Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) — Horror by pieces

“I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe.”

Justin’s rating: A stitch in time saves nobody

Justin’s review: It never fails to delight me that the modern scifi AND horror monster genres were birthed into the world by a woman in 1818. Taking a nightmare she had one night, Mary Shelley conjured up the classic known as Frankenstein and kick-started a pop culture legacy that’s extended through our times.

As part of an unofficial trilogy of gorgeous-looking if pompous and overwrought adaptations of public domain horror novels, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein joined Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the often forgotten Wolf. Studios pumped a lot of money and star power into making these “definitive” adaptation of Universal’s monsters.

Honestly, they were a little too full of themselves for my tastes. Out of the three, Frankenstein was the only one that I saw in the theater, and I was well and done with it before its credits arrived.

Staged as a flashback, Frankenstein follows the titular doctor (Kenneth Branaghchoo, who also served as the director) as he goes from a frolicking member of high society to a grave-robbing mad scientist. The end goal, of course, is to harness electricity to bring back life. Or, at the very least, to cobble together something new from a lot of leftover parts.

His motivation comes from his mother dying in childbirth. Apparently this was the LAST STRAW, and Victor is determined to end death once and for all. I posit that he’s lived a rather sheltered life up to this point. So he whips up The Creature (Robert De Niro), who still looks his De Niroist even with an abundance of scars and sneers.

Not quite right in the head (can’t imagine why), our headlining zombie causes no end of headaches for the Frankenstein clan. He kills Bilbo Baggins and zombifies Frankenstein’s sister-slash-fiancé (yes, you read that right). Between all of this are long, drawn-out scenes that make root canals feel like snappy affairs. There’s a lot of professing love between siblings, a lot of self-discovery, and not just a bit of Oscar baiting.

Frankenstein wasn’t exactly a massive hit — people rightly denounced it as a shambling mess — but it more than doubled its budget in its day. This was probably due to the star-studded cast, which also included Helena Bonham Carter, Ian Holm, Aidan Quinn, and John Cleese why not.

It’s a good-looking movie with lots of period hairstyles, outfits, and atmospheric sets. It’s the sort of setting that Tim Burton might have done something a lot more imaginative with, but here it’s wasted on a dull tale that swindled me out of five bucks in 1994 and two hours in 2022.

Didja notice?

  • Want to kick off your film pompously? Have a voice-over, 3-D credits, AND scrolling exposition!
  • Lotta dead dogs
  • “My name is Victor…” [four minute pause] “…Frankenstein!”
  • Random act of tree distruction
  • This castle has so little furniture and no guard rails on the stairs
  • Wait, did he just ask his sister to marry him? What kind of movie is this!
  • That’s a big honking attic
  • Deadly monkey hand!
  • That’s a very chaotic hospital. Just shove a lot of screaming people together in a single room
  • Victor really freaks out when his mentor dies

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