When it comes to the legend of Frankenstein, I’m always cautious about any new project baring the famous creature’s moniker, if anything because there have already been so many re-interpretations of this same story. What could possibly be done now to make it different? Hell, it extends beyond film and into basic pop culture. Through the years, Frankenstein (and his monster) have been everywhere. So I’m always interested in any new Frankenstein-related project, but often I let fate decide when we’ll cross paths.
I heard rumblings about 2 years back that CANDYMAN director Bernard Rose was planning his own take on FRANKENSTEIN – the first of (hopefully) a series of modern interpretations of Universal Monsters – and that Tony Todd would be appearing. I believe it played a film festival here in Los Angeles last year, but I missed it. Recently, it was released on Blu-Ray.
This past weekend, I finally got around to watching it with a handful of friends, and almost immediately, I was completely blown away by the vibrant style and grace with which Rose chose to retell his version of this story. Set in modern day, the majority of the movie actually takes place from the point of view of the “monster.” The first frames we see are from his own eyes, complete with the blinking of his eyelids. His parents/creators? They’re played by Danny Huston (30 DAYS OF NIGHT) and Carrie-Anne Moss (THE MATRIX). And we understand right away that this freshly made man has the mental capacity of a newborn. Everything is completely new to him, including his basic motor skills and his simplistic view of the world. He instantly fixates on Moss as his mother figure. It reminds me quite of bit of Alex Murphy’s awakening as Robocop for the first time in Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 masterpiece.
As can be expected, he’s much stronger than the average man and harbors a bit of a dark side. But again, he’s acting mostly on impulse, and as a confused infant rather than an actual “monster.” Fairly early in his experience as a newly living being, he begins developing cancerous tumors on his face. Whatever the mysterious procedure was that Dr. Frankenstein used to bring this boy to life, it’s not working. His body is already beginning to break down. Viktor (Huston) shows no remorse about putting down this creature and trying again, but Marie (Moss) suffers tremendous guilt having already formed a bond with her surrogate son. Regardless, the decision is made, and what follows is some of the most heartbreaking stuff I’ve ever seen in a genre picture. (And it’s all within the first 15 minutes!) This is pretty much the saddest version of the Frankenstein legend we’ve ever seen. The “monster” is only mentally a 1 year old, and obeys the way a pet would. And in the same way, he’s scared, shocked and angry that his “parents” are trying to put him down. You can also see in his eyes that he doesn’t fully understand it.
They’re convinced they’ve dispatched their failed experiment when the “monster” springs back to life and escapes the facility in the goriest of possible ways. That’s right, the blood does flow and it’s spectacular when it does. The actual escape is one of the most impressive one-shot takes pulled off in a movie of this sort, but once he makes it to freedom, he hides in the woods with a dog, his new friend and only companion. Yep, as he heads towards society, you can imagine this won’t end well. And it doesn’t!
Now, a hooded bum on the street, he meets a blind musician (Tony Todd!!!!) in an alley one day who takes him under his wing. In reality, his body continues to corrode and decompose until, ultimately, he realizes that what he really wants is to confront his makers, both for the answer as to why they brought him to life, and why they tried to kill him.
While really, really good, the adaptation isn’t a flawless victory. The portions that involve Todd (who is great in his role here) slow the movie down a bit, and their living on the streets and interacting with a prostitute aren’t nearly as compelling as the grand opening or the conclusion that follow. Also, the “monster,” who does eventually get the name “Adam,” at times narrates the movie. And the narration is straight forward bits from the original Mary Shelley novel. Considering the mental state that we’re shown he has, part of me feels the movie would’ve worked so much better without any of the narration at all. The visual storytelling is so strong that I never had any doubt how the monster felt. It’s also a testament to Xavier Samuel’s sympathetic performance. (He was in THE LOVED ONES!) It took me a bit out of it when I was emotionally invested in the monster and then suddenly heard his inner monologue as eloquent dialogue, but that aside, I still consider the majority of this movie to be one of the best adaptations of the source material.
When I think about what I want from a monster movie update, especially one that’s a classic and so embedded in the public consciousness, this is it. All star cast. Confident direction. New & unique take on the material. And impressive special FX.
A company called Alchemy put this out, and I can’t even find an official website or Facebook page for them. However, this Blu-Ray is easily accessible via Amazon. I truly hope that A – more people seek it out and B – Rose gets the opportunity to continue his modern updates of classic monsters. His love and reverence for the source material is obvious here.