Judge Daryl Loomis plays dead in the hope that a doctor will turn him into an unstoppable superbeast.
The end justifies the means.
Mary Shelley's 1818 novel, Frankenstein; or, a Modern Prometheus is a true classic of literature and one of the best books I've ever read. It is both a Gothic masterpiece and one of the very first examples of science fiction. Shelley melded her knowledge of classical mythology with topical industrialization to create a deeply touching work about the potential of hubris in science and its destructive consequences, regardless of intention. While a fantastically eerie piece of work, it's hard to call the book horror. Yet it has spawned countless horror movies, some incredible and some atrocious, but no matter the quality of the particular piece, the themes always resonate. The Frankenstein Syndrome falls squarely in the middle of those two extremes.
Elizabeth Barnes (Tiffany Shepis, Tromeo and Juliet) is an extremely successful scientist working in stem cell research when she is called to work for Dr. Walton (Ed Lauter, Real Genius). He has cancer and has assembled a team of the top doctors and researchers in the world to discover a cure and keep him alive. After numerous failures, the team creates a serum that can regenerate tissue and bring the dead back to life, but their work has horrific consequences that bring to light the danger of dabbling in death.
Forgive me while I express a modicum of surprise at the performances in The Frankenstein Syndrome, but they're actually quite good, especially from Tiffany Shepis. Her long and dubious career of blood and boob flicks has worked for what it is, but few roles would cause me to call her believable. Here, though, in a film filled with long speeches and medical jargon, she acquits herself quite well, delivering her lines with a veteran skill that I very much did not expect, but was very happy to see. The rest of the cast is solid, as well. It includes veteran character actor Ed Lauter, Louis Mandylor (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), and heavy Scott Anthony Leet (Freeway Killer), who does a very good job in the role of the monster.
They're a solid ensemble for independent horror, performing in an understated and relatively unhorrific horror movie that works on its themes. Stem cell research is a natural extension of the Frankenstein myth. Writer/director Sean Tretta (Death of a Ghost Hunter) does a fine job with the adaptation. It's a loose adaptation, but the heart of the matter is there, with noble-seeming intentions falling in league with science run amok from hubris and desire. The concept of the monster is solid; a dead tough is brought back and, quickly, becomes sentient, then intelligent, then superhuman, but only rarely his he a monster in the traditional sense. Part of the joy of Frankenstein is watching the creation grow in sensitivity and humanity, only to have him be perverted by appearance. The Frankenstein Syndrome doesn't go as far with it as the original novel, but it goes farther than a lot of films that use that material and works pretty well on the whole.
The Frankenstein Syndrome has been given a decent DVD release by MTI, nothing special, but very acceptable. The film was shot on Red camera and the anamorphic image looks solid, with good detail and deep black levels. The surround sound isn't as solid as it could be, but there is some separation in all channels and it's just fine. For extras, we have an audio commentary with Tretta and Shepis; it's standard issue commentary, but is interesting enough. Two alternate openings and deleted scenes, accompanied by commentary, are worth watching (and one of the openings is better than what made it to the final print). A set of trailers rounds us out.
The Frankenstein Syndrome isn't a great film, but for those into both Mary Shelley's beautiful novel and independent horror, you can do a whole lot worse than this.
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