The King is dead
Rock 'n' Roll Frankenstein a gross-out homage to Elvis
Elvis lives! Sort of. The King may have died decades ago, but his mystique is as alive as ever — if a guy in a white jumpsuit and cape can be said to have a "mystique." Recent sightings range from the locally produced play Viva Los Alamos to the South-of-the-Border Elvis impersonator "El Vez" to the Hollywood shoot-em-up 3000 Miles to Graceland.
With Rock 'n' Roll Frankenstein the Elvis mythos turns up in a down-and-dirty, no-budget midnight movie, and it's not one of his better gigs. Writer-director Brian O'Hara goes for the silliest, grossest jokes conceivable, with his target audience presumably being folks strung out on at least one intoxicant. And for a while, Rock 'n' Roll Frankenstein can be fun on its do-it-yourself, lowest-common-denominator terms, like The Monkees meet the Evil Dead. But when it turns from crude to downright nasty, the fun ends quickly.
Our initial trio of protagonists are bellowing, stogie-chomping record producer Bernie Stein (Jayson Spence), his mad scientist nephew Frankie (Barry Feterman) and dope-head assistant Iggy (Hiram Jacob Segarra), who has a monkey on his back instead of a hump. Iggy makes remarks like, "A mind is a terrible thing not to get wasted," while Frankie masturbates to autopsy photographs, which should give you an idea of the film's level of sophistication.
Their scheme resembles one of those dorm room arguments about who would make up rock 'n' roll's greatest band ever, if you could choose any musician living or dead. Bernie and Frankie want to literally make a rock star from the best parts of the dead ones: Jimi Hendrix's hands, Keith Moon's legs, Elvis Presley's head, etc. Frankie's lab includes a phony re-animated cow head as well as lots of genuinely squishy innards.
The problem happens when Iggy and his grave-robbing sidekicks ("I'm a roadie, not a ghoulie") raid "the world's largest collection of deceased famous persons' private parts." They intend to steal Jim Morrison's, um, lizard king, but instead end up making off with Liberace's organ — and we're not talking about his keyboard.
Zapped to life, Frankie's creation, simply called "King" (Graig Guggenheim) has a greenish pallor but a familiar swagger and Memphis twang. He gradually grows muttonchops and begins to perform music with flair, but finds himself unexpectedly attracted to men, while hearing an increasingly effete, lisping voice in his head.
At first, the quips about mincing ballet teachers are of a piece with Rock 'n' Roll Frankenstein's eagerness to insult anyone, with Jews and Operation Rescue also being targets. But the flick's second half is almost nothing but increasingly mean-spirited, gay-baiting jokes. Imagine if the out-and-proud Saddam Hussein were the only source of humor in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.
Late in the film, when Iggy, in a nod to Young Frankenstein's "Abby Normal" gag, says that the phallus came from "somebody named 'Ace," you nearly sigh with relief: At least there's a brief respite from the sophomoric synonyms for homosexuality and anal sex. Tormented by his divided personality, King grotesquely murders and defiles a topless groupie, and performs repugnant acts involving gerbils and condoms. Amid the violence and stereotyping, Frankie's be-true-to-yourself message rings hollow.
Rock 'n' Roll Frankenstein is shot on porno-quality video and occasionally shows some of the filthy inspiration of very early John Waters. A larger-than-life player like Divine could make it more than a juvenile freak show, but Graig Guggenheim isn't equal to the challenge. He has a few fun moments with rockabilly tunes like "I'm a Monster," but the film has surprisingly few musical numbers. Otherwise his Elvis impersonation isn't very confident, making you long for the dubious abilities of a Jim Belushi in the role.
You can't expect O'Hara's treatment of the Frankenstein mythos to have the aspirations of the Boris Karloff/James Whale films, but it falls short even of creative cult flicks like Re-Animator or The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Instead it rests near the bottom of the exploitation movie barrel, alongside Frankenhooker and Blackenstein. Still, compared to an overpriced dud like 3000 Miles to Graceland, Rock 'n' Roll Frankenstein at least looks like a labor of love.