AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 110 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Professor Victor Frankenstein teaches medicine by day, but at night, in a basement under the college, he’s trying to put together and re-animate a body sourced from several different corpses. Teaching at the same college is Naihla Khalik, who has returned from Egypt with the 3000 year old Mummy of a pharaoh called Userkara, along with a scroll that promises death for anyone who releases his soul which is trapped in his body. Victor and Naihla go out on a date which they had set up prior to her going away, and end up spending the night together, but meanwhile Naihla’s superior Professor Walton becomes possessed when he removes his amulet, and may have revived the Mummy….
For someone like me, you can’t go entirely wrong with a title like Frankenstein Vs The Mummy [though neither the monster nor his creator is actually called Frankenstein in the film despite the latter being listed as ‘Victor Frankenstein’ in the credits], which seems be heavily targeted at the more nostalgic horror fan. A very low budget affair released straight to DVD, it seems to have received more bad reviews than good, but…well I don’t know….it may be partially because I sat through the agonising tedium that was Unfriended a few hours before which would give any film I watched subsequently a very good chance of seeming like a masterpiece by comparison, but Frankenstein Vs The Mummy seemed to me to be a half decent horror cheapie that should entertain as long as you don’t expect too much. It’s certainly several cuts above the average SyFy picture in things like acting, direction and special effects, and shows director/screenwriter/editor/special effect artist/probably a hundred other things Damien Leone, while he does exhibits some flaws, to be a budding talent that could hit the big time with the right project. I’ll certainly be checking out his previous film, the anthology All Hallows’ Eve, plus his upcoming Terrifier, which both feature a clown killer [which already makes them scary to me].
Now I’m going to tell you right away what the movie’s biggest problem is I can get it out of the way and do my best to concentrate on the good. The title is somewhat misleading, even allowing for the fact that, as we all know, Frankenstein is traditionally the name of the person who makes the monster, not the monster himself. Why? Because the movie’s two monsters only duke it out for a couple of minutes, and in some dingy basement, even if it’s a pretty cool fight. Now of course we all know that the granddaddy of such films Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man only had a tiny fight, but that was in a 74 min picture as opposed to something that nearly runs two hours, and we’ve come to expect far more from our monster brawls these days. Freddy Vs Jason got a lot wrong, but it did give us a spectacular, awesome monster battle, and just imagine how disappointed you’d be if King Kong and Godzilla had fallen off that cliff into the sea after only having begun to fight? The DVD doesn’t lie in saying that “the epic battle has begun” but that’s all it really does. I don’t know what was on Leone’s mind when he decided to limit the showdown so much, but I feel he made a big mistake and it’s something that has definitely contributed in a big way to the air of disappointment that seems to be around the film. If you’re aware of this fact though, I reckon you’ll have some fun with Frankenstein Vs The Mummy.
The film mostly takes place either in or underneath an unnamed college, and it doesn’t really make the most of its admittedly overused primary locale, but it doesn’t feel constricted either, and I’ll say one thing – the cinematography by George Steuber is very smooth and quite glossy, sometimes giving the impression that this is a more expensive picture than it actually is. Victor is introduced paying a vagrant to off someone for him, than is next shown teaching his class some heavy philosophical stuff about immortality before adroitly cutting a few times to him at work in his basement trying to create his man from scratch. Our heroine Naihla is also introduced teaching a class, this time about the pyramids, and she’s brought a Mummy back to the college. We spend a lot of time with them on their first date, which is rather amusing the way Naihla seems to be put ‘in the mood’ by Victor telling her about his mum’s suicide [let’s give that a go shall we guys?] and elsewhere the film adopts a rather leisurely pace. The vagrant kills the person he’s been asked to kill, but has a lengthy chat with him first. It’s not at all necessary, but I rather enjoyed the way the film was taking its time, even if it would still benefit from losing 10 or 15 minutes. There’s a scene three quarters of the way when Naihla follows her boyfriend into his underground laboratory, and it takes forever. By this time, the film should be moving very quickly. I think another editor’s sheers should have been used on Leone’s cut of the picture, though at least it’s great to have no shakycam or really quick editing, Leone always allowing us to see what is going on.
The Mummy is eventually resurrected Hammer Dracula style when creepy Professor Walton goes a little mad after removing the mummy’s amulet and slits a guy’s throat, the blood dripping onto Userkara’s face. There’s a very well timed jump scare of the Mummy’s arm looming into view from the bottom of the frame a couple of scenes later. Hopes of seeing the Mummy stalk students around the college are sadly dashed, but he does commit a few vicious kills. In any case, the rest of the film is more about Frankenstein and his Monster, so much so the Mummy sometimes seems like an afterthought. Victor and his assistant fighting and damaging a brain is straight out of the 1931 Frankenstein, and there are little nods to later Hammer versions and even more than a whiff of Re-Animator elsewhere. One thing that isn’t often done, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it done here even though it robs the character of much of his appeal, is that the murderous Frankenstein monster is almost entirely unsympathetic. He even tries to rape the heroine. Of course the plotting is pretty predictable though an initially pointless seeming thread involving a character who knows about Victor and wants to help him is concluded in an interesting and appropriate way.
Frankenstein Vs The Mummy does very well by its creature design and numerous gore effects, which seem to be mostly practical with the occasional CG embellishment. The Mummy, his face a cross between Christopher Lee’s Mummy and those CG ones in the Brendan Fraser pictures except that he creepily lacks nostrils, ears and other less visible parts [which leads to the film’s most gruesome sequence] looks remarkably convincing, while the Monster may remind some of Radu from the Subspecies movies but with his flowing black hair and yellow skin stretched badly over his face is actually amongst the closest the movies have got to depicting the look of Mary Shelley’s original creation, something that certainly brought a smile to my face and was evidence that, while he’s got a bit of a way to go in terms of being a really good filmmaker, Leone loves his classic monsters, and maybe one day he’ll revisit this world with greater skill.
The acting is quite good if not exactly outstanding. Veteran Boomer Tibbs is most effective as the very sinister Professor Walton while Ashton Leigh is a pretty heroine, though I hope I don’t sound sexist in wondering why more and more modern horror films seem reticent about showing boobs and sex. In this one, despite all the bloodletting, the brief sex scene would struggle to even make it into a 12A film. It’s easy to criticise something like Frankenstein Vs The Mummy, which can’t help but seem sloppy in some ways and is badly let down by having such a short and un-dramatic climactic fight, but Leone at least deserves praise for not going down the easy route of ‘we know this is crap so let’s make it all campy and just make fun of it’. With the limited resources at his disposal, he tried to make a good, old fashioned horror movie which takes itself seriously. He didn’t quite succeed, but I reckon he’ll get there some day.
* audio commentary with writer/director Damien Leone and cinematographer George Steuber