Sunday, May 16, 2010

Doctor Strain The Body Snatcher (1991)

How does a nice boy like Jesse (Carmine Puccio) end up in an institution for the criminally insane (if that in fact is what the empty cellar room on screen is supposed to be)?

It all begins when the freshly graduated youngster decides to go and work for his uncle Doctor Strain (David Winkler), who - like all truly great scientists - works alone in little house in the middle of nowhere.

Strain is developing a method to induce cell regeneration, but a never explained incident has infected him with his own invention, and now he is beginning to take on the features of overripe cheese.

The scientist convinces his nephew to help him find a cure for his problem. Obviously, the way to Strain's rescue lies in the reanimation of the bodies of dead criminals who will be needed components for some soul transfer magic. Unfortunately, Strain and Jesse have to cope with repeated setbacks of an unfathomable nature, until the good Doctor decides that enough is enough. It would be much more pleasant to send his soul into Jesse's body.

As sound as this plan might be, Strain has not expected that his creator has watched Re-Animator.

Oh, Doctor Strain, where do you come from and why are you here? Wait, don't tell me, or you'll ruin your mystique!

Before I start gushing, let me warn people of class and taste. Doctor Strain is a true backyard production, most probably made by a couple of friends and acquaintances without much (practical or theoretical) knowledge of filmmaking, and looks, sounds and smells that way. The script is bad, the acting worse, and every technical aspect of the film is deeply flawed. So, if you expect an actual movie, this is not for you.

I for my part never expect to find an actual movie when I peer into my box of dubious cinematic treasures, so I can wallow in the special beauty that only a non-movie like Doctor Strain can provide. This film is a true treasure trove of the inexplicable, with so much to love. First and foremost, there's the acting. Winkler and Puccio stumble, ramble and mumble through their lines, reach beyond mere bad acting into a special place only a few dare touch. There is not a single line reading that sounds natural, or human, not a single sentence that isn't drawn out for what seems like minutes. Especially Winkler is wondrously weird, pausing after every third word as if he has forgotten where he is or what he's supposed to be doing. It's a very special performance I'm bound not to forget.

Of course, the script gives the actors fantastic stuff to work with. Winkler is graced with one of the longest and most monotone mad scientist monologues this side of Ed Wood (that's a compliment, folks), with sentences like "Man science is of no avail to us here! We must use GAWD science!" only the beginning of glorious nonsensicality. Later on, he also has a very long magical ritual to stumble through. It's quite perfect.

The puzzling effect of the dialogue and the acting is further strengthened by the bad audio. Much of the dialogue seems to be squeezed onto one audio channel, while the other one is reserved for white noise and the film's score. Said score is just as fantastically bizarre as the rest of the film. I suspect that it is the product of a one-handed, deaf man and his casio keyboard, or, really, someone programming a synthesizer (with beat box) to make random, rhythmic noises. Say what you want, but that's the perfect fit for the things happening on screen.

Although I'll have to admit there isn't much happening on screen. Action highpoints are a zombie who seems to have ice cream on his face wrestling lacklusterly with Jesse, another zombie (this one green-faced) lying on his back in an open grave and shaking his arms like a particularly hopeless beetle, and Strain's soul transference ritual, which for some reason includes a slowly moving skeleton with large earthworms in its eyes.

Apart from that, there's much slow and confused talking, a long and loveable scene of split screen science and an off-screen explosion, until everything climaxes in a very slow chase sequence between Strain (by now dressed like the Invisible Man and played by a different actor) and Jesse. In a moment of rampant avantgardism (I'm sure it can't be stupidity, incompetence or bad luck), the film's two (think about that) directors decide not to show us the end of the chase, leaving the audience forever disturbed by the uncertainty of destiny. Well, that, or staring at the screen with a puzzled expression.


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