I’ve been watching a lot of independent horror filmmaking recently as part of Midwest Film Journal’s partnership with Heartland Film Festival’s Heartland Horror sub-programming slate. Most small-budget horror focuses on one special effect, scene, setting or moment that defines the story being told. The best ones succeed at capturing a tone for the totality of the story, which makes up for necessary editorial choices, budget constrains, and the difficulty of conveying a complex vision with only 10 days to shoot and a bunch of people form your personal life pitching in loose amateur performances.
Baby Frankenstein isn’t a horror movie per se although it borrows the name and elements of horror’s most iconic mad scientist. It’s actually a coming-of-age comedy about two teens, Lance (Ian Barling) and Truth (Cara Savage), who end up on the run with Baby Frankenstein (Rance Nix), who is pursued by all sorts of nefarious nasties who want to cash in on the bounty on his head. Baby is nasty to look at, with a makeup job that properly hampers Nix’s ability to emote and a translucent skull-cap for maximum fake-brain exposure. There’s little spookiness here, but looking at that makeup job? Pretty gross.
Despite not being a horror film, Baby Frankenstein captures the “coming of age” misadventures tone quite well. There is a general lightness to it — even when the bad guys close in — that I found pleasant and appropriate for Halloween-time viewing. Director Jon YonKondy and writer Mike Rutkoski make the right choice in aiming for an early-1990s horror-as-backdrop-for-teens-learning feel. Not much horror, but plenty of teens figuring themselves out and enjoying the presence of an innocent monster who helps them fall into and escape bouts of serious mischief. A silly and aptly strange independent foray into horror.