TNCC frontman Matthew Cade was recently provided with a batch of horror themed cigars from Famous Smoke Shop, each one named after a famous icon from horror film history. Cade came up with the grand idea that The Doctor should review a film to pair with his cigar reviews. Naturally I thought that this was brilliant. The first one on the docket was Frankenstein. I grappled over the idea of reviewing the 1931 Universal classic with Boris Karloff and the unforgettable Colin Clive, but in the end I decided that most people probably wouldn’t find a review of an 85 year-old motion picture to be terribly interesting so I went scouring for a more recent version. Luckily the growing trend of horror remakes meant that my options were plentiful, including the animated Frankenweenie. I settled on a European release from 2015 simply titled Frankenstein and brought to us care of Summerstorm Entertainment and Film House Germany. My main reason for doing so is that it promised to be the story of Frankenstein seen from the monster’s viewpoint and would take place in the modern day. I made a quick stop at the local green grocer for some victuals (bell peppers, spring onions, booze) and then repaired back to my lair for some Friday night viewing.
THE FILM – FRANKENSTEIN (2015)
First the bright, white light of birth, brief and artificial (METAPHOR ALERT! The film abounds with them). In this modern day re-imagining of the gothic Mary Shelley tale, the story is told mostly from the standpoint of the monster himself only he isn’t a monster. When he is brought to life by Victor (Danny Huston) and his wife (the still lovely Carrie Anne Moss) our monster “Adam” is revealed to be that of a fit, lean and attractive young man in his early twenties. There are no traces of neck bolts or crude stitchery where his limbs were sewn together. Perhaps this is an aftereffect of the Twilight craze (make the monsters pretty) but I actually appreciated the twist here. While grave robbing certainly is a fun way to spend an evening when the heat lightning shimmers on the horizon and there are no reruns of Pretty Little Liars on TV, it’s been done before. Adam was completely created from scratch in a lab environment without the help of Igor.
The laboratory is a bright, yellow-tiled affair that looks like a basement locker room under a high school basketball gym or some other place where AA meetings are held. A startling place for Adam to begin his consciousness. When his eyes close, the narrative ceases, and it only begins when he opens them again. We see what he sees, hear what he hears and thanks to the performance of a young Australian actor named Xavier Samuel, we seem to almost feel what he feels. He has the reflexes and mental capacity of an infant only he possesses the strength of ten men. Imagine that nightmare, all you parents! A pacifier and a glass of warm milk aren’t going to work in such a situation, and it’s obviously only a matter of time before Adam presents a serious danger.
In case you were wondering, The Doctor once had a Frankenstein-like moment when I attempted to surgically fuse a diamondback snake to a flying drone. This was during a brief time period when I was employed as a biological weapons consultant. It wasn’t my forte and I moved on soon after, but suffice it to say that the venomous serpent did not prove to be a willing participant in that specific experiment and had to be terminated with extreme prejudice before it could escape from the bowels of my own underground laboratory. Tis all for the best as I did not especially care for that job, but that would have made for one hell of an attack drone.
Unfortunately for Adam, something causes his skin to deteriorate in sores and ruptures. Moss is a loving mother figure who feels empathy for Adam while Huston goes about his business with the pathological lack of sensitivity that is all too common in men of his ilk. He decides to chalk up the project – and Adam – as a failure rather than search for a cure of any kind. When the lethal injection fails to work, Victor employs a violent chokehold and Adam’s eyes close again before the film is even twenty minutes old. But of course we aren’t done or there wouldn’t be a movie and I’d have nothing to write about. Adam comes to just as his autopsy is beginning, and I’ll spare you the gory details…
Covered in blood, that of his own and an unfortunate medical examiner, Adam staggers out into the glare of the morning sun resembling The Doctor leaving his college apartment on a brilliant winter’s morn some years ago. Adam learns to run, not unlike Forrest Gump, and makes good his escape.
At this point the film takes a shift in tone from its claustrophobic first third and attempts to become something of a fable or modern-day morality tale. I use the term “attempts” because I don’t feel that it fully succeeded, however the film never lost my interest, which is all I really ever ask for. Adam, with his physical strength and continuing to learn at an exponential rate, is thrown headfirst into the twenty-first century. One cannot help but feel sorry for him. He is an innocent creature who doesn’t understand what he is doing or where he is (The Doctor has been there, my friend. Oh boy…). Of course he is too dangerous to be alive, but that is the fault of his creators. He encounters the worst of humanity, represented here by violent, murderous cops. He also experiences kindness in the case of a friendly little girl, a stray but well-fed dog and a blind, homeless guitar strummer played by horror film veteran Tony Todd of Candyman fame among other things. Todd takes Adam under his wing and begins teaching him some useful things such as the meaning of a coat, how to find edible food in a dumpster and – most importantly – what to do with a half filled bottle of Evan Williams whiskey that someone has unwisely discarded.
There definitely exists, at least in The Doctor’s mind, some questionable storytelling decisions that involved a little head scratching. The portrayal of the police as murdering bumblers was upsetting for a number of reasons, especially given the current climate in America. There was also a periodic voiceover from Adam that I could have done without and it didn’t make a lot of sense given the context of the narrative. I’ll admit that I am not a fan of voiceovers in general, so, as always, formulate your own opinion regarding that technique as it is used here. Also, I don’t like spoilers, but I think it’s a no-brainer to state that when Adam the Frankenstein monster meets a kind hearted street hooker, the encounter isn’t going to go well for anyone.
Perhaps I am picking nits. As previously stated, the movie was never uninteresting – weird at times, but never uninteresting – and at a lean 89 minutes you aren’t making a huge time commitment. Wow, that was a back-handed compliment. Let me try again.
Frankensteinly -er, I mean frankly – I would recommend giving this movie a try. It’s really a remake in name only, and honestly, this is what any remake ought to be. Which is to say that it takes the premise of the Frankenstein story but employs it in an original idea using today’s world, or something resembling it, as the background. One could argue that a story as old as Frankenstein has been remade or reimagined or rebooted so many times that it doesn’t require any additional attempts, but I would disagree. The horror genre will always provide fertile ground for filmmakers with good ideas to make their marks. You win some and you lose some. For example, as far as The Doctor is concerned, the less said about Rob Zombie’s Halloween, the better. On the other hand, the SyFy channel released a remake of Children of the Corn in 2009 starring David Anders of Vampire Diaries and iZombie fame that was highly entertaining. Nothing can replace Courtney Gains Malachi or John Franklin’s Isaac from the 1984 original, but the SyFy production was still a good movie and a worthy remake. When is somebody going to remake Night of the Creeps? There’s only one Tom Atkins, but maybe I can play Detective Cameron… yeah, that’d be something.
This version of Frankenstein is worth the effort. Samuel’s performance is exceptional; he isn’t allowed to say much, so almost everything is conveyed via his facial expressions and his raw movements. Huston and Moss were probably hired for three or four days but they certainly don’t mail anything in. Huston isn’t given a hell of a lot to do but he turns up the menace and volatility when it’s required. To see Danny at his villainous best you should watch the Australian western film The Proposition where he burns a hole in the screen. Hey, maybe I should watch that again myself? Time will tell. As always, The Doctor wishes you all a clean bill of health.
THE CIGAR – TATUAJE SKINNY FRANK
review by CADE
When I first got word through the grapevine that Pete Johnson’s Tatuaje was releasing a lancero collection of his legendary ongoing Monster cigar series earlier this year, dubbed The Skinny Monsters, I knew that the Tuesday Night Cigar Club needed to cover this release in our own special way. So when I couldn’t get the four of us knuckleheads together to dress up like Leatherface and chug malt liquor while smoking the Skinny Monster lanceros and tossing pumpkins down at public transportation from high atop the roof of the downtown library… I came up with the idea to review each cigar individually and pair it with a corresponding film review courtesy of our friendly neighborhood Doctor. A big thank you is in order to our good friends at Famous Smoke Shop for providing us with the stogies to make this horrific experiment possible.
The presentation of these Skinny Monsters is simplistic in a good way. The Frank has a thin green band with “Skinny Monster” imprinted on one side and “Tatuaje” on the other. The drab green, obviously, is the same shade as Frankenstein’s skin… and a 7-11 hot dog I should have passed on at 3AM which obviously I didn’t. You see folks, Dr. Frankenstein isn’t the only madman who’s not afraid to go out on a limb for the sake of science. Yeah that’s the ticket. The Skinny Frank has a veiny dark wrapper with just a little oil to it. There’s a strong hay and barnyard aroma on the pre-light sniff.
This Monster is front loaded with spice. The firmly packed Frank has a bit of a tight draw and I’m not getting the air pull that I’d like, so I clip the head again with my scissors just slightly and that seems to do the trick. An inch in now and the smoke production is great and the ash is holding tight with a perfect burn line. The spice is still the dominant flavor with a slight presence of mesquite in the background.
I take a precautionary measure a short while after the start of the second third and dump the nice white ash that’s formed (I’m wearing a new shirt). I’m now almost to the halfway mark and I’m starting to think that, much like the lunkhead monster that this stogie takes its name from, this isn’t going to be a very complex or complicated cigar. Spice good. Wood good. Frank like good spice and wood. And our drab green friend lumbers along with these two consistent notes until we reach the beginning of the last third.
A faint essence of dark chocolate briefly enters the room but big ol’ Frankenstein, or in this case Skinny ol’ Frank, squashes the tasty chocolate note out almost immediately with his big ol’ boot. Chocolate bad. Frank no like chocolate. Ok ok I’ll knock that shit off now.
The cigar ended like it started – spice and wood. That’s it. But… does the lack of transitions or notable complexity make it a “bad cigar”?
No, it’s not a bad cigar. I enjoyed the Tatuaje Skinny Frank just fine and it paired very well with the monster-sized glasses of Pinot Noir I drank during the course of reviewing the stogie. Perhaps it was because I had smoked an absolutely AMAZING FUCKING LANCERO a few nights prior, the Cabaiguan also by Tatuaje. Perhaps it was influenced by the fact that even as a diehard lifelong horror fan I’ve never really enjoyed the early Universal classics. Whatever the case, the Skinny Frank just didn’t blow my skirt up and that’s ok. I’ve got 9 more of these scary motherscratchers and I can’t wait to move on to the next one.
I hope you liked this initial collaboration between The Doctor and myself, if so let us know! If not, we’ll meet you down by the lake to pick some flowers together…