Directed By Jim Towns and Mike McKown
2009 – 79 Minutes/Widescreen
DVD Provided by Cinema Epoch
Article written by Craig Hamann

“Films for the rest of us.” That is the statement that editor Mark Engle likes to use to describe what Cultcuts is about. PROMETHEUS TRIUMPHANT falls deeply into that category. This is a cinematic experiment that wouldn’t grab a calorie of interest from moviegoers that like quick cuts, lots of explosions, and tons of CGI from the movies they see at the mall every weekend. Without a doubt, filmmakers Jim Towns and Mike McKown deserve much praise for having the intelligence, courage, and commitment needed for this kind of venture. Does it work? Yes and no.

The story is set in Europe during the late 19th Century. Oddly enough, in reality the plague was finally fading away by that time, but in this story Europe is still besieged by what appears to be the Black Death. A brilliant but renegade doctor named Janick comes up with experiments involving reanimating the dead, which he hopes to use to fight the death toll caused by disease. He is humiliated and driven out by his medical colleagues, who believe him to be a madman. However, shortly after that his beloved Esmeralda becomes a victim of the plague. Janick steals her body from the cemetery and begins his bizarre experiments, attempting to bring her back to life. Incredibly, he is successful. However, is she the same woman that she was during her former life? Perhaps more importantly, how has Janick changed? Is he still the same man that she once loved?

I’m going to cut to the quick and list the reasons why this movie deserves applause. Basically, every devise that is found in early silent classics like NOSFERATU or THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI is present here. The harsh black and white photography, film graininess, gothic imagery and themes all contribute to make this quite an oddity in today’s film world. Filmmakers Towns and McKown don’t hold back. They hit the audience with every Expressionistic element imaginable and attempt to faithfully recreate it on the screen. And that recreation part of it is fascinating. For example, it’s interesting to note that the story deals with bringing back the dead, not only in the form of reanimating one’s body but also in renewing the passion that gave the person life. I think that Towns and McKown are mad scientists in their own right, attempting to bring back from the grave a cinematic life force from the past. This revived cinematic life force is a bit awkward and unsure of itself, not unlike poor reanimated Esmeralda, and it may never truly blend in with the modern world. But also like reanimated Esmeralda, it doesn’t give up the struggle to adapt and finishes what it has started. I don’t know, maybe I’m seeing too much in all this, but I can’t help but think Towns and McKown became every bit as immersed in their own experiment as Janick does with his trials in the story.

Unfortunately, therein lies the problem with the film. All the accoutrements of Expressionistic cinema are there, yes, but as a movie that must stand on its own merit, it ends up being a dressed up homage with nowhere to go. There is so much tribute to what has been done in the past that the project lacks a voice of its own. We’ve seen all this before. Aside from some nudity and a bit more gross-out imagery than what one will find in the classics from the distant past, this current production does not blaze any new trails. It’s like seeing Beatlemania. No matter how much technical savvy is applied to the show, it’s still not really the Beatles and it doesn’t have the impact that the original band did when they, say, appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. The visual and narrative statements from the Expressionistic era were profoundly effective because they offered a stylishly unique voice. I think that PROMETHEUS TRIUMPHANT works so hard at looking old that it forgets to present anything new.

Cinema Epoch has done a nice job with the transfer. The widescreen image is better than expected, especially if one considers this is a low budget, black and white film that is digitized to look worn. The surround sound is clear and precise, which is great because the original music score by Lucien Desar is beautiful. Viewers will enjoy the variety of special treats, such as a great commentary track with filmmakers Towns and McKown (and some cast members), a commentary by Desar, outtakes, deleted scenes, a weird short film called THE SLEEP OF REASON, and a delightful Q&A session with the filmmakers. As for the movie, I’m going to recommend PROMETHEUS TRIUMPHANT to genre fans that are especially interested in silent films, particularly those from the Expressionistic era. While I think that filmmakers Towns and McKown got a bit too caught up in their devices, there’s no denying this film is a sincere tribute to a classic period in cinematic history.