Now, in the age of stem cell research and DNA, we have “Splice,” where a couple of rock-star celebrity genetic engineers charge full-throttle into Frankenstein territory in search of magic pharmaceutical medicine to cure all ills.
This is also territory well traveled by horror filmmaker David Cronenberg (“The Fly”). And it is not surprising that Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) is on board as one of seven executive producers. We’re in the land of the grotesque and twisted.
Co-written and directed by Vincenzo Natali, “Splice” is more creeps than scares.
At its best, a mother-love story begins to blossom as the new laboratory life form becomes pretty and affectionate, inspiring scientist parents Clive Nicoli
Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) to christen her, “Dren.” (“Nerd,” backwards). Screenwriters Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor know their horror-film history. “Clive” is a nod to actor Colin Clive, Dr. Frankenstein, screaming, “It’s alive! It’s alive!,” in the 1931 classic “Frankenstein,” while “Elsa” is a homage to actress Elsa Lanchester, who played the titular role in the 1935 follow-up, “Bride of Frankenstein.”
Brody and Polley have the appropriate sick chemistry as the brilliant demented duo. But, what’s especially nice about “Splice” is the human acting beneath the computer-generated creature performed by Abigail Chu (young Dren) and Dephine Chanéac (adult Dren). Though Chu and Chanéac and special effects wizards Robert Munroe and Howard Beger, the movie starts to evolve into a strangely sweet family parable. Then, an ugly turn is taken as Dren senses her sexuality and Clive is sucked into something that seems somehow incestuous.
Filmmaker Natali is walking a fine line between breakthrough science fiction and over-top absurdity. In the end, he ops for “Jeeper’s Creepers” horror, when the monster sprouts wings, transforming into a rampaging flying demon that must be destroyed.
For those with a David Cronenberg-David Lynch taste for the bizarre, “Splice” might be your slice of “Creepshow” cake.