Movie of the Week: Tales of Frankenstein (2018)
To any original monster kid, the name “Donald F. Glut” probably sounds familiar. It became so for me through osmosis, I guess; I don’t remember how exactly I first knew of him. It may have been the fact that he wrote The Great Television Heroes in 1975 or the novelization for The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. Or, in the mid-to-late 1970s, I could have seen his moniker attached to any number of Marvel comic books and magazines, or in a story published in Creepy, Eerie, or Vampirella magazines.
It’s only now as I look back that I realize Glut is the monster kid we all wished we would become. He earned notoriety in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland from the amateur films he made as a teenager. He then began his professional career as a screenwriter of childhood TV favorites such as Shazam!, Land of the Lost, and Spider-man & His Amazing Friends. Then, in addition to his aforementioned career as a writer, he wrote and directed his first feature length film in 1996.
His latest film, an anthology called, Tales of Frankenstein (2018), adapts four of his stories from page to screen. Glut brings to the project a combination of the spirit of his childhood fascination with monsters that’s evident in his amateur films, as well as over 40 years experience as an adult monster kid that reflects his maturity. The result is a film with a lot of heart that’s better than an amateur effort, but not quite as good as a polished Hollywood product.
While it’s often difficult to get around the look of an “independent” feature, you can disguise it to a certain degree with a good script. That’s mostly what we have here. The “wraparound story,” if you will, consists of clips of a Karloff-like monster (Scott Fresina) stumbling around outside holding a painting of his creator. This painting appears within each of the four, roughly 25-minute, tales that span time and place from 1887 Bavaria to 1957 Transylvania. Opening words tell us:
…the story of Frankenstein was just the beginning. There have been others, some bearing the Frankenstein name, who have followed in Victor’s unorthodox footsteps. There are many Tales of Frankenstein.
My Creation, My Beloved
In 1887 Bavaria, Dr. Gregore Frankenstein (Buddy Daniels Freidman) longs to create a mate using the brain of a pen pal that recently died of cancer. Even with only a few pieces of equipment to generate life for the creation, camera movements and close-ups help establish the mood. The music by William T. Stromberg is great throughout, but particularly effective in this segment.
Crawler from the Grave
In 1910 Switzerland, Vincent (John Blyth Barrymore) robs his “neighbor” Helmut Frankenstein’s (Len Wein) grave to retrieve a ring for his jewelry collection. Professional sets are missed most in this segment as graveyard scenes are obviously filmed in someone’s backyard, complete with wooden fence. Likewise, the special effects are at their weakest. It offers a good revenge from the afterlife plot, though.
Madhouse of Death
In 1948 Los Angeles, Jack Anvil (Jamisin Matthews), a cocky private eye, is stranded at a strange house when his car breaks down during a storm. This is the most comedic of the segments with dialogue meant to make monster kids smile (“I felt like one of the East Side Kids about to meet Bela Lugosi.”) Plus, it has a guy in a gorilla suit (a very good one.) It’s a lot of fun.
Dr. Karnstein’s Creation
In 1957 Transylvania, Dr. Karnstein (Jim Tavare), recruits a local man, Carl (Justin Hoffmeister), to help him create a man totally dominated by his will. This segment has the best creature makeup, both hideous and original. In a mash-up of different legends, Karnstein should probably have paid attention to the gossip that the new castle he bought was once home to a den of vampires.
Overall, I enjoyed Tales of Frankenstein. The quality of individual segments varies, but the overall effect of the anthology is consistent. Its appeal is probably limited to fans of classic horror and low budget, independent filmmaking. No elements particularly stand out as strengths, yet neither are there any egregious flaws. I probably I enjoyed it more than most people will because of my own monster kid-dom. I feel like one of my friends made it and that’s really cool.
Monster kid connections:
John Blyth Barrymore (Vincent) is the grandnephew of Ethel Barrymore and Lionel Barrymore.
Len Wein (Helmut Frankenstein) was an influential and prolific comic book writer that created Marvel characters Storm and Wolverine, and DC character Swamp Thing. (He died in 2017.)
Jerry Lacy (Johann Veidt) played a number of characters on Dark Shadows (1966-71) and appeared in the movie version, House of Dark Shadows (1970.)
Beverly Washburn (Sylvia) appeared in Superman & the Mole-Men (1951), on Thriller (Parasite Mansion), on Star Trek (The Deadly Years) and in Spider Baby (1967.)
Ann Robinson (Elsa) appeared in The War of the Worlds (1953.)
Stanley Dyrector (Myklos) appeared in Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964.)