One read of the title. One look at the poster featuring the baby with a plexiglass skull cap. One watch of the trailer. . . .
I’m spider-sensing pure exploitation attitude of the ’80s home video variety: here comes the neon-wireframed VHS tape spinning on another Prism Video production (You Tube). I’ve just got Doc Brown’d to the wacked out worlds of Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, the Shapiro-Glickenhaus universe with the twist-fest thats are Ed Hunt’s The Brain and Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage and Frankenhooker (the final release from SG), and Fangoria Magazine’s “big studio move” with Severed Ties.
But wait . . . this is a Spielbergian family-friendly comedy-drama monster romp that reminds of Fred Dekker’s 1987 cult classic The Monster Squad (and Fred gave us the “required viewing” wack-fest that is Night of the Creeps) . . . and you know how we love the Dek around these B&S parts in the wilds of Allegheny County, PA.
Bottom line: Baby Frankenstein is pure ’80s VHS nostalgia. So let’s load that tape, the VCR won’t load itself.
Lance, a scruffy teen, develops an unlikely friendship with a pint-sized automated “robot monster” hiding in the attic of his family’s new duplex home. Helping Lance protect “Little Dude” from bounty hunters—including his mom’s sleazy boyfriend clamoring for that $50,000 reward—and Dauvin Lundquist, the evil scientist who created Lil’ Frank, is John (a fine job by screenwriter Mike Rutkoski), his socially awkward landlord and neighbor—who has a crush on Lance’s mom, Kim—and the sassy girl next door, Truth. It all leads to a final showdown where Lance must decide between the safety of his family and friends and the freedom of Baby Frankenstein.
While Baby Frankenstein brings on the analog-memories, this is a film born in the digital world: In the summer of 2015, actor-screenwriter Mike Rutkoski was searching for a director to bring his retro-unconventional script to the big screen (well, in today’s digital epoch: streaming platforms). So he reached out to director Jon YonKondy (the family-adventure Don Quixote and the Pennsylvania-shot Susquehanna) via Facebook. Fourteen months later, the duo finished a film that blazed through its principal photography in seven days in the Wyoming Valley area of Northeastern, Pennsylvania, around the cities of Wilkes-Barre and West Pittston (YonKondy is a West Pittston native; Rutkoski hails from Plains Township; actress Cora Savage is a native of Shickshinny).
As with the recently reviewed “mature actor” comedy Nana’s Secret Recipe penned by first-time screenwriter Yolanda Avery, Baby Frankenstein is a stellar writing debut for Mike Rutkoski who, like Yolanda Avery, is buoyed by an excellent, under-the-radar cast—headed by Ian Barling (Lance) and Cora Savage (Truth), along with Patrick McCartney (Ken, the boyfriend), Eileen Rosen (Kim, the mom), and Rance Nix, who brings compassion and depth on equal with cinema’s original “big green dude,” Boris Karloff—in a stellar showcase for their talents. And it’s great to see child-teen actor Andre Gower—Sean from The Monster Squad (!)—return to the screen (he left in the late ’80s; returned in 2006) showing his adult thespin’ chops as the evil Dauvin Lundquist. (Channel Surfing Alert: Wading by Antenna TV for “Catch a Falling Star,” a 1984 episode of NBC-TV’s Highway to Heaven . . . there was a pre-Monster Squad Gower as tempermental child actor Tom Barney. Very cool.)
On top of being an enjoyable horror-comedy, Baby Frankenstein—like the new indie-horror favs we’ve recently reviewed, Evil River and The Invisible Mother, and the introspective-drama The In-Between—exposes us to a great alt-rock soundtrack by Family Animals (Facebook) and Death Valley Dreams (Facebook). And being ol’ band and radio dogs here at B&S, we’re always up for discovering new tuneage. I don’t know about you, but the Animals’ “Metal in the Microwave” and DVD’s “Turn out Those Eyes” are as good as any tunes airing on today’s alternative rock stations.
Making the festival rounds and racking up over a dozen awards, the fine folks at Wild Eye Releasing have made this Summer Hill Entertainment and Tomcat Films co-production available on all the usual VOD streaming platforms starting June 30. You can “pick your platform” by visiting the official Baby Frankenstein website and learn more about the film at their official Instragram, You Tube, and Facebook pages.
You need more Pennsylvania-shot film? Check out our recent review of Jake and Andrew Hunsicker’s The Arrangement, shot outside of Philadelphia.
Disclaimer: We were provided a screener by the film’s PR company. That has no bearing on our review.