Frankenstein Unbound (1990)
When I learned that Janet aka Sister Celluloid was hosting the “Love Hurt” blogathon as a tribute to the work of John Hurt I immediately thought of two films to dwell on. One was the final film from Sam Peckinpah titled The Osterman Weekend, the other this throwback title from Roger Corman. To put it simply, I settled on this one because I love both the film poster and the legend of Mary Shelley’s Monster.
I recall when this film hit the local art house theater in my hometown. The importance of it wasn’t so much who was in it but the fact that it was a return to the director’s chair of Roger Corman. Here’s the guy who made countless cheesy black and whites and then treated me to hours of late show thrills and scares with the Vincent Price – Poe cycle. Somehow it seemed fitting that if Corman was to return it would be with a tale that mingled the future of science with the Gothic era,
Our featured performer, John Hurt stars as a scientist in the year 2031. He’s in L.A. perfecting a modern day weapon that is based on atomic energy. His “ray gun” destroys it’s intended targets to the point of them disintegrating or if you prefer just disappearing. The side effect to his futuristic weapon is that it creates time slips. Holes in time if you will. Strange clouds pass overhead and the skies can open up creating something that reminds one of a black hole.
Sure enough our modern day Frankenstein, Mr. Hurt is lifted into the clouds with his futuristic Knight Rider styled car and deposited in 1817 Switzerland where the script will twist fact with fiction.
Hurt being a fish out of water with his modern clothes is quickly made out as a stranger and by chance comes face to face at a local inn with Raul Julia portraying Victor Frankenstein. It’s a short meeting but one where both are fascinated by the other. Hurt for obvious reasons and Julia for the strange man in front of him with weird clothing and a wristwatch that apparently is controlled by electricity of which factors in to his lurid experiments. Hurt has the advantage here of history being on his side. He knows Julia’s future and of his notoriety.
Hurt will also meet Mary Shelley. He’s somewhat star struck by the young woman who would go on to write the supposed fictitious novel that is of course still in print to this day. Shelley is played by Bridget Fonda. The nice trivia angle here is the fact that her father Peter worked with Corman back in the days of the motorcycle craze mixed with the LSD trips of those AIP flicks.
“I am a scientist! I cannot sin!” This from Julia’s God like mad scientist when discussing ethics with Hurt who wants Julia to admit to a monster he has created who is terrorizing the countryside.
Portraying the Monster is Nick Brimble. It’s an intriguing design from Nick Dudman and a far different look than the Karloff or Lee versions from years past. This Monster can speak and reason though it’s of a warped nature where violence overwhelms his being. What he does want is a mate. This keeps the plot moving somewhat in the direction of the original novel.
Hurt will of course be forced into the proceedings of creating a female along with Julia for what Hurt refers to as “an abomination in the eyes of God.” He though has a few ideas of his own leading to an arctic showdown.
I won’t go any further with the plot though I would like to point out that despite the film’s holes and for me a lack of understanding towards the end, I still like this film immensely. I think mainly because it deals with the Frankenstein legend and giving us the impression that Mary Shelley based her novel on a real life incident That it is indeed far from being a piece of fiction dreamt up on a stormy night of games and challenges as history tells us.
John Hurt perfectly fits into the role of a futuristic scientist who has created a monster all his own. On the flip side he seems well suited to the era of 1817 he is transported in time back to. Shouldn’t be much of a surprise when one looks over his filmography. It’s an extensive list with films based in various eras throughout history.
On the flip side, Raul Julia is a rather cruel Victor. So was Peter Cushing yet Peter drew us in to his macabre experiments and desire to create life at all costs. Then again with Peter perhaps it was his arrogance and self righteousness that held our attention for a series of films. Julia is not likable here despite being an extremely likable actor who left us far to soon.
There’s a good score in here as well from Carl Davis and plenty of atmospheric shots of the Monster trailing a coach late at night as he goes about seeking his revenge by murderous means. They reminded me of the many coach rides through the woods in countless Hammer productions where one knew evil was lurking.
Academy Award winner Roger Corman would once again return to producing thus never directing another picture again. Sad but to be honest the time for the old fashioned horrors that Corman was essentially associated with have left us and while attempts have been made to reinvigorate their stories into modern films they have generally fallen flat. That won’t stop me from revisiting this title again in the future or plenty of other Corman titles of which I was raised on.
If you haven’t seen this one, check it out along with many of the other titles that our featured actor has appeared in. John Hurt has been and remains a strong presence in films that he has blessed us with.