DirectorFrank R. Saletri
Release Date(s)1973 (May 30, 2017)
Studio(s)Prestige Pictures (Severin Films/Vinegar Syndrome/Xenon Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: D
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: B
Blackenstein (aka Black Frankenstein) might have been one horror blaxploitation movie too many when it was released in 1973. It was made to capitalize on the unexpected success of Blacula, a far better film by comparison. Sequels were also in development, but when the film failed at the box office, the ideas were all quickly scrapped. However, the film managed to, not exactly thrive, but at least get seen by folks on home video in its afterlife and build up a reputation.
Looking at Blackenstein today from the outside in, there’s just no way of saying nicely how ridiculous and inept it is in nearly every possible way. It’s almost in the vein of an intentional spoof movie more so than a real attempt at a serious horror film. On the other hand, that’s also part of its charm and why a company like Severin Films would bother to release it on Blu-ray in the first place. The set up of it is refreshing compared to most blaxploitation movies wherein it’s usually about a white man doing something awful to a black man, which this movie isn’t about. The white doctor creating him does so with honorable intentions, but unfortunately, everything goes wrong anyway. There’s plenty of cheese value to the film overall. It’s not great by any means, but where it lacks in cohesion, style, and pace, it manages to be at least interesting despite itself.
Severin Films working with Vinegar Syndrome and Xenon Pictures present Blackenstein in two different presentations: the original theatrical version, which is 78 minutes, and the home video version, which is 87 minutes. The latter is amalgam of material used for the theatrical version, which is sourced from a 35mm print, plus a 1” master tape. Like a lot of films of its ilk, seeing it in better quality does give you a better appreciation of it than having been seen previously on murky home video releases. That said, it’s still not a pristine presentation, and just for aesthetics’ sake, it probably works better being a little rough around the edges anyway. It’s obviously several generations away from the original camera negative, but it still maintains a film-like appearance with desirable grain levels. Nothing is even throughout the presentation when it comes to color saturation and black levels, but the former has plenty of value during the laboratory scenes, while the latter gives the scenes wherein Blackenstein is roaming the city streets at night more shadow delineation. Contrast and brightness levels are also satisfactory. Artifacts have been left behind, including some mild instability, but it’s amazing just to be able to make out what’s going on. As to which version is better is a matter of debate, but in my opinion, the running time of the theatrical version alone makes it a more appealing watch, never mind the A/V quality.
Audio options include 2 tracks, English 2.0 mono DTS-HD and English 2.0 mono Dolby Digital. The DTS track is much of the same when compared to its video counterpart. Dialogue and sound effects are generally pleasant, although some crackle and distortion are present, mild though they may be. Music and score are a bit tinny, but come through relatively clear. The overdubbing and other sound issues that are baked into the film’s sound design are just as obvious as ever, but there are no major hurdles to get over. Optional subtitles are also included in English SDH for those who might need them.
As for extras, there’s Monster Kid – an interview with sister June Kirk of writer/producer Frank R. Saletri, an archival news broadcast reporting on the murder of Frank R. Saletri, Ken Osborne and Robert Dix Remember Frank R. Saletri, Bill Created Blackenstein – an interview with creature and prosthetic make-up designer Bill Munns, and a modern assembly equivalent of a theatrical trailer (being that the original is probably lost to time). The story of how the film was created and what happened to its writer and producer afterwards is perhaps more interesting than the film itself, so be sure to give these extras a watch. They’re worth your time.
Blackenstein is an artifact of its time more than it is an enjoyable movie, which is probably not news to anyone, I’m sure. Although a follow-up called Black the Ripper was planned, perhaps it’s best that Blackenstein was a one and done kind of deal. For all of its unintentional entertainment value, some may find it a bit of a tough sit. The Blu-ray presentation of it, however, is a welcome one.
- Tim Salmons