Blaxploitation comes in many forms, but by far the most exciting (for me at least) is blaxploitation horror. Sadly, there are all too few efforts in this particularly sub-genre. The most famous is, of course, Blacula and, to a lesser extent, its sequel. Blacula takes itself far more seriously than you’d expect, and its approach actually works. A genuinely good film with a likable and sympathetic villain, I think most fans of blaxploitation would agree that Blacula is a classic of the genre. Blackenstein, on the other hand, is mostly regarded as a giant piece of shit. And I suppose it is. But it is great giant piece of shit – every bit as entertaining as the film it was cashing in on.
USA, 1973, William A. Levey
Let’s not beat around the bush, Blackenstein is cheap and rough. While that’s obvious with a film like this, this is really rough. It makes its horror counterpart, Blacula, look to have a budget the size of Coppola’s shitty Dracula movie. This both works in its favour and against it. The often quite decent cinematography is hampered by hard cuts, which are sometimes funny, but more often than not only seem to cut out necessary scenes. For example, towards the end, Blackenstein starts to attack a victim, we suddenly get a lightning fast cutaway to an unrelated moment then back to the scene and Blackenstein’s victim is simply gone (and presumed dead). Blackenstein also has a supremely awful score made up of a tinny collection of bad classical stock music. In its favour, this terrible soundtrack at least leads to some unintentional guffaws as it awkwardly booms over innocent scenes. The performances are uniformly terrible, but Ivory Stone and Roosevelt Jackson at least put in some effort, which is heartwarming in a way. Top-billed John Hart sleepwalks through his role fluffing a few lines as he goes. John DeSue is physically perfect for the Blackenstein role, and his muttering, whimpering performance is wonderfully bad. Blackenstein‘s art department even forget that Eddie is supposed to be limbless in earlier scenes with shots of his blanketed feet prominently in frame.
Where Blackenstein really shines is in its insane rampage sequences. Blackenstein initially attacks with purpose, killing a hospital nurse who previously tormented him. After that, he’s just out for blood. While the filmmaking behind the attacks lacks any sort of technical prowess (and again, that’s part of the charm), they are absurdly brutal. Blackenstein doesn’t just kill his victims. He tears the guts out of their bloodied corpses, gripping intestines in his giant hands and roaring wildly. The gore almost feels as if it were spliced in from another movie. Wedged within the gentle and naive horror plot, these scenes feel truly out of place making them both shocking and uncomfortably funny. These violent moments culminate in Blackenstein‘s deranged ending, which has to be seen to be believed. I won’t reveal the details, but it is memorable to say the least.
Blackenstein‘s bad rep is so bad that most trash-fans seem to dismiss it as boring. I honestly don’t know how anyone could find this excellent mess of a film dull. If the demented plot, ludicrous performances and gory deaths aren’t enough for you, Blackenstein throws us extra scraps of nuttiness to fill in the gaps. John Waters fans will relish at the sight of Liz Renay, who shows up for a small cameo and meets her end at the hands of Blackenstein. Another death is given the preceding scene of an intense attempted date rape. Blackenstein even takes pause to show us a stand up gig where comedian Andy “E” delivers a nervous joke about a talking dog. And if all that isn’t enough to satisfy your appetite for mindless fun, well, I don’t know what will. Thank you, cast and crew of Blackenstein, you done good. Real good.