Frankenstein Stalks (2000) 0
I knew this day was coming, alright? Twelve years ago, when I called Zombie ’90: Extreme Pestilence “bar none the most pointless and idiotic movie I’ve ever seen,” I knew it couldn’t hold onto that title forever, just as I knew that I would eventually encounter a filmmaker even more irredeemably inept than Zombie ’90 auteur Andreas Schnaas. If anything, I’m surprised that it took so long for a new champion to emerge. But that doesn’t mean I was ready. Sure, when I dropped Frankenstein Stalks into the VCR, I figured it would probably blow the sacks of a million wallabies, simply because barely anything decent ever emerges from this lowest stratum of the shot-on-video tar pit. But I was completely unprepared for the fervor with which it sucks, let alone for the abyssal depth of its creator’s contempt for the very concept of cinema. I realize that’s an extremely strident condemnation, even for me, and I realize further that it’s an odd accusation to level against someone who wears his fandom on his sleeve as conspicuously as writer / director / producer / cinematographer / editor / star / supporting actor / extra David “the Rock” Nelson. But love and respect are two different things, despite what the self-help books might tell you, and Frankenstein Stalks makes it abundantly clear that in the year 2000 at least, Nelson had no respect whatsoever for his art form, his progenitors within it, or the audience before which he presented this camcorder travesty.
The Chicago suburbs might seem like an inhospitable environment for mad science, but that’s indeed where Dr. Wolf Franken (Nelson), inevitably descended from the monster-making Frankenstein clan, has built his castle. Stranger still, it’s also where Franken and his hunchback, Karl Krenshaw (also Nelson), discover the lifeless body of his storied ancestor’s original creature (also Nelson!), in a cemetery not far from their home. The pair set about reviving the monster, but it predictably breaks loose and goes on an aimless and lethargic “rampage” eastward across the Midwest, killing, maiming, and scaring the bejabbers out of innumerable walk-on nonentities (some of them played by Nelson as well). Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Rock (yup— he’s Nelson, too) blows off orders from his increasingly exasperated captain (do you even need me to tell you who plays him at this point?) to investigate reports of the monster’s activities. Instead, Rock spends his workdays watching old horror movies on TV, reading various horror fanzines and comic books, and plugging the annual Monster Bash convention to everyone in general and no one in particular. He also keeps announcing (again to everyone in general and no one in particular) that he refuses to admit that his family ever had anything to do with the creation of monsters, which sometimes (but not always) seems to mean that he and Dr. Franken are secretly brothers. Forrest Ackerman and most of Nelson’s friends get a dreary, time-wasting cameo each, and eventually the creature is dispatched by a monster-slaying jogger named Janet (Janet Lynn)— who apparently performs a similar function in a number of Nelson’s movies. But on a minute-for-minute basis, what Frankenstein Stalks is really about is Nelson, in one guise or another, stuffing his face with junk food in real time and yammering while he chews.
Everything you need to know about David “the Rock” Nelson as a filmmaker is summed up by the fact that he likes to bill himself as “the Ed Wood of the 21st Century.” Quite simply, to make that claim on one’s own behalf is to misunderstand what Wood was all about. Although his name has been a byword for lousy filmmaking since the 1980’s, when Harry and Michael Medved dubbed him the worst director of all time in their Golden Turkey Awards, at no point did Wood ever aspire to such distinction. Wood made his movies to the best of his abilities, and if his abilities turned out not to be very great, it’s still no slight against the commitment and work ethic that he brought to bear in their service. Frankenstein Stalks, by contrast, represents something close to the absolute minimum of effort that it would be possible to expend while still producing what technically qualifies as a feature motion picture. Someone who understood, appreciated, and respected what Ed Wood put into even his shittiest and most worthless films, and who wanted to honor his example with their own work, would have written a damn script. They would have recruited some damn actors, even if they were just folks from the local community theater who were willing to work for beer on their days off. And they sure as fuck wouldn’t have been content to settle for how Nelson depicted the Frankenstein monster’s ostensible reign of terror. Incredibly, Nelson deemed it good enough to don a rubber Halloween mask and film himself bothering people at random on the streets of Chicago, inside Delilah’s (at least he has good taste in bars…), at that year’s Monster Bash, and at a drive-in theater somewhere, accosting them with tired extemporizations on the theme of “Grr! I’m the monster! I’m Frankenstein! I’m gonna get you!” Understand that it’s not the Halloween mask I’m knocking here. (Well, maybe I’m knocking it a little…) Monster makeup costs money, and you’ve got to cut every corner you can when you’re funding an entire movie out of your own pocket. I get that. What pisses me off is the total lack of planning, foresight, judgement, and basic giving-a-fuck— none of which cost a dime— that this “Candid Camera” prank of a climax reflects. I mean, Nelson didn’t even take the trouble to edit out the several “victims” who refused to cooperate with the stunt! And as if all that weren’t enough, there’s yet another way in which Nelson flatters himself unjustly by claiming Ed Wood’s moth-eaten old mantle: Wood knew when to stop. Most of his pictures ran a trim hour and a quarter or so, but Frankenstein Stalks plods needlessly on for 116 inexcusable minutes!
Everything I’ve just said is kind of beside the point, though, because this “Ed Wood of the 21st Century” business, inapt as it is, serves a practical function. It places— or at any rate, attempts to place— Frankenstein Stalks and the rest of Nelson’s work beyond the reach of critical evaluation. It gives Nelson an excuse to say, “Well of course my movies are terrible! Haven’t you heard? I’m the Ed Wood of the 21st Century!” The nickname is a bid to absolve Nelson of responsibility for putting in the kind of work needed to produce a film of any merit at all, and to make you the asshole for demanding to be engaged, impressed, or even just mildly amused. It’s dishonest and low, and it compounds the affront that Frankenstein Stalks was already committing simply by being this comprehensively bad and boring.
We’re doing cheap movies this month at the B-Masters Cabal. I know what you’re thinking: “So what? You guys always do cheap movies.” But when we say “cheap” this time, we mean cheap! Like, “How can you even attempt to make a releasable film on this kind of money?” cheap. Click the banner below to read of my colleagues’ adventures on the outermost fringes of cinematic poverty: