In ninth grade, I was failing geometry. Each problem was an impossible riddle involving points, surfaces, and other trash. My brain refused to accept it. I felt helpless and frustrated. I wanted to resurrect Euclid, a forefather of this game of torture, just so I could run over his face with my Huffy Cyclone bike. I was never so flummoxed in my life.
Like geometry, Frankenstein’s Bloody Nightmare is complex, abstract, and totally frustrating. But unlike geometry, this movie has pockets of fun. Like the scene where Victor Frankenstein gives his creature a handjob, which then morphs into a fist-and-arm-job.
Victor is in a bad place. When girlfriend Victoria contracts a mysterious illness, he takes a leave of absence from work and sets out on an existential journey. This includes building a synthetic creature with a green-slime face who wears black gloves while stabbing people with a butcher knife. Victor wanders through hallways, forests, and back alley drug deals, and eventually roofies Tara, Victoria’s twin sister, so that he can sit on a couch next to her and laugh. Was Victoria ever real? Or was she just a psychological manifestation of Victor’s neurosis? You’ll never find out!
Experimental creative work exists first and foremost for the person who creates it. This type of work is a personal release, an exploration of a secret world that can lead to a deeper growth or understanding. The most successful experiments are the ones that resonate with other humans. That’s why Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures is part of the permanent collection at MoMA, while Michael Pollklesener’s Fuck the Devil is not. Both are important. But no one’s going to have an epiphany while watching The Fucker step on a baby.
Meditative and trancelike, Frankenstein’s Bloody Nightmare is an avant-garde mood piece that was made for no one but director John R. Hand. The plot is inscrutable. Most of the dialogue is delivered in mumbles, whispers, and reverb-drenched grunts. It feels like the movie was purposefully constructed to keep the audience at a distance. At the same time, Hand chose to shoot on Super 8 film with occasional video inserts. This keeps our eyes engaged when our emotions check out. Hand delivers wave after wave of beautifully crude compositions. Oversaturated pink, green, and orange hues turn sun-drenched Florida landscapes into otherworldly acid attacks. Thick bass synthesizers complement the creature’s Predator-vision kill scenes, and the rapid-fire editing keeps our attention when nothing else does. Aesthetically, there are few missteps. But when an impenetrable art-horror movie ends with ten full minutes of sub-Stan Brakhage visuals and no resolution, it’s a challenge not to be annoyed.
Frankenstein’s Bloody Nightmare feels like it escaped from the same sickly microverse that housed Barry Gillis’s Wicked World and Damon Packard’s Reflections of Evil. But unlike Gillis and Packard, Hand wasn’t able to balance experimentation with entertainment. After sticking with this movie for 77 minutes, we’re rewarded with nothing.
The silver lining is that my parents hired a tutor and I sailed through geometry with a sick D+. Suck it, Euclid!