George Eastman, aka Luigi Montefiori, is one of the legends of Shitty Movie Sundays. His long career as an actor and writer spanned six decades before he hung them up in 2010. He’s worked with some of the giants of Italian cinema, including Mario Bava and Lina Wertmüller. He had a long professional collaboration with schlock director Joe D’Amato. He’s acted in, and written, spaghetti westerns, crime flicks, giallo, horror, post-apocalyptic sci-fi, and smut (although I don’t think he’s ever taken his pants off in one — I could be wrong). His face has been a constant presence in the types of movies featured in Shitty Movie Sundays, but he only has one solo directing credit in his oeuvre — Metamorphosis, from 1990.
A Jekyll and Hyde tale, Metamorphosis, which Eastman also wrote, tells the story of young genetics researcher Dr. Peter Houseman (Gene LeBrock). He is investigating ways to halt aging, which has been a Holy Grail in genetics research for decades. So far all he’s been able to do is induce gruesome deaths in lab animals. But, he is making progress.
Houseman is a genius, which is why he has been given almost unlimited funding by his university to pursue his research, although he hasn’t published anything in well over a year. Well, the free ride is over. The university has had enough, hiring an auditor, Sally Donnelly (Catherine Baranov), to decide on future funding.
The rug gets pulled from under Houseman’s research, so he decides, in a last-ditch attempt to prove his worth to the university, to experiment on himself. At first, results are positive. But, as things go in stories like this, there are side effects. At night, Houseman transforms, eyes turning yellow, into a violent maniac who beats women. He wakes from these states with only scattered memories of what he has done, like a drunk piecing together a bad night of boozing. As the film goes on, the physical transformations worsen, as does his mental condition. Sally becomes his love interest, because of course she does. Houseman goes on a murderous spree, there’s a final transformation that almost saves the entire film, and roll credits.
This is a shitty movie. There’s no getting around it. It seems that in all his time in film, Eastman took his greatest influence as a filmmaker from Joe D’Amato. That’s both a knock and a compliment.
There always seems to have been more D’Amato could have done with a movie and chose not to, for whatever reason. Eastman seems to have adopted that philosophy. There is such a thing as good enough, I guess. Eastman had a reported budget of 600 million lira to work with, which equates to roughly €300,000. That’s not great, but also not poverty stricken, compared to other films in the Shitty Movie Sundays Watchability Index that are much more enjoyable to watch.
The largest problems with the film center around the storytelling. Eastman couldn’t decide what he wanted out of the character of Houseman. For most of the film, the character fits the Jekyll and Hyde mold. Then he is old and infirm, becoming vampiric. And then he really does start whole body transformations into monsters. When one watches the film, none of this is a logical progression. But it does fill running time.
The final shots of Metamorphosis are downright hilarious, but they are a slog to get to. Metamorphosis settles just above the lower depths of the Index, where the thumbnails go all dark, displacing Fortress from the #388 spot. It’s a curiosity piece for those, like me, who are strangely fans of George Eastman.