'Director's Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein': Fantasia Review
An obscure 1977 Frankenstein flick gets an MST3K-like makeover.
Appropriating the Mystery Science Theater 3,000 format for an odd meta-cinematic experiment that fits Fantasia like a blood-stained glove, Tim Kirk's Director's Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein pretends to be the bonus material on an obscure film's DVD reissue but is in fact a radio play with an actual movie for a backdrop. The highly specialized effort will depend on adventurous art house programmers for any commercial life at all, but having Rodney Ascher on hand as producer and editor will attract some attention from fans of Ascher's own cultish outings. (Kirk was a producer on Room 237 and The Nightmare.)
The film surely cost less to make than any other Fantasia entry — probably less, in fact, than the fest spent making its poster. The only thing onscreen, after all, is the preexisting 1977 film Terror of Frankenstein, an Irish-Swedish take on Shelley's tale directed by Calvin Floyd. Kirk's conceit is that Floyd was a pseudonym for Gavin Merrill, whose grizzled voice pops in during the opening credits. He is joined by David Falks, the movie's fictional screenwriter.
There's tension between the two as they speak to us, but not of the usual director/screenwriter variety: Something terrible happened during and after the film's production, and the men have dealt with it in very different ways. The script teases us about the nature of the tragedy, with many references to a trial and "the execution"; sometimes, the appearance of an actor onscreen elicits mournful comments. Without revealing the details of the horrors, it's safe to say that they were somehow related to "the method" invented by the two men — whose background in experimental theater led to some extreme ideas about how to get the actor playing Frankenstein's monster into character.
There's less black humor than one might wish for here, and a bit more elaboration on the filmmakers' artistic pretenses than necessary. But on the whole the film keeps its secrets well enough to engage us throughout. Judging from the few bits of the original movie that we hear when Kirk's actors aren't talking over it, the fake Terror is a good deal more engaging than the real one.
Cast: Clu Gulager, Zack Norman, Leon Vitali
Director: Tim Kirk
Screenwriters: Tim Kirk, Jay Kirk
Producers: Rodney Ascher, Tim Kirk
Editor: Rodney Ascher
No rating, 92 minutes