and thus have the film space out portions of fear, most time is spent with the local council, a gathering of witless capering drunks whose behaviour does little to compel or amuse. So the plot moves too slowly for a film of a mere 63 minutes, and there's unfortunate near dead time. Strahinja remains a colorless, vaguely unlikeable figure throughout, and the human antagonist, rich man Zivan, is similarly uninspiring. The only tension really comes from daughter Radojka, an ethereal lady of long fair hair and subtle but definite air of the sensually ominous, her presence captivates, her scenes drawing the interest through to the end. The end returns to the promise of the opening, a mad whirling and fairly unsettling affair, the lack of explanation leaves things a little open to interpretation but the visceral effects satisfy. Too little too late though. 

This did fulfil my basic desire to spend time in a place almost entirely unknown to me, but without much in the way of an effective horror experience I can't say as it was all that good of a time. I suspect older Serbs and those in general more familiar with the source literature and culture may still be impressed by this, but I am not they. Still worth investigating for horror historians and perhaps for those that just plain like to watch obscurities, but expectations are best kept low and the latter group should probably just skip to director Djordje Kadijevic's later, superior and more obscure piece Sveto Mesto. Toodles!