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I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Doctor Hackenstein (1988)

The eighties had a lot of attempts at horror comedy. Some of them like Return of the Living Dead or Frankenhooker worked really well. Others not so much. Horror movies can be hard but nothing is harder then making an audience laugh so trying to jam them both together isn’t an easy task to take on. How well did Doctor Hackenstein handle this? Lets take a look.

The movie opens with Hackenstein hosting Dean Slesinger, his boss at University, for supper. They talk a bit about him returning to campus and moving his lab and experiments there. There is talk about his research involving reanimation of dead tissue and bringing things back to life. Yeah, this is another comedic take on Frankenstein if you haven’t figured it out yet. The good doctor wants to return the love of his life back to the land of the living. All he has is her head though so he will have to make her a body. Though due to the incompetence of his body snatchers he is all out of spare parts to make that happen.

Luckily, a car full of young ladies gets stranded and have to spend the night at his house. Shenanigans ensue as the doctor picks the ladies off one at a time to rebuild his wife. There is also a subplot with a local police detective who is looking for the girls after arresting the body snatchers. Eventually things wrap up with some Animal House type updates on what happened to our characters after the events of the movie. The end.

I had some hope for Doctor Hackenstein but for me the movie failed as both a comedy and a horror story. They lean heavily into the jokes and while I found some of it okay like the mute housekeeper and some of the slapstick physical gags it at most elicited a snicker from me. If the point of your movie is to make the audience laugh, then you have to do much better than that. Since so much effort was spent on the attempted humor the horror elements fall flat. Other than some blood splatter there is zero gore. And while I suppose this may be a spoiler, we find out in the end that no one died! Again, I understand that they weren’t trying to be a gory and/or nasty flick but you can do both. The previously mentioned Frankenhooker walks that line perfectly combining laughs as well as horror tropes/gags.

Before anyone sits down to compose an angry email to me about how it isn’t fair that I compare this movie to others like this please stop. While I won’t debate the legitimacy of using similar flicks as a baseline, I do want to point out that this movie is referencing and lifting gags from other comedies. From the Animal House like updates to the mute housekeeper which is very similar to the Ruth Buzzi character from Murder by Death the filmmakers keep reminding us of much better movies. Hell, they even use the name pronunciation joke from the very similar and far better Young Frankenstein. This reminds me of watching independent zombie movies that insist on showing characters watching Night of the Living Dead. Stop showing me something in your movie that I would much rather be watching!

Now it isn’t all bad. There are some familiar faces including married couple Logan Ramsey (Walking Tall, Scrooged) and Anne Ramsey (Throw Momma from the Train, The Goonies) so the filmmakers had some money to hire talent. I had forgotten how funny that Anne Ramsey was. Her dialogue and delivery are top notch. Legendary Phyllis Diller shows up for a hot minute, though she is wasted here. I also wanted to mention actress Cathy Cahn who played the mute housekeeper Yolanda. Her scenes involve a lot of physical comedy and are over the top. When she is on camera there is a different energy, and the movie is simply better. Unfortunately, all of their efforts are wasted with the uninspired script and direction.

Is Doctor Hackenstein a terrible movie? Not really. I’ve seen much worse but that doesn’t mean I’d recommend spending any time on this forgettable attempt at a horror comedy. There are much better options to scratch that itch.


© Copyright 2024 John Shatzer