Frankenstein and Me (1996)

Rating:

Canada. 1996.

Crew

Director/Story – Robert Tinnell, Screenplay – Richard Goudreau & David Sherman, Producer – Richard Goudreau, Photography – Roxanne di Santo, Music – Norman Corbeil, Special Effects Supervisor – J.D. Street, Makeup Effects – Ted Haines, Production Design – Michel Marsolais. Production Company – Malofilm Communications/Melenny Productions

Cast

Jamieson Boulanger (Earl Williams), Burt Reynolds (Leo Williams), Myriam Cyr (Judy Williams), Ricky Mabe (Larry Williams), Ryan Gosling (Kenny), Roc LaFortune (Deputy Tom Gonzales), Louise Fletcher (Mrs Betty Perdue), David Deveau (Stan), Rebecca Henderson (Karen)


Plot

Young Earl Williams is getting in constant trouble at school for dreaming about monster movies instead of doing schoolwork. His mother wishes he would conform and take life seriously, however his father encourages him to be a dreamer. When his father dies of a sudden heart-attack, Earl comes under increasing pressure to take life seriously. When a circus passes through town and a crate containing what is purportedly the Frankenstein monster falls off the back of a truck, Earl takes it with the intention of bringing the monster back to life using harnessed electricity. However, this gets him into considerable trouble with the authorities.


Frankenstein and Me is a real fan’s film. It could just as easily be titled My Life as a Famous Monsters Fan. Famous Monsters of Filmland (1958-82), which was for many years the only genre prozine out there, receives prominent mention throughout the film and its editor Forrest J. Ackerman makes a cameo as a priest at the funeral. The end credits thanks a checklist of genre names for inspiration – Ackerman, Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Tod Browning, The Chaneys, Dan Curtis, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher, Christopher Lee, Claude Rains, Fred Olen Ray, George Romero, John A. Russo, Tom Savini, James Whale and ‘Boris and Bela’. Included on the list as well are less well-known names such as Anglo-horror critic David Pirie, Starlog magazine publisher Kerry O’Quinn, Midnight Marquee magazine editor Gary Svehla, even Universal horror musician Hans J. Salter, George Romero’s cinematographer Michael Gornick, and Hammer production designer and musician Bernard Robinson and James Bernard. The film also features some endearing pastiches of Frankenstein (1931), The Wolf Man (1941), The Brides of Dracula (1960) and Night of the Living Dead (1968), all done a la Bugsy Malone (1976) with adolescent actors.

Frankenstein and Me is both a modernist deconstruction of the fanboy delights of Famous Monsters and Frankenstein, and one that also cleverly plays into the legend – there is a delightful throwaway coda right at the end just after the monster has been forgotten about, which shows that it was not a crazy dream after all. As much as it is a genre homage, the film is an even better paean to childhood – of the pain of growing up a dreamer who is constantly being pressured to conform. Burt Reynolds plays rather well as the father who has never achieved the dreams of Hollywood he once had and who gently, warmly inspires his sons to be a dreamer too. For all the critical attention that focused on Reynolds ‘comeback’ role in Boogie Nights (1997) around the same time, the far more low key Frankenstein and Me contains a far better performance from Reynolds. The film manages without a step wrong to get the childhood emotions down without sentimentalising anything or simplifying the complexity of the issues. There is a very nice scene where young Jamieson Boulanger counters his mother’s entreaties to do what he is told in school by explaining that the teacher is not a good teacher, a scene that is praiseworthy for its all too rare challenge to the conformist assumptions that underlie all children’s films.

American-born but Canadian based director Robert Tinnell originally started out working on cheesy exploitation movies – he also produced Surf Nazis Must Die (1987). As a director, he has made a number of these genre children’s films. Also worth checking out is Kids of the Round Table (1995), about a schoolkid finding Excalibur in the present-day; in particular the fine ghost story Believe (2000), which features similar themes to this of an intelligent youth with a love of horror being forced to clamp down on his imagination; the modernised Edgar Allan Poe anthology Requiem for the Damned (2012); and the documentary That $#!% Will Rot Your Brain: How the Monster Kids Transformed Popular Culture (2014), which similarly covers the influence of monster movies on the imagination.



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