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Frankenstein Unlimited
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by Jay Seaver

"With Frankenstein, anything goes."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: One of the pleasures of Fantasia is that, while the draws are often much-anticipated movies from around the world, it always has room for smaller films, including enthusiastic showcases for locally-produced works. They're not always on the largest screen and sometimes they're run at odd hours - audiences would have to go to the secondary screen on Sunday morning for this anthology of six tales inspired by Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" - but it's an important part of the festival, even if the results are somewhat uneven.

That not every bit will appeal to everyone is borne out by the first segment, Matthew Saliba's "Dark Lotus". It's something of a music video in two parts, with a mad scientist (John M. Thomas) cultivating fetuses in a garden, only to find his work destroyed by a rival (Martin Plouffe) - though years later, the spider-woman (Kayden Rose) born out of his work will avenge him. Having the film start with the most unconventional of the segments is a good idea; though it will excite some, many won't easily connect with it, so it can't derail the movie. The photography is nicelly done, and it's creative and effective in its grotesquerie, but even those who like it gross may not like it weird.

Fortunately, it's followed by the most direct take on Frankenstein, Matthew Forbes's "Victor". This one takes place some time after the Monster's rampage, with Victor Frankenstein a pariah in his village, haunted by what his glorious dreams turned into. It's attractively mounted on a small budget, and hits upon a part of the story that is often overlooked or downplayed.

Next up comes King-Wei Chu's "Flesh for Kung Fu", in which a Hong Kong martial arts master (Gordon Liu) is the next target of "Invincible" (Chow Keung), who has been fighting various masters and leaving them missing limbs. It's the shortest of the segments, and gets to the good stuff - Gordon Liu fighting - without much messing around. There are many worse ways to spend five minutes than a Gordon Liu fight scene, and Chu does a nice job in getting us in and out, leading up to a fun unveiling.

Less efficient is Maud Michaud's "Reflections", in which disfigured Anna (Kayla St. Cartier) aids a burlesque troupe, but eventually finds herself changing when cosmetic surgery gives her a beautiful face. As much as Michaud and company do a good job of presenting the troupe as a tight-knit community, the underlying message of the story seems far uglier than Anna's makeup job - that her trying to improve herself this way inevitably leads to her becoming nasty, and she must be kept humble to be a good person (especially since her best friend in the group seems nice enough despite being beautiful).

Even more sprawling is Peter James's "Occam's Razor", in which detectives named Whale and Karloff question suspects named Frankie and Mary, trying to puzzle out who is actually responsible for a series of murders and mutilations. It's a fairly good interrogation room piece, eventually tying in with the Frankenstein theme with more than cute character names. The acting from the four principals (James Harrington and Christina Sciortino as the suspects, Brad Carmichael and Constantine Kourditis as the cops) is occasionally a bit theatrical, but entertaining. At a half hour long, though, it drags on a bit - that's simultaneously a lot of time to be inside the box but not necessarily enough to build the backstory.

After that movie's intensity, the movie opts to send us out on a laugh with Martin Gauthier's "Mr. Fluffenstein", in which Alice (Jasper Round), a little girl whose cat has just died, opts to revive him with Science! - which, as one might expect, doesn't quite go as planned, with other neighborhood pets suddenly being mutilated and the adults starting to fear for their lives. It's a fun premise, although at times the movie seems to exhibit a split personality: Miss Round is deadpan perfection as Alice, and as such tends to be a lot funnier than the campy adults whose bits will occasionally go from amusing reactions to Alice and her creepy mechanical cat to drawing out jokes that weren't that funny to begin with.

I saw two anthology-style movies this day, although the second was more a single story broken into pieces. This one is much more a true anthology, and as such winds up being rather uneven - of the six segments, I enjoyed two ("Victor" and "Flesh for Kung Fu"), disliked two ("Dark Lotus" and "Reflections") and had mixed reactions to another two ("Occam's Razor" and "Mr. Fluffenstein"). Overall, I guess this nets out as a draw - which, at this scale, isn't a bad result.

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originally posted: 09/08/10 12:49:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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