Monday, October 8, 2012

Halloween Havoc: DOCTOR STRAIN THE BODY SNATCHER (1991)

You seriously didn’t think I was going to let Tom have all the fun covering Medical Deviants, did you?  I had to act quickly or else he would have covered the whole subgenre in about a week.  Of course, I played it safe and chose one of the most obscure entries in the “quack who’s cracked” category with DOCTOR STRAIN THE BODY SNATCHER.  This film is so obscure that the good doc’s name was never once uttered in Fangoria and I think the only publicity it received was a full-page mention in Slaughterhouse magazine (if you remember that, you old!).

STRAIN opens with a police psychologist, Dr. Moore (Kenneth Knaff), interviewing a delirious young man named Jesse (Carmine Puccio).  You know the police doc is serious about mental health because he has a make-up store dollar goatee on. Jesse has no idea why he is being held, but there is a litany of charges against him. Surprisingly, the one offense not listed is his acting.  Anyway, Jesse soon understands why he is here and wants to clear his name.  Flashback mode activate! It all revolves around the time he graduated from college with a degree in Biochemistry.  After school, he got a letter from his uncle (David Winkler) to come assist him in his work.  What is this mysterious uncle’s name?  Doctor Strain!

Joe Piscopo is looking rough! 
Jesse arrives at his uncle’s isolated estate (we think it is isolated as we’re never shown a wide shot of the house) and meets his uncle.  Oddly, he isn’t put off by the fact that Doctor Strain’s face is covered in sores and his skin is falling off.  Maybe this is normal in some families?  Over tea, the good doc explains he’s been working on brain cell regeneration and this has led him down a path where he can regenerate human organs as well.  He takes Jesse down to his basement lab and shows him his pride and joy, a serial killer he regenerated from death.  You see, Doctor Strain likes to raid the local criminal cemetery for his subjects.  His purpose is twofold – he wants to stop the degeneration happening to his own body and he wants to find a way to put souls into his walking dead. To do this, he is combining modern science with “God’s science,” namely alchemy.

Rather than put a strain (bah-dah-dah-dah!) on their relationship, Jesse accepts the offer and he and Doctor Strain jump right into their work.  What our naïve young assistant doesn’t know is that Strain is planning to use some of his black magic in order to transfer his soul out of his rotting body and into Jesse’s youthful body.  And you thought your uncle was weird! After some lab work and raising the dead montages, Strain manages to subdue Jesse and begin the body switching experiment.  But alchemy is a precise non-science and he accidentally sends his soul into one of his undead experiments.  Rather than stick around, Jesse bolts as Strain, in his new body, battles another undead subject and the house explodes (off screen, naturally).  All of this is what ended up landing Jesse in the jailhouse and guess who is showing up all bandaged up?  Doctor Strain!  He kills the cops and chases Jesse out into the streets.  THE END!

Framing 101
I’m not trying to be intentionally abrupt in my summary there. DOCTOR STRAIN does literally end mid-chase with absolutely no resolution (unless you consider “he’s still out there being chased” to be a proper ending).  And this end comes at the 52 minutes and 30 seconds mark before padded credits painfully try to get this to the 1 hour running time mark (spoiler: they fail!).  Believe it or not, it took TWO directors to make this wannabe RE-ANIMATOR (1985) flick and both of them – Michael Cornejo and LaMonte Fritts (if those are your real names) – seem to have no idea on how to make a film.  In my deranged fantasy, these two guys met after becoming Fangoria penpals and said, “Let’s make a movie.”  I do give them credit as they did shoot on film (16mm it appears).  But shooting on film and knowing how to shoot on film are two different ideas to them as they frame some shots so poorly that Nick Millard would look at their work and cry out, “Amateurs!”  It is the kind of film where blood randomly appears and disappears on Strain’s bandages at the end.  Where the lead has a leg in a cast as he skirts away from danger when the house is ready to explode, but has no cast in the police scenes.

Always best to do your alchemy
rituals during the daytime
Even worse is the sound recording, which sounds like they filmed everything next to a running bulldozer or industrial washing machine.  Not only are loud sounds muting the dialogue, you also get bits where unwanted everyday life enters into the soundtrack.  During a daylight ritual in the “graveyard,” you can hear children playing in the background. Other times you hear dogs barking in the distance and, in my favorite bit, what appears to be a few seconds of an off screen argument caught on the recording.  Classic stuff I tell ya.  If you can’t properly capture sound, then you know sound mixing is going to be even worse.  The film’s score – which sounds like a repetitive Nintendo game score – blasts on the soundtrack at headache inducing levels.

Now I have nothing but love for regional productions, but please try to make it at least look like a real movie.  To the film’s credit, they do have some cool looking zombie make-up effects, but they are again victim to Cornejo and Fritts’ full blown war declaration on mis-en-scene.  No bones about it DOCTOR STRAIN THE BODY SNATCHER is a complete and total mess. My dear doctor, welcome to my top 10 worst horror films of all-time list.  I'm sure you'll be very comfortable.

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