by Jason Suzuki
The DVD commentary track is a frontier open to narrative exploration and much like the video game let’s play not many have seen it as a device for storytelling. Sometimes an actor will do a commentary in character, mainly for laughs rather than some sort of self-reflexive narrative continuation for the character. The biggest problem with conveying a story through a commentary is that you need a film to begin with. MST3K works because those were real films they were watching; it’s something that grounds the banter during the film that developed characters and their personalities. This experience directed by Tim Kirk (producer on Room 237 and The Nightmare) takes a real film, necessary to any sort of success one might have with tales of murderous BTS terrors. That the film is relatively obscure helps.
The Terror of Frankenstein is a 1977 adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel which aimed to be more faithful to the source material, complete with frame story. In this film Frankenstein is played by Leon Vitali, who will later show up in the final act of the commentary track, adding another gesture of authenticity. The track features the “director” and the “writer” of The Terror of Frankenstein played by Clu Gulager and Zack Norman. They reluctantly sit down to attempt to discuss the film, instead they alternately skirt around and confront all the tragedy that happened during and after the production, a series of murders and atrocities that have given the film a sick cult following.
The opening minutes of the film recreate the experience of traversing a DVD menu to turn on a director’s commentary. It’s yet another clever touch to the experience but the performances and the careful timing of the track, in which certain reveals sometimes line up to coincide with a certain part of the film to achieve maximum juxtaposition or alignment show how ripe for drama a fabricated DVD commentary can be. This is a format perfect for subtle chamber plays in which two films unfold, one visually and one aurally.
Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.