Saturday, June 06, 2009

House of Frankenstein (1997) – review

Director: Peter Werner

Release date: 1997

Contains spoilers

This was not so much a remake of the 1944 Universal movie but a borrowing of the name. The 1944 movie was a monster mash with the 3 staples of Universal monsterdom, whilst this was a modern set film that contained lycanthropes who turned into wolves rather than the half man half wolf form, a set of vampires led by one Crispian Grimes (Greg Wise) rather than Dracula and, probably most importantly, a Frankenstein’s monster (Peter Crombie) that had more to do with the original Shelley creation than the Universal imaginings and actually had a key role to play in the show.

The problem was the entire thing was probably an hour and a half too long but, as things began, we had a man, Drake (Heath Lourwood), in a truck whilst we also saw the city from the point of view of something flying. This is a vampire – though we do not see them in full vamp mode at this point only the strange way in which they see the city. The man is got. The next day the cops are looking at another victim of the killer the press have dubbed the Midnight Raptor. Police detective Coyle (Adrian Pasdar, who was in genre classic Near Dark) is on the case.

Meanwhile the owner of a club, The House of Frankenstein, Crispian Grimes is also looking for something – or, at least, has someone looking on his behalf. Dr Neimann (Krzysztof Pieczynski) is out in the arctic circle trying to find the Frankenstein monster for Grimes. The monster is as described in Shelley’s novel, though most now think him fictional. The name of the doctor is a nod to Universal as he shares the name with Boris Karloff’s character in the 1944 film. Of course, eventually, he finds the monster, brings him back to LA and defrosts him.

There is a party at an observatory. One of the persons there, Grace (Teri Polo), decides to leave and is followed by a man named Rod (Christopher Murphy), who wants to get it on with her. They are walking and she thinks she hears something when they are attacked by a wolf. The wolf mauls Rod and scratches her but she manages to pepper spray it and get away. Unseen by her, and the other guests, the wolf becomes a man and drives away. It is through the attack she ends up meeting Coyle.

Essentially what we then have is the fact the Crispian is a master vampire and also the raptor, he has been leaving kills to be found because he is bored. The wolf works for him but becomes a liability and is disposed of (silver bullet in the heart). Crispian wants Grace killed and then changes his mind and wants her for himself. Meanwhile the creature escapes and wants to get back to the North Pole but Crispian wants to control him too. Coyle begins to believe there is something supernatural going on and turns to expert Dr Shauna Kendall (CCH Pounder) for help, a woman who has been trying to tell the police that they have a vampire on the rampage.

It is, of course, the vampire that we are most concerned with here and the blooming thing looks like a bit of a joke, to be honest. Or should I say the master vampire does. The other vampires look more standard and we’ll get to them soon enough. However our half bat/half demonic vampire, with floppy rubber ears. Well to be honest it has a touch of the vampire in Howling 6: the Freaks - though that was actually cooler.

Perhaps the look came from the messed up lore. These vampires can go out in the sun and have reflections. They can be killed by stake through the heart or immolation – or both, just to be sure – though Crispian seems to be able to shrug off the old stake with ease. Importantly they are scared of holy items – which actually leads to one being burnt by the blessed ashes of a cremated mother!

Why do holy items work? Shauna tells us that she believes that vampires are fallen angels – hence the wings! Holy items work because the only predator that a fallen angel has is God. Well, frankly, that theory blows chunks. If it were true then angels could turn humans into angels because people can be turned by fallen angels. Take Grace’s friend Felicity (Jorja Fox), who is turned and switches from typical Californian to a school-marm gothic fantasy through a vampire bite. Perhaps only the master vampires are fallen angels, though I prefer to think none of them are.

Interestingly the Frankenstein monster refers to himself as undead and, in many respects, it is a very apt description – though I was less convinced with the idea that lycanthropes are classed as undead also. There were a couple more nods to Universal, a young girl with a ball brought scenes from Frankenstein to mind and a set up designed to control the creature introduced a bolt in the neck type look for a moment. The series also has an interesting cure for lycanthropy.

The problem is there isn’t really too much of a story, it seems quite cobbled together and the main thrust Coyle and Grace in love, Crispian lonely, didn’t need the massive length of a mini series to explore. The whole thing could have been condensed to 90 minutes and been no worse of for it. The acting was a little too ‘prime time TV’ in places.

All in all I was not that impressed with this, the original idea seemed okay – let us modernise the classic monster mash – but then I suspect a committee got involved and the thing lost direction and meandered below mediocrity. 3 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

;) Q


Derek Tatum said...

When I saw you reviewed this, I wondered if you were going to make a reference to the rubber ears. I remember watching it when it came on TV, and the bouncing rubber ears as the dramatic music swelled, and feeling truly embarrassed at the state of the genre. The fallen angel thing was also a headscratcher for the exact reason you mentioned. I wouldn't mind the idea that the original vampire was a fallen angel of some sort, but this just seemed like an attempt to jump on the angel fad that was prevalent during that time.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Derek. How could I not mention the rubber ears!! lol It would have been like the elephant in the room!

I actually think you are right re the fallebn angel being a fad move as it made no discernable sense lore/story wise.

Derek Tatum said...

I was just wondering if I was the only person who noticed how bad they looked...I was apparently one of the few people who watched the show to begin with!

Fangfan408592 said...

I watched it again on YouTube last night. The actor who plays the vampire reminds me of a weird cross between Christian Bale and the Frank Langella Dracula. I'm gonna go with Crispian Grimes not being a fallen angel. His ears perk up at the word "undead", and he later seems to identify with that term when he speaks with the female werewolf. He also indicates at one point that he has seen no evidence of God, which seems odd for an angel. His bite creates vampires, not angels. The Monster mentions that Grimes has lived for centuries, whereas one would imagine an angel living millennia, at the minimum. The other vampires portrayed besides Grimes do not come across as particularly clever or full of wisdom, again at odds with beings that have existed since the dawn of time. Grimes appears to be just what he is labeled, a master vampire, longer lived and more powerful than the others but in the end vulnerable to fire, an element not particularly known to intimidate angels, fallen or otherwise. Fyi I have never heard of werewolves being considered "undead" before, a very odd characterization.
The ending appeared to indicate that the producers wanted to spin the movie off into a tv series. I remember watching this film when it first aired and being quite disappointed in it. The passing of 21 years has done little to change my estimation for it.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Fangfan - as I said in the review, it was my opinion that the fallen angel angle "blew chunks" so completely agree.

Re werewolves being undead there is some level of precedent, though we normally think about werewolves as living. Some folklore suggests that a werewolf will become a vampire on death. The description of Dracula in Stoker's novel was taken from Sabine Baring-Gould's Book of the Werewolf and in a later novel, Lady of the Shroud, Stoker says “The Wehr-Wolf is but a variant of the Vampire.” More than this, if you take the Naschy film Night of the Werewwolf, the werewolf is left in a tomb with a silver dagger through the heart and is revived centuries later when it is removed - a trope we normally associate with vampires and stakes.

All that said, from memory, in this they seemed pretty much alive.

Fangfan408592 said...

Yes and both Ed Quist and Lawrence Talbot endured periods of "death" before being revived, Quist because he had not been killed with silver, Talbot when his corpse was exposed to a full moon.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

And whilst there is a logic to a werewolf being revived by the moon, it is (of course) a trope that emerges straight out of the 19th century vampire playbook :)

KVLG said...

Actually, I felt that what was said was that vampires, at least maybe the Masters, are fallen angels occupying human bodies. In fact, I felt that Crispian had two spirits occupying his body-his own human soul, and the fallen angel, or demon. He maybe implied that when he said to Frankenstein, "you attacked us", then he changed into his demonic bat humanoid form.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

interesting thought KVLG