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Doctor Strain The Body Snatcher (1991)

Directed by LaMonte Fritts
Nina Films VHS

If you want to follow the American Dream, you have to think big. You don’t go after it while picking out curtain rods or buying doughnuts. You go for it when you invent a wallet that looks like a hamburger. You go for it when your bass guitar has seven strings. You go for it when you write lines of dialogue like this:

“Either you are mad, or you’re pretending to be and if you’re not, you better prove to me that you’re not by telling the truth, man!”

Doctor Strain The Body Snatcher is why the American Dream was invented. Thoughts can’t get any bigger than the things that happen in this movie. Which is ironic. Because nothing happens in this movie. That is, nothing happens in terms of forward movement. There’s no semblance of rationality, narrative, or action. The bigness comes from someplace else. A place where people play solos on drum machines instead of drum sets. A place where a leading man wears a leg cast during an eight minute “chase” scene. It’s a place that was haphazardly edited and scored by someone named “Renaissance II” and also a place where the sounds of a softball game overlap the sounds of a zombie chanting over a grave. This place is mesmerizing, hilarious, and unintentionally dream-like. It’s an obvious labor of love. A force from within. A reason to feel good about everything.

Jessie decides to leave behind his life of bunk beds, frat houses, and friends-with-rat-tails. His uncle, Dr. Strain, has requested Jessie’s assistance with researching cellular regeneration. But look out! Dr. Strain isn’t just researching this stuff. He’s LIVING it. While attempting to cure his own ailments (sores, white face, a lisp), Dr. Strain has inadvertently stumbled on the secret to soul transference and the meaning of life. This roughly translates to keeping a goop-faced monster in the basement, watching a zombie writhe in the middle of a wheat field, and walking in hallways. Eventually, Dr. Strain experiments on Jessie, which leads to a psychedelic soul transference. There’s a flashback featuring all of the footage that played under the opening credits. A candle falls over. Stuff explodes.

Doctor Strain is a 60 minute Super 8 film that was shot in Westwood, California by an adult named LaMonte Fritts. However, watching it feels like watching a Nick Millard movie that was scripted by fifth graders who were trying to replicate Stan Lee’s style. Like Lee’s mid-1960s comic books, sentiment is overblown. Unimportant dialogue is delivered with call-to-action intensity. Ruminations on life, religion, and science are filtered through people who breath onto microphones, mid-sentence jump cuts, triple split screens, and synth songs that overlap when they shouldn’t. Background noises, like the whirring of a camera and a lawnmower mowing, drown out dialogue. Compositions are usually atrocious (heads are out of frame during conversations) and the sound is mixed in hard stereo (voices on the right, music on the left). This ragged presentation works well with the uneventful plot. The movie feels like it could fall apart at any second. Literally. It never does. It just keeps thriving on Lamonte Fritts’ sincerity.

Dr. Strain and Jessie walk through a cemetery. It’s not a real cemetery, just some crosses placed in a field. Dr. Strain, looking like Lon Chaney in Phantom Of The Opera, stands against an overcast sky. There’s no emotion on his face. All we hear is a loop of wind sound effects. Sometimes, the sound cuts out of the left speaker, as if someone accidentally taped over the cassette that was playing the wind. This is the moment where everything peaks. The inconsistency of the Super 8 film stock, the lo-fi make-up, the mistakes that were left in — all of these random elements create an unmistakably special universe. Like Zombie Lake and Day Of The Reaper before it, Doctor Strain transforms loose ineptitude into a dreamy, unintentional experiment that just happens to fall under the category of “horror.” It’s unique and beautiful.

Also, Dr. Strain wears a plaid shirt and Dockers throughout the entire movie.