Whenever I stop and mull over the cinematic contributions of the French, one name immediately springs to mind: Frankenstein. I'm not entirely sure why, and perhaps it's because I'm easily confused and can't differentiate between a francophone and the creator of a pallid, seven foot tall monstrosity. Actually, Frankenstein 90 is a rare French spin on pop culture's most beloved creature. Sure, portions of Dracula Contra Frankenstein were filmed in Paris, and both it and Les Expériences Érotiques de Frankenstein were co-funded by Comptoir Français du Film, but the ties between those Jess Franco films and France are tenuous at best. Rather than center its focus on microbudget horror or cheeseball sensuality, Frankenstein 90 is a quirky, almost darkly comedic take on Mary Shelley's waking nightmare.
Victor Frankenstein is cut from much the same cloth as Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein. Both are frustrated scientists, tormented by the obligation that their surname imposes upon them to reanimate dead tissue. Vic's breakthroughs in molecular bonding and microchip technology set him apart from his ancestors, all of whom failed to advance past the 'monster' stage with their creations. He snags the necessary body parts from the work place of his unwitting girlfriend Elisabeth, and an unpleasant stranger offers Victor the final little detail to polish off his masterpiece. Victor secretly toils away nearly every waking hour on "Frank", much to the frustration of Elisabeth, who is convinced that he's sleeping around.
Frank has been implanted with a certain amount of knowledge, and Victor neatly skirts around much of the rest by convincing Frank that his spotty memories and heavily bandaged visage are the result of a car crash. A messy encounter with a bowl o' spaghetti convinces Victor that there are further holes in dire need of being filled. Explanations of what one does with a fork, bread, and fish are easily provided, but the concept of love is a little more abstract. Frank peers through a window as Victor and his little gazelle Elizabeth make love. He responds by kidnapping Liz and comes close to raping her in the woods, blissfully unaware that such forwardness tends to be frowned upon. Frank takes steps to make himself more attractive to the fairer sex and makes further murderous attempts at cuddling. As the body count continues to rise, an increasingly alarmed Victor as well of the local authorities begin to take notice of Frank's activities, and his attempts at finding love look to be severely cut short.
Some movies inspire polarized reactions in its audience. Frankenstein 90 is less of a "love it or hate it" film than "love it or...the hell?" I watched it with a friend of mine whose tastes in movies are often disturbingly similar to my own, and he despised Frankenstein 90 every bit as much as I enjoyed it. I'm not sure I can even quantify its appeal to me. On the off-chance that it wasn't totally obvious from the review up to this point, Frankenstein 90 is not a horror movie. I wouldn't even bother to classify it as a horror/comedy or some other combination of genres delimited by a series of slashes. I have an odd sense of humor. Not in the sense of subjecting college radio listeners to a 12" LP of gong music from the Phillipines or trying to trick anyone with IM's reach to hit the indescribable horrors of Goatse.cx, but I can't help but find myself wildly amused by a movie beginning with a severed arm being used as a blunt weapon and subsequently chomped on by a stray dog.
The remainder of Frankenstein 90 isn't as brimming with slapstick as its first few minutes would seem to indicate, dealing mainly with the relationships between its three central characters and Frank's inability to understand himself and the world around him. At one point, Frank takes an interest in seeing a Frankenstein movie. Though he quickly dismisses the plot, he finds himself entranced by Maurice Tarloff's performance, dwelling on the emotion silently conveyed in the actors' eyes after conversation had long since moved onto other topics. Though at its heart, Frankenstein 90 is a romantic comedy, the inclusion of an attempted rape and Frank's increasingly unusual introduction of corpses greatly differentiates it from your annual formulaic Meg Ryan smash.
The movie was cast exceptionally well. Part of this could be the sad little boy inside of me, thrilled to finally see beautiful women splash across my beloved VVega after enduring the comparatively barren wasteland of Zoltan: Hound of Dracula, Nightmare City, and The Antichrist. That a man in his mid-50s such as Jean Rochefort could land a knockout less than half his age like Fione Gélin strains suspension of disbelief, but both are so charming and add so much personality to their roles that such disparity is easily overlooked. Eddy Mitchell, the biggest star of the lot, makes a great monster, progressing from an awkward, misshapen assemblage of random body parts to a decidedly normal looking person as he discovers his humanity. Herma Vos gets the least screentime but the most exposure as Frank's composite cutie.
Anchor Bay's DVD of Frankenstein 90, at least as far as I can tell from a casual search on Google, marks the film's first domestic release on any format. This gem was apparently sufficiently obscure that no supplemental material was readily available, but its presentation on DVD has been given the same respectable treatment Anchor Bay generally lavishes upon even its most hopelessly overlooked releases.
Video: This DVD release of Frankenstein 90 is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and is predictably enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Some of the film's more dimly lit shots are riddled with a somewhat inconsequential amount of grain. As is generally the case with Anchor Bay releases, the source material is ridiculously clean, free of any distracting speckles, flecks, tears, nicks, or assorted damage. Colors often seem somewhat bland, but given the film's origin, age, and low budget as well as my total lack of a point of reference, I'm hesitant to place the blame on the transfer itself. The level of detail wasn't as striking as the other Anchor Bay titles I've had the pleasure of watching recently, though the image doesn't appear soft or artificially smooth. There are no major concerns of note, and all in all, this is yet another in a lengthy series of solid presentations from our pals in Troy, Michigan.
Audio: Frankenstein 90 sports a Dolby Digital mono soundtrack in the film's original French with the expected English subtitles enabled by default. The audio of the film is largely driven by dialogue, and though my wholly uncultured background left me unable to understand any words or phrases outside the scope of Sesame Street, each line seemed to come through cleanly enough. Composer Armando Trovajoli didn't provide much music, but what's present is memorable -- a whimsical tune reminiscent of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents theme, the loungier side of Burt Bacharach, and, during a large-scale chase near the film's end, what sounds like outtakes from Airwolf. Monaural audio like this isn't going to put much of anyone's system to the test, but Frankenstein 90 sounds fine.
Supplements: A rare bare-bones disc for Anchor Bay, Frankenstein 90 doesn't contain so much as a trailer. The card detailing the film's 25 chapter stops doesn't even provide the expected theatrical poster art. I guess there wasn't much at all at Anchor Bay's fingertips for this one.
Conclusion: Frankenstein 90 is an exceptionally odd, offbeat comedy. I really enjoyed the movie, but given its limited replay value, I'd more enthusiastically recommend this disc as a rental than a purchase.