FRANKENSTEIN VERSUS THE MUMMY

(IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT/RUTHLESS PICTURES (114 minutes; Unrated); 2015)

Box art

This flick follows, fairly accurately, the accepted Hollywood take on Frankenstein: A doctor, after years of research (and an overwhelming God complex), has discovered the secret to reviving dead tissue and, intent on creating life from death, hires an unscrupulous, borderline psychotic to procure human remains from the medical school’s freezers for his experiments. As the creature nears completion, all that is needed to conduct the experiment is a relatively fresh brain; the “procurement specialist” finds one so fresh that the homeless man it belongs to is still alive, so… he kills him, delivering the organ to the doctor, demanding more money to buy his silence. Of course, the two argue, the brain is damaged beyond use during a struggle which sees the doctor forced to take fatal defensive action against his associate. Suddenly, the problem of the useless specimen has been solved; the recently deceased felon will supply the final piece to the doctor’s cruel attempt at reincarnation. Oh, yeah… there’s also an ancient mummy in this version.

FRANKENSTEIN VERSUS THE MUMMY (Ashton Leigh) (publicity still)

FRANKENSTEIN VERSUS THE MUMMY (Ashton Leigh) (publicity still)

This flick follows, fairly accurately, the accepted Universal Monsters take on the Mummy: An archeology professor has unearthed the tomb of a long-forgotten pharaoh of a minor Egyptian dynasty, a cruel ruler whose soul, as the result of a curse, is trapped forever in his body, after having his senses physically removed… first his tongue was cut out, then his ears were cut off, then his nose; they let him keep his eyes long enough to force him to watch them whack his tally (which, I suppose, is where the term “tallywhacker” comes from). The archeologist and his scientific dig-buddies return to the school’s Ancient Studies building, mutilated, mummified (but, then, weren’t they all) king in tow, to better study what is a prime specimen of the ancient art. Of course, the department head is enthralled by the spirit after finding and removing the cursed talisman from the well-preserved corpse, leading to several wickedly violent murders by, not only the mummy, but also the professor. Naturally, one of the professor’s assistants is a beautiful young Egyptologist who just happens to be the spitting image of the priestess responsible for cursing the senseless pharaoh. Oh, yeah… there’s also a chain-smoking, smack-talking modern day reanimated creature in this version.

FRANKENSTEIN VERSUS THE MUMMY (Brandon DeSpain) (publicity still)

FRANKENSTEIN VERSUS THE MUMMY (Brandon DeSpain) (publicity still)

Okay… I couldn’t resist the two-pronged introduction and, while it may seem that I am not a fan of FRANKENSTEIN VERSUS THE MUMMY, it does retain enough of the classic horror movie feel to make it worthwhile… even enjoyable… despite the flaws (most of which will be discussed throughout the course of this review). The two plots weave in and out of each other, leading to the all-too short climactic duel, as the two main antagonists are not only on staff at the college, but are also lovers, reconnecting upon the return of Egyptology professor Naihla Kahlil (portrayed by a magnificent specimen in her own right, Ashton Leigh). The slightly unhinged (at least, in the beginning of the story) anatomy professor is only identified once, as he writes his name on the chalk board as, simply, Professor F. Naturally, Naihla calls him by his Christian name, Victor (played by an equally magnificent specimen, Max Rhyser). As Professor F’s “assistant,” Carter (played to the oily hilt by John Pickett), begins to exhibit more of the homicidal traits that made him perfect for the job, Professor Walton (a VERY creepy performance from Boomer Tibbs… a guy who was obviously built to be in horror movies) is well on his way to becoming the pharaoh’s conduit for collecting human sacrifices and, in general, its all-around toady. With the body count in the Ancient Studies building steadily rising, Carter meets his demise at the hands of Professor F, who certainly knows a good thing when he sees it (or maybe not, since he blew off a date with the delectable Professor Kahlil to work on his pet project), confiscating the felon’s brain to complete his set of human remains and placing it in the cranium of the lifeless creature he has constructed.

FRANKENSTEIN VERSUS THE MUMMY (Constantin Tripes) (publicity still)

FRANKENSTEIN VERSUS THE MUMMY (Constantin Tripes) (publicity still)

Unfortunately, for Victor, Naihla follows him to his sewer sanctuary, where his experiments have all taken place and where the VERY upset Carter discovers what he has become. So, distraught and confused, Naihla decides to clear her mind with a visit to the mummy, Userkara (a combination of digital trickery and an amazing make-up job on actor Brandon DeSpain, courtesy of writer/director/special effects make-up artist Damien Leone). Walton, having fed the pharaoh’s need for blood, is caught off guard by her sudden appearance and, more so by Userkara’s fascination with the beautiful Egyptologist… it seems that he believes her to be the sorceress who cursed him to an eternity stuck in his current form. As things go from bad to worse – in the sewer and in the examination room – Carter, in the body of the creature (Constantin Tripes in a make-up that leaves something to be desired), has beaten Professor F and chained him to some pipes (the very pipes the professor had only recently chained the Carter creature to) and is off to exact his revenge by raping and pillaging Professor Kahlil; while this is happening, Naihla has convinced the pharaoh that she will remove his curse if he kills Walton (before Walton can kill her), leading to that gentleman’s gruesome demise.

RANKENSTEIN VERSUS THE MUMMY (Max Rhyser and Constantin Tripes) (publicity still)

RANKENSTEIN VERSUS THE MUMMY (Max Rhyser and Constantin Tripes) (publicity still)

Naihla heads for the sewer in search of her beloved (if just a tad maniacal) Victor, Userkara in lumbering pursuit, at about the same time that Professor F’s creature is making his way out of the sewer; naturally, the two monsters meet for an impromptu throw-down. From there, things happen rather quickly, leading to a not unexpected ending (at least, not unexpected if you’re familiar with the nearly 85 year history of the Universal movie monsters). Overall, I gotta say that I found FRANKENSTEIN VERSUS THE MUMMY as much fun as any monster movie I’ve seen in a while but, as mentioned, it is not without its flaws. I’m sure that you’ll pick up on most of them yourself but, there is one that I just have to rant about: Victor’s creation appears unfortunately cartoonish. The facial make-up makes it look like a comedic approximation of the face paint – a skeletal white – worn by ex-Misfit Michale Graves during his tenure in that band and, it looks even worse against the buff and tanned body that makes up the rest of the monster; if the white make-up had been present from head to toe, the effect would have been much better. It may not seem like a big thing, but it was all I could focus on in virtually every scene the creature appeared in. The movie is quite brutal and bloody in parts and, though unrated, should probably be considered at least an “R.” Parents should take that into consideration before buying it or renting it for anyone younger than 17.


UNDER WRAPS

(DVD and Digital; ARC ENTERTAINMENT/KICKSTART PRODUCTIONS (47 minutes, Rated PG); 2014)

UnderWraps_2D

I recently reviewed a “kiddie” movie called AVA AND LALA, a really bad example of what passes for “family-friendly” viewing these days (it actually received positive reviews from several Christian sites, even though the Ava character has virtually no redeeming values and exemplifies many non-Christian traits, such as disrespect to others, covetousness and hubris). Still cringing from that experience, I approached UNDER WRAPS with a sense of trepidation. Just a few minutes into the flick, I found myself mumbling, “Now, this is more like it!” UNDER WRAPS is, thankfully, standard-issue American style animation and storytelling (though most of the production team and animators are British or Indian), with plenty of adventure, action, comedy, thrills, chills and a message that everyone can relate to.

UNDER WRAPS (publicity still)

UNDER WRAPS (publicity still)

The story centers around twelve-year-old Danny (voiced by Nick Wolfhard) and his wi-fi starved older sister, Eleanor (Kazumi Evans), whose archeologist parents (Brian Drummond and Brooke Shields) have dragged them halfway around the world on an Egyptian expedition. Danny is excited to help his parents; they, unfortunately for him, think he’s too young and… uh… too “hands on” to take into the tomb. In his quest for adventure, he tends to act before he thinks things all the way through, leading to plenty of broken relics, groundings and, of course, releasing a curse that turns his parents into mummies. Unlike Ava from the previously reviewed AVA AND LALA, the kids learn their lessons early on as, through the course of the flick, they learn the importance of family, working together to reverse the curse before the sun sets and their parents become permanently mummified.

UNDER WRAPS (publicity still)

UNDER WRAPS (publicity still)

The curse is accidentally activated when Danny drops and breaks a relic he took from the tomb, setting into motion a fun, fast-paced adventure through the Howard’s hometown. As he and Eleanor take charge (and try to hide their rapidly deteriorating parents), they are stopped by a pair of marginally inept police officers (Brenda Crichlow, Colin Murdock). The officers continue to show up at the worst times possible, leading to some of the funniest moments of the movie. One of the funniest moments occurs when the kids go shopping for the ingredients needed to stop the curse. The cops, of course, take their coffee break in the same grocery. By this point, the parents have become the children, not listening to instructions to remain in the vehicle and out of site. They do neither and are soon wreaking havoc in the store. Drake Bell voices an excitable kid in a squid costume who, after being set upon by Mister Howard, gets no sympathy from anyone because, “That’s a mummy… mummies don’t eat brains. Zombies eat brains.” The mummified Howards, naturally, win the award for best costume.

UNDER WRAPS (publicity still)

UNDER WRAPS (publicity still)

Along the way, the siblings are set upon by a monstrous mummy (who looks a lot like Iron Maiden’s mascot and cover boy, Eddie), who is looking to retrieve the broken artifact. Eleanor and Danny finally decide that they may be in over their heads as sundown approaches and take their parents’ assistant, Peter (Matthew Lillard), into their confidence. This leads to a final confrontation as the four Howards, Peter, the two cops and the Pharaoh mummy converge for a final showdown. It should be fun for the younger kids to follow the clues throughout to figure out how the story ends.

UNDER WRAPS (publicity still)

UNDER WRAPS (publicity still)

The movie is rated PG. It does feature some rude humor and the Pharaoh mummy can be a pretty scary thing for really young kids; the action sequences are fairly mild and funny enough to be enjoyed by everybody in the family. UNDER WRAPS would be a good Halloween “scare” for kids above, say, the age of eight, particularly tweeners. The messages of responsibility and working together as a family will not be lost on that age group.