Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

What Went Wrong?
Guest Review by Mike Flores

Way back in 1931, Universal movie moguls gathered together to decide who would play the monster in the film Frankenstein. By deciding to choose a relative unknown, they passed up publicity that such a choice would make in order to keep the audience from looking through the make-up at the actor. They even went as far as to disguise Boris Karloff’s name in the film credits and original ads so that the audience would go along with the film. Sixty three years later, the moguls’ thinking has been proven correct. I do not believe for one second that Robert De Niro is the monster in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and that ends up undermining the entire film.

I do not have a film bias against big budget films that are middle class in their approach to horror. These films are “tasteful” in their approach to bizarre subject matter and violence. Style often surpasses content, but I’m still a sucker for a good facade. I appreciate The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing (the original) and many other “Big Hollywood” productions. But Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein has so many missed opportunities it results in a sense of frustration by the end. John Cleese appears, but isn’t funny. Helena Bonham Carter as the bride at the end brings a real sense of horror to the film but that is immediately undermined by Robert De Niro.

The success of the film rests then squarely on the shoulders of the star and director Kenneth Branagh. They aren’t big enough. The first fucking hour of the film lets us explore the doctors’ motivations. And explore and explore. Somewhere, someone forgot this is a story about piecing together parts of human bodies and that requires a degree of blood and obscene visual effects in the creation sequence. Instead Branagh uses the occasion to take his shirt off. He becomes the first Dr. Frankenstein to take his shirt off while creating the monster. That makes this film a treat I suppose for fans of Branagh, it did nothing for me but make me laugh.

Boris Karloff must be appreciated to this day for his role in Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein because he made you sympathize with him. I don’t care what happens to De Niro’s monster, and frankly, I enjoy Karloff as an actor more now that I can see him do circles around Mr. De Niro in the same role. This film may be appreciated by the same crowd that liked the 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula (did you actually meet anyone who was scared by the film, or did they all tell you how much they liked the costumes and hair?), but I think not. There was still a sense (albeit pretentious) of perversion to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It is wholly missing here.

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