New Frankenstein just wants to be a big man on campus

October 28, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles--When he was a junior in high school, Vincen Hammond had a scene in the class play in which he was supposed to kiss the girl. Since she was only 5-foot-6 and he already was 6-foot-11, that meant the director had to figure out a way to work in a chair for her to stand on.

Maybe that was when Mr. Hammond decided he'd better not count on an acting career. He wasn't going to get any shorter and directors weren't always going to be so accommodating.

But that just goes to show anything can happen in America. At 32, Vincent Hammond is not only getting paid for acting after all, but will do it in the Fox network's new TV movie, "Frankenstein: The College Years" (8 p.m., Channel 45).

He's still 6-foot-11, so you can probably guess what part he plays: Frankenstein's monster.

But not quite the way Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and the rest of the boys played him. Mr. Hammond's monster is the first to pass his college entrance exams, the first to earn a varsity letter and the first to get rid of those size-20 brogans in favor of basketball sneakers that Michael Jordan's feet could swim in.

And though he isn't the first of Frankenstein's monsters to get the girl in the final reel -- monster Clancy Brown walked off with Jennifer Beals in "The Bride" -- Mr. Hammond's monster is mobbed by them before the climax of his movie.

"I think it says something about the way our society sees things today," Mr. Hammond explained. "Frankenstein's monster is no longer the dark figure, the brute, the thing to be feared. He's not out there drowning children. He's just having a good time. That's what it's all about today."

Well, that's certainly what it's all about in "Frankenstein: The College Years," a comedy in which a medical student (William Ragsdale of "Herman's Head") discovers the monster in the secret lab of an eccentric and recently deceased professor. After reviving the monster, the student can't figure out what to do with him, so, naturally, he hides him in his dorm. Ultimately, the monster registers for classes under the name Frank N. Stein and, among other things, becomes a football hero.

In the film's funniest scene, the monster dances for the first time. To say he's a natural is putting it mildly. "Frank" puts John Travolta to shame in what amounts to a send-up of "Saturday Night Fever." The complicated scene was shot in only half a day with Mr. Hammond improvising most of his own steps to music he brought to the set.

Mr. Hammond's goofy monster is so engaging that the movie's producers already are talking to Fox about turning it into a weekly series. Nothing would make Mr. Hammond happier, even if it means putting his regular job on hold for a while.

That regular job is a partnership in a movie special-effects company which not only did all the effects for "Frankenstein: The College Years," but also has done numerous other films, including ABC's recent "Heroes of Desert Storm."

In fact, it was Mr. Hammond's effects work that led him into acting in the first place. While working on effects for the feature film "Predator 2," he was invited to play an alien "predator" in one scene because of his imposing size. That led to his second role as another alien menace in the current "Suburban Commando," in which he battled wrestler Hulk Hogan.

But the role of Frank N. Stein is a big step forward for Mr. Hammond, whose business partner suggested he audition after their firm won the effects contract.

"They were looking for a strange combination," said Mr. Hammond. "They wanted someone big, but they also had to have someone who looked young enough to pass for a college student."

Encouraged by the praise he won from the director and producers of "Frankenstein: The College Years," Mr. Hammond now intends to seriously pursue his acting, but slowly enough to avoid abject disappointment if fame doesn't come overnight. He figures the part at least proved he has potential.

"I never felt I was in over my head," he said.

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