Matthew Saliba is a filmmaker I have been in touch with for around three years now (hard to believe it has been that long already) through Rogue Cinema. He is a filmmaker that simply defines “unique”. I reviewed both of Matt’s earlier works, She Was Asking For It and his modern undertaking of Vampyros Lesbos, for the magazine and utterly adore both shorts. I’ve interviewed him (and will be doing so again hopefully for Frankenstein Unlimited) and regularly keep up with his work. He’s been talking about this project forever it seems, with updates on a weekly basis, so I’ve been looking forward to the movie for a while now. Essentially, it’s a project between himself and five other filmmakers from the Montreal area with one tying theme and that being stories with Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein being the number one influence. For sure, the Frankenstein mythos has to be one of the most universal tales of the macabre. People from all walks of life have enjoyed this meditation on defying death, but what I get from Saliba’s attempt here is that much like the tale of Dracula and vampire lore in general – there are so many directions that this story can be taken under view of a modern lens; so why not see what several accomplished artists can produce? Well, Frankenstein Unlimited is just that in a nut shell!
You don’t come into this film expecting just a simple re-hashing of Mary Shelly’s work. If you’re not familiar with Saliba, he’s a filmmaker that works with still photographs set to musical accompaniment. His films are always beautifully shot and have a great deal of fetishistic sexual energy, which makes his work this strange mix of older film logic mixed with modern primal sexuality. You can expect anything but the mundane from a filmmaker like this and Frankenstein Unlimited reflects those interests and attention to the stripped down basics of cinematic storytelling. His contribution to the project, titled Dark Lotus, is a dark and sordid little number that tells the story of a doctor who performs a C-Section to retrieve a pair of twins from the belly of a woman in his apartment. However, as he delves in for the second child some strange mob of roughnecks break in and proceed to butcher him. Without giving away the rest of the short, I’ll just say it goes back to Saliba’s interest in sexual rough play. An incredibly stark and brutal short from Saliba, it may be his best work. The gentleman who plays the mafioso looking lead ‘bad guy’ has this amazingly photogenic face, where his grimaces come across telling so much without a word of dialogue ever being spoken. It follows Mary Shelly’s story in a very loose way but at the same time crafts something unique and powerful. Very few times are you going to get this much leather on screen with a baby being stomped on. Brilliant work from Saliba.
Next up is Victor from Matthew Forbes, certainly a more dramatic departure from the previous bit of S&M fueled mayhem and style. It’s a very simple story focusing on doctor Frankenstein having to deal with the repercussions of his monster having gone on a rampage, set in the contemporary. It’s the day after said rampage and everyone in town knows it was him who set the beast loose, so what is he to do? A very simple short, in terms of length, but certainly an intriguing take on the subject matter. The way in which society deals with Victor Frankenstein in a modern day setting is interesting and I like the way in which his guilt is portrayed here. There are some artistic bits of flare, such as a certain character who plays the harmonica and a scene where time literally seems to stop for Victor while simply trying to fit in amongst society. Definitely an interesting place to take the material and one of the more subdued shorts on the disk. The following film is about as far from subdued as you can get however, it’s King Wei Chu’s Flesh For Kung Fu. Taking it’s title of course from the Warhol produced Flesh For Frankenstein (an amazing piece of cult cinema, for those who haven’t seen) and featuring one of my favorite actors of all time, the immortal: Gordon Liu. Star of such classics as Fists of the White Lotus and The 36 Chambers of Shaolin. Oh yeah, he was also in these little flicks from a while back you may have heard about, the Kill Bill series? So the basic story is that martial arts masters from all over the world have been dying at a rapid pace, leaving only two masters left to do battle. One is Gordon Liu, the reserved and collected type while the other master is the one responsible for all of the killing and is generally a distressed and angry man. The short is an experiment in action filmmaking with the director shooting the fight choreography well, not too frenetic but not too plain either. It’s a rapid paced short and truthfully I have to say it’s just amazing to see Liu still getting down. No matter what age the man may be, I think I’ll always see him as the bald youngster showing up on the steps of the Shaolin temple beaten and bruised, such as in 36 Chambers. Really fun short and certainly the most action packed, of course!
Reflection by Maude Michaud is our next short on deck, which tells us a sort of reverse Frankenstein tale. We follow a young woman who bears an awful scar over her face who ran away from home to join the "circus", which turns out to be more of a cabaret. She resides in the back stage area working as the makeup girl for all of these beautiful women. She strikes up a relationship with one of the dancers, who supports her to no end, even when she saves up money to have the scar removed through plastic surgery. What the short proposes is that sometimes beauty can create a monster unto itself. Power, by way of beauty, without consideration and respect for others simply leads to narcissism and hurt for everyone around. It’s a powerful little film with a lot of strange imagery. This one may require a couple of viewings to delve into all of the subtext within. Speaking of a short requiring multiple viewings, the next short from Peter James is a doozy. Occam’s Razor, the title of our short, is actually a principal that states when there are two similar stories based around the same outcome that the simplest is usually the correct one. We begin our film with two young people at a police station being interrogated, with both admitting to the same murders. However, that’s just where we begin with this short. I truthfully don’t want to go and spoil much of the plot for you since it’s so methodical and full of twists and turns. You really need to actually sit down and watch this one from beginning to end. Featuring what are some of the best performances throughout Frankenstein Unlimited, it really sells its image as a gritty and hard boiled detective story with just a little bit of Rashomon (from Akira Kurosawa) thrown in for good measure. Intense and clever at all times, I highly recommend it.
Last, but certainly not least, we have Mr. Fluffenstein from director Martin Gauthier. The sole comedy in the set it’s a suitable way to end this collection of morbid tales. Hinging on the performance of a cute little girl who brings her pet kitty, Mr. Fluffy, back to life after mom accidentally turns on the dryer with him inside. With Mr. Fluffy having passed on, our little girl digs out her biology and advanced robotic engineering tech books in order to bring her favorite pet back to life. Thus is born Mr. Fluffenstein, a robotic kitty cat with no soul or walking ability (Fluffy now just kind of.. appears). That is literally covered in the short as a way to hide the fact that the animatronic cat of course has no way of walking. It’s just that sort of short! Funny stuff and a less harsh tone after all the murder and mayhem earlier in the DVD. Frankenstein Unlimited is a true labor of love and it’s readily apparent. A bit of poetry directed at Mary Shelley and the dominating memory of her famous novel. Some of these shorts stick in your head, long after watching them which is more than I can say for a lot of the shorts that cross my desk within any given month. The shorts are all shot with an eye for style and range in their quality, but most are fairly well pieced together and professional. The pacing of the disk is one aspect that is definitely pitch perfect as the hour and a half running time just flys by. For those interested in reading more, you can visit the official website at FrankensteinUnlimited.tk – if you’re a fan of the story or short films in general, this should be right up your alley.