THE BLACK FRANKENSTEIN
One of the popular films to immediately jump aboard the Blaxploitation fad was Blacula (1972), which took the vampire film that was popular around the time most notably with the Hammer Dracula sequels and gave it a Black-face twist. This was successful enough that it created a series of other horror variations all cast with Black actors. Versions of Frankenstein and Dracula always seem to travel like yin and yang there is rarely one without the other and Blacula was quickly followed by Blackenstein here. To follow would be Blaxploitation variations on other horror themes such as the vampire film Ganja and Hess (1973), the exorcism film Abby (1974), the haunted house film The House on Skull Mountain (1974), the zombie film Sugar Hill (1974), Dr Black and Mr Hyde (1976) and the possession film J.D.s Revenge (1976).
The great disappointment of both Blacula and Blackenstein is that they are never amount to anything more than rehashes of the horror staples cast with African-American actors. (The same cannot be said for Dr Black and Mr Hyde, which turned the original into a remarkable racial parable). Blackenstein gives the clear impression that it was quickly slung together to follow the success of Blacula. There is nothing interesting about its treatment of themes the story could easily have been played out with a cast of white actors and made no difference to the film. The one fascinating idea the film comes up with is that the monster is a Vietnam War veteran who is pieced back together by the doctor after his limbs were blown off. Unfortunately, while the Vietnam War and its protests were in full swing around this time, the film fails to make any kind of sociological resonance out of this. unlike the fascinating Dead of Night (1974) that came out the following year. Part of the reason, one expects, is that sentiments about the Vietnam War were still raw and uncertain in the American publics consciousness.
Director William A. Levey churns the film out with a dull indifference. All of the action transpires with an utter dullness the monster shuffles about at a snails pace. The film even has an interlude in the middle of the monsters escape for a stand-up comic to do his act and then a blues singer to sing. Levey creates one imaginative scene with the monsters shadow passing all the way around the wall of the laboratory. However, when he pulls this a second time and we have to watch the monster shuffling the whole way around the lab again, it is tedious. The one plus the film has is a unique and original makeup design for the monster. The film has also managed to resurrect the laboratory machinery created by Kenneth Strickfaden (listed on the credits as Strickfadden) who created the memorable laboratory sets in Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
Blackenstein was the first film of director William A. Levey. Levey went onto make the softcore alien visitor sex comedy Wham Bam, Thank You Spaceman (1975), The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington (1977) and returned to horror with the cheap Hellgate (1989) and the interesting asylum horror Committed (1991).