BLACKENSTEIN (1973) Reviews and overview

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‘To stop this mutha takes one bad brutha’
Blackenstein, also known as Black Frankenstein, is a 1973 American blaxploitation horror film directed by William A. Levey (Wham! Bam! Thank You, Spaceman!; Hellgate) from a screenplay written by producer Frank R. Saletri (director of the unfinished Black the Ripper in 1975).

The film was an attempt to cash in on the success of Blacula, released the previous year by American International Pictures (AIP). However, Blackenstein fared poorly at the box office in comparison to its predecessor.

Blackenstein was released on Blu-ray and DVD on May 30, 2017, by Severin Films. The theatrical cut (78 minutes) and the video release version (87 minutes) are included.

Monster Kid – Interview with June Kirk, sister of writer/producer Frank R. Saletri
Bill Created Blackenstein – Interview with creature designer Bill Munns
Actors/filmmakers Ken Osborne & Robert Dix remember Frank R. Saletri
Archive news broadcast on the murder of Frank R. Saletri
Theatrical trailer

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The movie stars John Hart (Welcome to Arrow Beach; The Centerfold GirlsThe Astral Factor, Ivory Stone, Andrea King (Red Planet MarsHouse of the Black Death), Liz Renay – Desperate Living; Corpse Grinders 2; Mark of the Astro-Zombies), Roosevelt Jackson, Joe DeSue and Nick Bolin (The Devil’s Daughter).

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When her boyfriend Eddie Turner (Joe DeSue) returns from Vietnam without arms and legs, Doctor Winifred Walker (Ivory Stone) appeals to former teacher and Nobel Prize-winning Doctor Stein (John Hart) for help — and Doctor Stein, who has been fiddling with DNA, accommodates them by growing some new arms and legs.

Unfortunately, the experiment goes awry, and Eddie suddenly develops a square afro, takes to wearing ankle boots, and sneaks out at night…

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Appearing at the peak of the blaxploitation boom, Blackenstein is one of a handful of horror entries into the genre, sitting alongside Blacula and Dr Black and Mr Hyde. It’s an uncomfortable positioning though, because the title aside, this has few of the tropes of the genre, and is actually a curiously old-fashioned monster movie that just happens to have a few black leads – it’s closer in spirit (though hardly in execution) to the Frankenstein imitations of the 1940s, with added splatter.

Doctor Stein (John Hart) is carrying out pioneering experiments in limb grafting, using laser beam fusion and a DNA solution, and so when new assistant Winifred (Ivory Stone) tells him about her fiancé Eddie, who last lost his arms and legs in Vietnam, the doctor is only too happy to help. All goes well until Stein’s other assistant Malcolmb (that’s how they spell it on the credits!) falls in love with Winifred and tampers with the DNA fluid in order to get his rival out of the way. Soon, Eddie has devolved into a cannibalistic caveman with a Neanderthal brow and afro-topped square head. Escaping during the night, he goes on a rampage of limb tearing, managing to off 1960s exotic dancer Liz Renay (who is in the film for less than five minutes, despite her high billing) amongst others.

An uneasy mix of styles – 1930s Frankenstein lab action one minute, H.G. Lewis-style gore close-ups and gratuitous naughtiness the next – Blackenstein is probably near the bottom of the blaxploitation barrel, badly acted, flatly directed by William A. Levey and slow-moving.

Yet, it’s much more entertaining than the bigger budget Blacula, having a quaintness and odd charm that somehow pulls it through despite all the faults. You can’t help but feel that the film – produced by lawyer and life-long horror fan Frank R. Saletri, whose unsolved gangland murder a decade later would probably make a much more intriguing film premise than this – has its heart in the right place, even if it isn’t quite up to the job artistically. And that has to count for something, right? Maybe not…

David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA

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Other reviews:
“For all its suckitude, Blackenstein delivers a bit of T&A and some surprisingly explicit gore, with intestine-ripping scenes years before the likes of Dawn of the Dead (I’m not saying that it’s well-done, but it’s there).” BlackHorrorMovies

“Tiresome, dim-witted, unsure of what it wants to be (there is a scene in a nightclub where we witness a comedian and a blues singer perform their entire routines), Blackenstein fails miserably even as kitsch. A missed opportunity.” Josiah Howard, Blaxploitation Cinema

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“Is Blackenstein the worst movie ever made? Well, it’s certainly in the running. Is it the worst of the blaxploitation/horror movies? I certainly hope so. Otherwise, there’s one that’s worse out there waiting for me, and there are simply some things Man Was Not Meant To Know.” The Bad Movie Report


“Pacing is too slow and acting too lethargic to make this a camp classic, but it’s extremely entertaining. The transformation takes several stages, giving us several buzz-spark-flicker lab scenes. Apparently, the lab features some of the same equipment as the 1930s original … A few women, including our heroine, are topless for a few moments.” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers


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“The Blackenstein monster’s rampage, despite the limits of the horror genre and the story this film is trying to tell, can be seen as ‘sticking it to the Man’ who literally created him. So perhaps it’s not inappropriate to have Dr Stein as a white man.” Mikel J Koven, Blaxploitation Films

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” …it’s surely an all-time worst – in editing, acting, writing and even music, any competence appears to be purely accidental. This goes beyond bad, beyond so-bad-it’s-good, and into territory rarely traversed. If you still have any interest in seeing this, I have failed in my task as a reviewer. Proceed at own risk.” Rating: F Film Blitz

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