Monster Mash: Frankenstein and Me (1996)

Dave cuddles up to a heart-warming family film that’s now all but forgotten.

In his regular From the Bridge column in Starlog, the magazine’s co-founder, Kerry O’Quinn, could barely contain his excitement about the release of his friend Robert Tinnell’s movie, FRANKENSTEIN AND ME:

“When I first met Bob, he had said that he wanted to make movies since he discovered Forry Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland. He’d been making backyard films since the age of twelve, and soon after he met George A. Romero, who advised him that if he was serious about making movies, he should move to Hollywood. He listened, and with his brother Jeff, they moved to Los Angeles, battling continual rejections until he met the French-Canadian producer, Richard Goudreau, who greenlit both Kids of the Round Table (1995) and Frankenstein and Me. Although Bob Tinnell’s eyes are aimed upward towards a promising future, he’ll never forget the monsters that made him tingle, or the heroes who made him believe in himself. Both provide the fuel needed to make distant dreams come true.” [1]

There’s something satisfyingly full circle about Frankenstein and Me in terms of the journey it’s been on. When Tinnell picked up an 8mm camera as child, a version of Frankenstein was the very first thing he made. Similarly, in terms of the world he creates within the picture, there are so many stirring semi-autobiographical aspects clearly lifted from his childhood, like the obsession with Universal Monsters, and the nights spent in his room, poring over the aforementioned Ackerman’s seminal publication. However, the overriding sentiment of Tinnell’s film is the quest to be a dreamer — and back in 1970, in a sparsely populated town on the outskirts of the Mohave Desert, it was a trait to be frowned upon. At least that’s how young Earl Williams (Jamieson Boulanger) feels, especially at school under the tutelage of hard-nosed pragmatist Mrs. Perdue (Louise Fletcher). Thankfully for Earl, his father (Burt Reynolds) offers the encouragement he needs, providing him with the necessary tools to live out his monster movie daydreams (“If you have a dream, you go for it with everything you’ve got”), much to the disapproval of his straight-laced mother (Myriam Cyr).

Sadly, just as Earl excitedly discovers the lifeless corpse of the actual Frankenstein’s Monster on display in a nearby carnival, tragedy strikes, and he receives the devastating news that his Dad has suffered a fatal heart attack. Broken at this cruel twist of fate, Earl decides to honour his father’s memory the only way he knows how: by stealing The Monster’s body and reanimating it, Dr. Frankenstein-style.

Bursting with impressively recreated homages, Tinnell succeeds in crafting a film laced with poignancy, wonder, and an enviable cross-generational appeal. The cast are sublime. Boulanger effortlessly combines naivety, excitability, and fragility; Ricky Mabe is on point as his younger brother; and there’s an excellent performance from a lad called Ryan Gosling who’s apparently done alright for himself in the years since. Tinnell’s partnership with cinematographer Roxanne di Santo demands praise, too. They’d met on the set of Troma’s Surf Nazis Must Die (1987) (he was producing, she was doing second unit work) and their collaboration as director and DP began on Kids of the Round Table. It’s here, though, where they hit their stride, blending black and white fantasy sequences with the expansive desolation of Earl’s hometown.

Bagging a nomination for Best Film and winning Tinnell the gong for Best Director at the Fantasporto Film Festival in February 1997, Frankenstein and Me made its video store debut the following month courtesy of Vidmark Entertainment – and that’s where it stayed. Aside from a handful of disc releases in continental Europe, this uplifting creature feature lies dormant on VHS and Laserdisc, waiting patiently for a bolt of lightning to spark it back into life.

USA/Canada ● 1996 ● Family, Comedy, Horror ● 91mins

Jamieson Boulanger, Ricky Mabe, Ryan Gosling, Louise Fletcher, Burt Reynolds ● Dir. Robert Tinnell ● Wri. Richard Goudreau, David Sherman, story by Robert Tinnell

[1] From the Bridge: Monsters from Childhood by Kerry O’Quinn, Starlog, Issue #238, May 1997.

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