Blaxploitation that feels more like traditional horror, “Blackenstein” pays loving tribute to the original misunderstood monster.
The 1970s saw the rise of a new genre of film known as Blaxploitation which featured black actors, directors, and stories which were often accompanied by fantastic funk and soul soundtracks. While most Blaxploitation films were crime films like their progenitor, Shaft, numerous films branched out to other film sub-genres, including horror. This week’s recommendation is a perfect blend of the two genres with a dash of post-Vietnam social commentary: 1973’s Blackenstein.
Also known as Black Frankenstein, the film was released hot on the heels of the hugely successful Blacula but failed to land with audiences and critics.
In comparison to other Blaxploitation Horror films, this film is much heavier on horror and much lighter on the Blaxploitation.
The most notable difference is the soundtrack, as the film is almost devoid of any funk or soul music synonymous with Blaxploitation films. Instead, the score is made up of numerous public domain scores from older horror movies. Another difference from standard Blaxploitation films is that Blackenstein steers clear of overt discussions about race.
With the film’s heavy horror focus, viewers follow Blackenstein as he marches around the city killing and eating numerous victims every night.
The story follows Dr. Winifred Walker who reaches out to her former teacher and Noble prize-winning scientist Dr. Stein to help rehabilitate her husband Eddie, who stepped on a landmine in Vietnam and lost both his arms and legs.
Dr. Stein works in fringe science uncovering the secrets of the human genome. After sewing new limbs on Eddie, Stein injects him with an experimental serum in an attempt to restore a sense of normalcy to his life. But of course, the experiment goes horribly wrong.
Eddie, while already an incredibly large man, grows an absurdly large forehead and starts wandering around the town, arms outstretched and groaning as he kills. But much like Frankenstein’s monster, Blackenstein isn’t killing out of malice but from a place of compassion; he is simply misunderstood and feared despite his good nature. His first three victims are all rapists, and everyone he kills after that is trying to kill him because they think he’s a deranged monster.
However, everything is turned on its head in the final, outrageous act.
After Blackenstein kills his creator, he kidnaps an innocent woman and chases her around an old factory until police dogs rip him to shreds. It seems like a very unnecessary ending, but the practical effects and gore are worth the bit of nonsense.
It’s clear the creative team behind the film had done their homework and were huge fans of the original Frankenstein films.
They nail the mythos perfectly, not to mention a subtle nod to The Bride.
If you look closely enough, you will notice that all the props in Dr. Stein’s laboratory are from the 1931 Frankenstein.
Overall, this film serves as a fun bit of horror history, from a cast and crew that didn’t do anything else before or after this film. I encourage you to enjoy this unique entry into the Blaxploitation-Horror genre today. You can find Blackenstein streaming for free on Tubi.