frankenstein behind the scenes

Last Halloween, I’d asked a few Nervous Breakdown contributors to share their favorite terrifying movie scenes, and D. R. Haney was among them with his contribution from Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I, on the other hand, had picked the tunnel scene from Willy Wonka, which I explain so you understand why I like collaborating with Duke. My brain grows three sizes bigger by association. He’s like a cinematic moral compass for which true north is James Dean. And this year for Halloween, Duke and I decided to discuss the classic tale that produced another old-school Hollywood icon.

When It Reigns It Pours

Prince Oscar is a nervous eighteen year old bedwetter with a rare bladder control problem brought on by generations of inbreeding within the Royal Family. His affliction is only exacerbated when both his parents die, and he ascends the throne and becomes King.

A madcap, heartfelt emotional sitcom about the trials and tribulations of monarchic duty, losing loved ones, and the all too real perils of incontinence.

A vague subplot involving Oscar’s on/off romance with the Norwegian ambassador’s daughter, and lots of jokes about ‘being on the throne.’


Wax and Wayne

Abrasive US comedian Ruby Wax and NHL legend Wayne Gretsky star in a contrived and fantastical sitcom inspired by The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Heroes, and William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience.

After a booking mix up, Wayne Gretsky ends up as a guest on Ruby’s dire BB3 talk show. A freak electrical storm then gives both Wax and Wayne superpowers. They now, intermittently and uncontrollably, change in size and shape.

Conflict arises from their obligation to use their powers to help society whilst still struggling to come to terms with the unlikely turn of events themselves. Also they have to live together for some reason that’s never really explained and boy do they not get along!

Humour is derived from the lead characters’ unconcealed hatred for each other, and also from the hilariously and unlikely lengths they go to in order to disguise their sudden transformations and explain their random disappearances.

In a twist final episode Victoria Principal wakes up to find it was all a dream.


Nena!

German pop sensation Nena plays a fictional version of herself living in an apocalyptic wasteland. Episodes focus on the day-to-day running of the Berlin toy shop she inherited after the tragedy, although also deal with the wider issues of attempting to rebuild civilization, and the difficulties in finding a man in a world where 99% of the male population has been vaporized.


Count Me Out

Count Dracula finds himself sharing a house with four goofy college kids who are always trying to peer pressure him into doing dangerous and occasionally illegal activities at a Midwestern university.

Every wacky scheme is met by Dracula’s catchphrase, ‘you can count me out!’ His excuses range from moral objections to his crippling sunlight allergy.

The remainder of each episode focuses on the Count lamenting his lack of adventurousness, considers theories of man’s true purpose, and ponders the existential quandary that is immortality.

In a twist final episode Dracula renounces Satan in order to enter a church and marry the bookish, mousy librarian played by Pamela Anderson.


Margaret, Thatcher

A historical sitcom about the day-to-day running of a roofing firm in medieval Basingstoke.

Humour is largely derived from satirizing Thatcher’s government by placing her political actions in a historical context that somehow also relates to thatch roofing.

In a twist final episode Margaret Thatcher resigns before she completely fucks everything up for everyone for the next thirty-plus years.


Going Straight

Butch Gaye is a notorious and flamboyant bank robber recently released from prison after a five year sentence for robbing a bank. Each week the authorities set Butch up on a date, hoping that he’ll fall for a girl, get married, and become a law abiding family man.

Each episode climaxes with Butch being arrested in various shops for stealing lip gloss, designer jeans, or male erotica. Every week we see Butch being cuffed whilst he protests his innocence and insists he’ll ‘never go straight.’

Humour would largely be innuendo/catchphrase based.

In a twist final episode it is revealed that Butch Gaye is actually wanted Nazi war criminal Rudolf Hess.


Nun the Wiser

Nunnery set sitcom depicting a group of recently arrived young nuns trying to get away with bad habits and mischievous deeds without attracting the attention of the wise, elderly nun, Sister Sledge. 

The comedy will be derived from the farcical situations that the girls get themselves into. Each episode will have a moral theme, with the episode interspersed with Sister Sledge reciting relevant Bible passages in a similar way to Jerry’s stand up bits in episodes of Seinfeld.

Humour mostly accompanied by slap bass.


Accidentally/On Porpoise

Dick Van Dyke plays a fictional version of himself as a stereotypical Italian-American mob boss in 1930s New York.

Each episode begins with someone coming to Don Van Dyke with a particular problem, which Van Dyke then vows to resolve. However, Dick Van Dyke proves incredibly inept at heading a crime syndicate. Every week his harebrained schemes result in much slapstick and countless pratfalls which contrive to resolve the established problem entirely by accident.

Every episode concludes with the grateful beneficiary of Van Dyke’s buffoonery asking Don Van Dyke what he did. Each week Van Dyke recounts various fantastical acts of heroism carried out whilst riding on the back of his trusty porpoise sidekick, Hamish McFitzlebrook.

In a twist final episode Dick Van Dyke commits suicide in order to live with Hamish in his fantasy world for all eternity.

Patchouli Morning

The metaphysical impishness, erudition and breadth of vision in this sexually charged roman à clef is Smith at his most vulnerable. We recoil in horror as he recounts a series of heartbreaking trysts that recall — then exceed — Flaubert in both emotional power and literary merit. Curiously, the novel stagnates for the first twenty pages with inane references to pedestrian, adolescent love themes directed toward a sophomore called only “Emily,” but it then soars for the remaining 344 pages with a narrative and vision as taut and authentic as anything in the Western canon since forever. And while the inclusion of the lyrics to Metallica’s “Fade to Black” in the prologue offers little in the way of relevance, one is reminded that — like black holes — not everything should be easily understood.

Lachrymose in Transylvania

Intoxicating, tantalizing, always potentially violent, this captivating tome helps define not just the current state of Inuit America, but the world at large. It is a book so erudite and well wrought that its aura somehow illuminates the rest of Smith’s oeuvre, sustaining his post-apocalyptic vision. And although Smith asks a lot of his readers (would Dracula really show up for the soap-box derby, uninvited?), we are rewarded for our efforts later in this tour de force when it becomes clear everything has been a dream — but not in that hokey, St. Elsewhere way — in that way that only Smith, at the height of his creative powers, can manufacture so convincingly.

Da Nang Disco

Can anyone write about the horrors of the Vietnam War like Smith? Maybe Tim O’Brien, but does O’Brien dare to set his narrative against the backdrop of a colonial discotheque struggling to keep the party going during the Tet Offensive? No. Smith weaves his flawless prose seamlessly through the trenches and pop hits of 1968 Vietnam while exposing the artifice and shady underbelly that was the 2001 Little League World Series. The daring cadenza that begins the novel is, as often seems to be the case with Smith’s first chapters, categorically unreadable — but not in the sense that they are ill-conceived or poorly written — they are simply too much to bear, like much of Joyce. The Emily character makes a dramatic entrance, screams, then leaves the novel for good. Again. It’s so haunting! Maybe I should just come clean here and admit that I am not smart enough to comprehend what Smith is getting at, usually.

Toggle & Yaw

Just when you get the feeling that Smith may nave reached the limits of his vast fecundity, he treats us to a space novel like no other. To call Toggle & Yaw a “space novel,” though, is tantamount to calling The Bible a “sand novel.” The book begins quite predictably with a string of complaints (as is becoming Smith’s modus operandi) related to a character named “Emily,” who appears quite substantially in earlier chapters then disappears without a whimper. What are we to think of this “Emily?” Who really cares, when, later in the novel, Toggle (a Type A cosmonaut from the future) explains to Yaw (a robot/fire hydrant with a history of drug abuse), “Thy sample science programs, like deep surveys and slitless grism spectroscopy of exo-planet transit, will compromise ye olde mission’s capabilities in near-infrared, m’lady. Anon.” Can you think of another writer who can meld flawless Victorian patois with deep-space discourse like Smith? This reviewer cannot.

The Rending

If it can be said of any writer living today that he/she has fused lyric virtuosity with a kind childlike aplomb, that writer must be Mr. Smith. The Rending begins with the tale of a particularly devastating train accident, I think. Of course, Smith knows that, in fiction, it’s often what’s “not there” that lends to the visceral beauty inherent in certain exchanges and turns of phrase. Indeed, The Rending, Smith’s fifth and finest book thus far, is an artistic blitzkrieg on literary expectation and norms, as the novel, coming in at just under 600 pages, features not a single word. If Kafka, Proust, McCullers and Nabokov pooled their best work and created a kind of “Dream Team” book, one wonders whether the ensuing scribbles could even be put up for consideration next to Smith’s magnum opus. The culminate car-chase through the byzantine streets of Caligula’s Rome recalls I, Claudius, with lasers. Not-to-be-perused.

Emily

On first read, one wonders whether Mr. Smith actually typed the word “Emily” 2,011,740 times, or if he in fact used the “cut-and-paste” option on his PC. Either way, this paean to lost love compels the reader to ask: “Is this The Great American Novel?” or perhaps, “What’s your return policy?”

Chapter One

London,

June 29, 1890

In the beginning, there was the voice.

That was how it began on that first evening, with a masculine voice calling out to me in my sleep; a disembodied voice slithering into my dream, a voice of deep tenor and tones, of sensuous growls, and of low, hollow moans—a voice laden with promise and with love. It was as familiar to me as my own, and yet I knew not whether it came from inside my head, from outside me, or from somewhere not of this earth. Hushed like wind through a valley and smooth like velvet, it beckoned me, and I neither had, nor wanted, power against it. The voice was my master.