This January will mark the 200th anniversary of one of literature’s most enduring classics; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, a gothic tale that at this point, is as old as time. Through the two centuries since its conception on what the author remembered as a “…wet, ungenial summer” in 1816, Frankenstein has been adapted, re-imagined and for lack of a better term, reconstructed countless times. Of these adaptations, no treatment has been greater than the monsters awakening on celluloid, beginning with James Whale’s pivotal Frankenstein and lately with the less than impressionable Victor Frankenstein.
Yet many of its cinematic interpretations have more to do with Tesla Coils and the consequence of playing God than they do with the being we refer to as Frankenstein, a resurrected assemblage of discarded body parts who, throughout its 200 years of interpretation, has shown more benevolence than most of mankind. That’s what director Scooter McCrae looks to unearth with his latest short film, SAINT FRANKENSTEIN; a stripped down, intimately refashioned and subverted examination of the monster that has – within the confines of its world – been roaming the land in search of purpose, of acceptance, and maybe vengeance.
Opening with a cloaked figure walking down a dimly lit alleyway, SAINT FRANKENSTEINintroduces us to an innocuous and tenebrous world that’s as seductive as it is arcane. Outside a motel door, our mysterious figure – a call-girl named Carla (Tina Krause) – is introduced to Shelley (fashion heroine and actress Melanie Gaydos), a facially disfigured woman who apprehensively invites her in. Once inside, Shelley begins unveiling herself to Carla, and with every inch of stitched skin exposed comes a story that slowly reveals not just who, but what they really are.
Scooter McCrae, who worked as a production assistant on Basket Case 2, veers far from the camp of director Frank Henenlotter, instead turning the gothic genesis of Frankenstein into a transgressive tragedy of exploration and discovery.
SAINT FRANKENSTEIN upends the masculine archetype of its titular monster by providing a feminine touch through an anatomically altered version. Shelley is hemmed together from what appears to be the pieces of women, her pale skin outlined by slivers of light that creep through the shades. In contrast, Carla’s body lies naked save for her cloak, her voluptuousness exuding a warmth that pulses on top of the motel beds stiff sheets.
Its transgressive parts come not just from what we see through the films smudged lens and cascading shadows but what McCrae does with the Frankenstein mythos, allowing his characters to embody their respective roles without a wink or nod to the genders of its source material.
Both Shelley and Carla uses their natural bodies, against natural darkness, to convey past and present. Shelley represents the past, born from the pieces of others yet determined to forge her own path in life, while Carla acts as an alluring embodiment of present pleasure, or so she seems. Each character holds a secret, and it allows the film an irresistible and provocative charm that enfolds and envelopes you, demonstrating the power of its simple point and shoot direction as well as its two stars.
Of the two stars to transfix is Gaydos, a commanding presence who – afflicted by ectodermal dysplasia, a rare disorder that affects the development of skin, hair, nails and teeth – turns the idea of Frankenstein’s monster as an abomination into a thing of natural beauty. McCrae’s film dabbles heavily in body horror, but it does so with the gracefulness of the actresses own innate ability to posture herself as a creature of otherworldly beauty. It’s a vision she, like Mary Shelley’s monster, wishes the world would view her for, creating a stilted yet pertinent comparison that allows SAINT FRANKENSTEIN to pulsate with life, even when its titular character is born from the pieces of things no longer living.