Trust me when I say you’ve never seen anything like Director’s Commentary: The Terror of Frankenstein. Like he did (as a producer) with Room 237, director Tim Kirk gets the audience to watch a film in a whole new context – warping our sense of what we’re seeing on screen by placing a commentary over it that explores the horrific incidents during the making of the film and years after it wrapped. By presenting a sincere account of fictional events surrounding a real film, Kirk and his team completely break down the definition of “meta” to create a truly unique experience that will probably leave a lot of people’s heads sore from all the scratching.
The almighty Clu Gulager* stands in as the director and Zack Norman plays the screenwriter, but the real clincher is that Kirk and producer Rodney Ascher (The Nightmare) got Kubrick-collaborator Leon Vitali, who actually starred in the 1977 film Terror of Frankenstein, to play himself. It’s a wholly singular, bizarre cinematic experiment that may be tough to digest, but is completely absorbing once you give yourself over to it.
For those who haven’t seen it, Terror of Frankenstein is a real movie from 1977, directed by Swedish filmmaker/jazz musician Calvin Floyd. It’s actually one of the more accurate adaptations of Mary Shelley’s book – though the slim budget makes it feel like a B-picture, the acting and production design are really quite good. Vitali stars as Victor Frankenstein and Per Oscarsson plays the monster. Oscarsson most recently starred in the Swedish adaptation of The Girl Who Played with Fire and its sequel, before passing away in 2010.
Co-written by Tim and his cousin Jay Kirk, the director’s commentary of Terror of Frankenstein takes viewers down a darkly humorous rabbit hole. The three voices involved only briefly discuss the making of the film, with the rest of the time reserved for slowly unraveling the cryptic secrets of the gruesome murders that plagued the cast. Why should we pay attention to Vitali’s suitcase? Why did Oscarsson disappear for long stretches? And what’s with this “immersion” method of acting?
Before you know it, the images you’re seeing on the screen are battling with the audio, as Gulager, Norman, and Vitali recount the murders, the trial, and the subsequent cult following the film garnered thanks to the macabre media circus. It’s almost like a Mystery Science Theater episode, if an actual actor from the film took part in the riffing (and did not get along with the filmmakers). It’s experimental, challenging, and ultimately just a damn good time.
The world premiere of Director’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein just went down at the Stanley Film Festival. We’ll be sure to post any updates on a release of this very fun piece of work.
* I know you all probably best know Clu Gulager for his genre work, in films like Return of the Living Dead, but if you haven’t seen him in Don Siegel’s The Killers, remedy that right away. He’s the epitome of cool.