Now here’s a really weird one!
Of course one does expect “weird” from filmmaker Rodney Ascher, whose previous films delved into the bizarre interpretations some people have for Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (that’d be Room 237), as well as recollections from folks who deal with horrifying sleep disorders (that one’s called The Nightmare), but this time we’re talking really strange.
Directed by Tim Kirk (he also wrote the screenplay with his brother Jay), Director’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein is some sort of wacky masterpiece. It’s certainly unlike any film you’ve seen before. It’s basically a real movie (1977’s Terror of Frankenstein, which is pretty terrible) but with a fake audio commentary on top. Only this is not a Mystery Science Theater 3000 approach to satire. (No offense to MST3K, of course.) It’s more like one extended joke that rambles around in a few bizarre directions before tying everything up in a wild, weird, and slightly disturbing fashion.
Our faux commentators are Terror of Frankenstein director Gavin Merrill (voiced by Clu Gulager) and screenwriter David Falks (voiced by Zack Norman), and while they claim to be recording the commentary for historical purposes, it quickly becomes evident that A) something truly horrific happened during the film’s production, and B) Merrill is considerably more interested in the commercial side of the infamous movie than in its historical merits. The “filmmakers” drop numerous hints and clues regarding the horrors that befell the Terror of Frankenstein production, but stop short of spilling the beans too early. If you’ve ever heard a particularly long and circuitous joke that’s too amusing to ignore, you’re halfway to appreciating the arcane yet inspired novelty of Director’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein.
While it’s certainly true that this esoteric experiment will appeal to movie geeks first and foremost (especially those who listen to a lot of audio commentaries), one doesn’t need to know anything about Terror of Frankenstein (or filmmaking in general) to appreciate this amusingly elaborate joke. The filmmakers are astutely committed to the artifice; the screenplay doesn’t tip its hand too quickly; and both actors do an excellent job of delivering some strange material with so much sincerity that we almost buy the whole damn thing.
Perhaps most impressive — besides the surprise guest who shows up near the end, that is — is that while this is most certainly a comedic experiment, Director’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein is also sort of spooky! Chalk it up to pure conviction on the part of the filmmakers (and the actors) but even though we know this whole commentary is fake, it’s more than a little creepy, if you’re willing to play along, of course. And isn’t that pretty much what we do for all movies?
Whoa. This freaky flick really does work on a whole bunch of levels.
4.5 out of 5 weirdly delicious burritos
[Screened via the lovely Fantasia Film Festival.]
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