Do you ever wonder what would happen if The Breakfast Club (1985) met Frankenstein (1931) in Vincent Price’s House of Wax (1953)? Well, the answer is divulged in Scorpio Film Releasing’s satirical horror vehicle Frankenstein’s Hungry Dead (2013). The Hungry Dead is made in the same vein as Scorpio’s The Sins of Dracula (2014), but it does not suffer from all of the same pitfalls that doomed Sins.
A group of unruly teenagers find themselves confined to detention one day when their instructor makes them all an intriguing proposition. He offers the students an imaginative way out of their punishment, if they agree to peruse a local wax museum together. The kids reluctantly agree and suddenly find themselves visiting a statue-filled gallery of horror film’s most memorable characters. Driven by her own lust, and a seemingly abusive father, young Ashley (Shannon Hartman) convinces her boyfriend Colton (Patrick Keeffe) to return with her to the museum later that night after it has closed. Ashley is, as she puts it, dying to have sex in a house of wax, but is startled to see that the rest of her peers have also made the late-night venture. Despite the arrival of the others, Ashley gets her coitus from Colton in an eerily decrepit coffin, but the teens are systematically picked off by the museum’s mad tour guide Charles Frank aka Dr. Frankenstein (Michael Thurber) and a legion of his subservient creatures.
In the bowels of the building, Frankenstein experiments on his ultimate creation: he plans to use the body of one of his victims to create an unstoppable killing machine that will help the demented madman rule the world. The nerdy little outcast Katherine (Jamie Lyn Bagley) finds herself the last survivor, aka Final Girl, and she must summon the courage and strength to stop Dr. Frankenstein and end his ill-gotten trials.
The cast features many of the same players that appear in other Scorpio Film Releasing productions, but it is the emergence of actor Michael Thurber that helps Frankenstein’s Hungry Dead reach a level of believability that the Sins of Dracula simply could not achieve — Thurber actually portrayed Dracula in Sins, but had virtually no dialogue. In the Hungry Dead, audiences are treated to his deep range as a master thespian, and he comes though with a performance that flat out works. Indeed, his portrayal as the film’s baddie helps the picture achieve that all-important suspension of disbelief. The supporting players are also quite talented and on task in the Hungry Dead. Now, on occasion, actress Jamie Lyn Bagley seems to be smiling when she should be terrified, but she gives an otherwise stalwart performance. Her screams are absolutely blood-curdling and utterly believable. Bagley’s “frump girl” character eventually uses her intellect to thwart Dr. Frankenstein’s diabolical deeds, and it’s a pleasure to see the antagonist and protagonist so well-cast in this picture.
It’s also sickening how likeable the “mean girl” Ashley comes across, but audiences should give it up for actress Shannon Hartman. In most horror films audiences would be rooting for her to die, but Hartman’s acting choices make it hard for viewers to ultimately hate her. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s a combination of sexy eye candy and wantonly wicked on screen. Keep your eyes open for a hot, albeit short, sex scene in an old coffin. This was an amusing and creative choice by the writer and director.
The production value is off the charts, especially with director Richard Griffin’s choice to film on location at Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery in Salem, Massachusetts. The lighting helps to establish the mood and, combined with the incredible wax figures, creates an atmosphere of utter creepiness that is perfect for this horror movie. Next to Thurber, the Nightmare Gallery is the star of the show. It’s worth watching the film if only to see all the amazing exhibits throughout the picture. And the title sequence is a brilliant combination of set pieces and editing.
The musical score by Timothy Fife and Timothy-Lang Grannan is another high point in the production, as it gives the film a creepy and suspenseful soul. In the scene where Ashley is cast out by her friends, the theme plays very much like the score from Last House on the Left (1972). And the song “Lady Frankenstein,” which is performed by Tony Jones and the Cretin 3, gives the film its necessary anti-utopian feel. The lyrics and beat engender memories of Alice Cooper’s “Teenage Frankenstein” from Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (1986).
The picture does have its share of problems though, especially in some of the technical aspects of the production. While some of the special effects are very effective, there is a pair of on-screen blunders that will have audiences scratching their heads. The worst comes when Mr. Jefferson (Ryan Hanley) battles Frankenstein’s creatures. As Jefferson tries to escape, he is forced to the floor of the museum by one of the monsters. The creature then proceeds to rip open Jefferson’s torso, pull out his intestines, and chow down with another creature. Jefferson’s body looks like glossy taffy and it will completely jolt you out of the story when you see its fakeness. The intestines don’t look much better, even though they’re slathered in blood, but fortunately Hanley gives a virtuoso performance despite these inferior special effects.
The other FX faux pas comes when Ashley has her tongue ripped out of her mouth. There’s plenty of blood, but it is obvious that small pieces of cherries or raspberries are coming out of her mouth. Hartman pulls it off, in terms of her performance, but it has to be one of the cheesiest special effects in an independent horror film ever.
Occasionally, there seems to be some technical issues with the audio track, too. In a few scenes throughout the film, the actors’ mouths move either before or after the actual dialogue is uttered. It is a minute mistake, but this error should have been corrected in post-production. The filmmakers aren’t doing the film any favors by leaving correctable mistakes on screen.
Available on the DVD is an audio commentary featuring director Richard Griffin and actors Thurber, Bagley, Hartman and Hanley, along with co-stars Nat Sylva, Jesse Dufault and Johnny Sederquist. It is the only significant extra offered on the DVD, but is an interesting look at the production, which includes Hartman reminiscing about how uncomfortable it was to shoot the sex scene in the coffin. The only other bonus feature is the inclusion of 11 trailers including The Disco Exorcist, Exhumed, Murder University and Deadly X-Mas. It’s too bad there was no trailer for Hungry Dead and even more disappointing that all that buyers will get is one commentary track. The inclusion of photo stills of the different exhibits, or even a virtual tour itself, would have been a fantastic extra to include in the DVD.
Frankenstein’s Hungry Dead dangles on a slippery slope, but ultimately slides off the precipice. Despite some excellent acting and solid production design, the film suffers from a sub-par script and some unsightly special effects. As a fan of the genre and a champion of Indie Films, one wonders what would happen if Scorpio Films Releasing attempted a serious horror film. With all their access to legitimate acting talent, their high-level technical prowess and better-than-most production design, the studio could turn heads if they had a solid script. Fans would pay a pretty penny to see Scorpio make that film.