SHOCK tracks down actor Robin Ward to reflect on the ultra-obscure 1970 psychedelic horror film, DR. FRANKENSTEIN ON CAMPUS.
With the unfortunate VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN setting new highs for low box office openings (shame, really as the movie is really rather good) we decided to assume the role of the good Dr. Frankenstein. ourselves, sifting not into the soft dirt for corpses, but rather digging deep into horror’s maniacal past to find a film that time has seemingly forgot…
Indeed, a mere week or so before VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN saw release, SHOCK decided to stick our tongue deep into cheek and roll out a list of 5 Frankenstein films that failed to make the grade or effectively trade on the visions birthed during that fateful ‘haunted summer’ by Mary Shelley and her famous kinky friends. Sitting at number 3 on that list was the ‘lost’ Canadian psychedelic horror romp DR. FRANKENSTEIN ON CAMPUS, a totally daft 1970 melodrama about mad science, substances, sex and silliness that was in fact the first film funded by the Canadian government!
Free healthcare AND z-grade horror movies financed by tax dollars. Aint Canada grand?
Originally titled FLICK (we know this because the word FLICK remains on the bottom corner of the screen for the entire opening of the picture), DR. FRANKENSTEIN ON CAMPUS stars future Canadian TV weatherman Robin Ward as a young Baron Frankenstein, blacklisted from his native Austria and hiding out as a student at the University of Toronto. There, he conducts brain experiments on cats and dogs and has weird psychedelic sex with his comely girlfriend before launching a reign of terror on his classmates and the faculty. Oddly, the similarities between this and RE-ANIMATOR are interesting (and almost certainly accidental).
Briefly released theatrically in the US under its “FRANKENSTEIN” handle on a double bill with the skeezy NIGHT OF THE WITCHES, director Gilbert W. Taylor’s mad movie appeared occasionally on Canadian television but otherwise is about as obscure a horror film as you’re likely to (not) find. And while it’s not a great Frankenstein film, it is just so insane, so bizarre and so…so…Canadian, that watching it truly is a singular experience.
Ward is well known in Canada for his stint as a weatherman on National network CTV but he has had a long and interesting career in Canadian film and television including prominent roles in a slew of interesting genre projects like the noted Sci-Fi series THE STARLOST creepy “twinsanity” thriller MARK OF CAIN and SAW II; he even once channeled Rod Serling, serving as the narrator of the third season of the 1980’s revamp of THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
After penning that piece, the spirit moved me enough to make an effort to locate Ward and, with a little bit of effort, I did. The actor is currently in rehearsals for a new play but spared us some moments to chat about his stint making cinema’s strangest Frankie “flick”: DR. FRANKENSTEIN ON CAMPUS.
SHOCK: It’s rather amusing to think that DR. FRANKENTSEIN ON CAMPUS was funded by the Government, especially since it deals with mind control….
WARD: Yes the film was the first to get CFDC (Canadian Film Development Corporation) backing, which I think was ultimately a mistake because it set a doubtful tone. Because DR. FRANKENSTEIN ON CAMPUS was of course a ‘B’ horror film and would not normally have received the scrutiny or the reviews or respect that a pioneer CFDC project would and should have inspired. Consequently it was castigated by all and sundry…
SHOCK: How did you end up in the film?
WARD: I can’t remember how I got the role, whether I auditioned or just met the director. I was quite inexperienced as an actor, but I guess my work at the time suggested something that wasn’t quite real, hence my suitability for the role, perhaps?
SHOCK: The film opens with you fencing in Austria. Where were these sequences shot?
WARD: The Austrian scenes were all shot in and around Toronto, with the Scarborough bluffs substituting for the Alps!
SHOCK: It’s a demented film, truly. Was it always supposed to be sold as a horror movie?
WARD: God knows what the film was supposed to be! None of us really knew. I guess it was a horror film. It was certainly horrible.
SHOCK: Why did they change the title?
WARD: At some point it went from FLICK to DR. FRANK…I think they thought FLICK was too ironic and artsy. It got a limited release in the theaters, but went on to become a cult favorite on university campuses where it’s previously undetected satirical aspects were much appreciated.
SHOCK: The film is an extra curio in that noted Canadian rock band Lighthouse is the house band in the movie! Did you get to hang out with them?
WARD: We did see members of Lighthouse occasionally, especially Paul and Skip, who sometimes appeared during the shoot.
SHOCK: Any funny stories to tell from the shoot?
WARD: Well, I was supposed to wear an electroencephalogram on my head which they jerry-built from masking tape and which reduced the cast to tears of helpless laughter when they saw it perched on my head like an inverted jock strap. I remember we did take after take on a scene that had me wearing it because we kept breaking up.
SHOCK: What do you think of the movie now?
WARD: I haven’t seen the movie for decades. Years of therapy had almost erased it from my memory till you reminded me of its existence. As I said the film did have a kind of cult following and I sometimes am recognized for my part in creating one of the silliest films ever made. An honor I am not worthy of. It was a lot of fun to make; I think I laughed a lot during the film…especially during some of the actual takes when I wasn’t supposed to. Now it’s back to the shrink, I guess…
Here’s hoping that someone, somewhere puts some effort into making DR. FRANKENSTEIN ON CAMPUS available to strange cinema enthusiasts everywhere. It most certainly is a film that needs to be seen. And, once seen, I promise you…it cannot be unseen!