Corman, often refered to as the Master of B-movies has been responsible
for over 300 movies as a producer, introducing the likes of Francis
Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese to the cinema business. He also took the directors chair occasionally, most notably in the 1960s when his House of Usher (1960) cued the start of the classic AIP Gothic cycle. After shooting his WWI movie The Red Baron (1971), Corman had retired from directing until he was tempted back with the offer of a big budget to shoot a Roger Corman's Frankenstein. Trying to avoid simply shooting another take on the well known story, he loosely based the screenplay on the novel Frankenstein Unbound by Brian Aldiss.
- Dr. Joe Buchanan (John Hurt) is the scientist behind a new super
weapon program, using high powered energy to blast objects out
of time and space, but it has had side effects, and has caused time
shifts and rips in space across the world. While at home, Buchanan is
attacked by a mounted horseman who comes through a time shift, and
he and his car are pulled back through. He finds himself in 1817
Switzerland, and encounters a Dr. Frankenstein who is mourning the
apparent murder of his young brother by the maid Justine. Baffled by
the encounter with this "fictional" character, Buchanan follows him to
a meeting he has with a hideous creature who is demanding something of
the doctor. Later, Buchanan encounters the young Mary Godwin (Bridget
Fonda) and realises that she is basing her book, by chance on what is
really going on. Aware of the conclusion of the book, Buchanan
desperately tries to save Justine, and Frankenstein's fiancée
Elizabeth, but finds himself stuck in a time he does not understand,
until he realises he might be able to cause another time-space rift...
many similar stories, the film includes an introduction that needs
to set-up the characters and plot, but yet is irrelevant to the main
story, and has to balance between cutting it too short and leaving
characters undeveloped, or running too long and not allowing the real
story to be told - in this case the initial sequence set in the future
noticeably too brief (running to just six minutes) giving us no real
information about Buchanan and what sort of person he is. On
arrival in 1817 (although Mary Godwin actually stayed in Switzerland in 1816), we find
ourselves thrown right into the middle of the Frankenstein story (it
is helpful to have read the book to know what is going on), and
the story would certainly be interesting enough with Buchanan
(forearmed with a
knowledge of what is going on) trying to interfere in history and save
the innocent Justine, however Corman confuses matters by introducing
Mary Shelley (under her proper maiden name of Mary Godwin) to the mix.
Aldiss used this idea in his book, having Shelley's writing actually
coming true as she penned it, but the screenplay here seems to suggest
that it is mere co-incidence that what she writes is actually going on,
raising all sorts of questions, and leaving almost all of them
unanswered, as do the film's random nightmare sequences that seem to be building to a point, but never being completed. Despite the rather short run-time, the film wastes a considerable amount of time with Buchanan
encountering Percy Shelly and Lord Byron at their lakeside house near
Geneva and then seducing Mary herself. The rather overblown
finalé equally makes little sense (quite why Buchanan thinks
that blasting the doctor and his creation through time would help
anything is never explained) and it seems overlong. The links to Mary Shelley's book are relatively limited, although of course both the Aldiss
novel and this subsequent film have essentially created an alternate
timeline which can excuse the alterations. Most interesting and
noticable is the change made
to Victor Frankenstein himself - no longer the almost whimpish and
helpless character that Shelley devised, he becomes cold hearted
and scheming, repeatedly trying to kill his creation, and eventually
conspiring with it. This is most noticable in regards to the fate of
the maid Justine (accused of the murder of young William Frankenstein,
which was actually comitted by the creature) where it is clear that
Victor is aware of what has happened, and is keeping quiet to save
himself (whereas Mary Shelley's Victor is stunned into silence, and
aware that his "evidence" would seem like the ravings of a madman and
do nothing to help). The creature itself is well written, at one point
it stands completely still as Victor loads a gun to shoot him,
obviously unaware of what is going on. However, the writer obviously
overestimates how clever his dialogue is, and the creature's frequent
requests about who "made" other people is in contrast to the
knowledge of his origins that made him so angry and lead him to track
down Frankenstein in the first place (as per the Shelley story at
direction is decent, and tells the story well - production values are
very good (Corman always could make the most of a low budget, and had a
lot more than usual to play with here) with well realised 19th Century
settings, some realistic looking gore, and some very nice futuristic
sets, particularly towards the film's climax, as well
as Buchanan's classic sci-fi style futuristic super-car, with its
own Artificial Intelligence. Composer Carl Davis (who is best known for
his silent movie scores) provides a good orchestral soundtrack).
Hurt takes the lead role and gives a strong performance as Dr.
Buchanan, although he does seem rather old to be seducing Mary Godwin.
Nick Brimble is heavily made-up as the Creature and gives a rather
unimpressive, overstated performance, although Raul Julia has an
effective, calm attitude as Frankenstein - hardly the Shelley
character, but seems to suit the film. The very attractive Bridget
Fonda plays Shelley/Godwin herself but hardly gets much to do, and much
to the chagrin of male viewers, keeps covered up during the sex scene.
The rest of the cast are decent, although the presence of some
middle-American accents in the extras does rather destroy the film's
Mary Shelley would be shocked, and Brian
Aldiss fans are unlikely to be satisfied by this rather liberal
adaptation. Some good ideas are present, but shoehorned into a brief
run-time, much of which is wasted. Well produced and decently
acted, Frankenstein Unbound is
less a bad film than a disappointing one, certainly not living up to
its "Thinking Person's Monster Movie" credit, and comes only partly
recommended to Frankenstein and Roger Corman fans - not recommended to
Anyone famous in it?
John Hurt - a British actor, best known as the star of Alien (1979).
Directed by anyone interesting?
Roger Corman - the legendary American director and producer, returning to the director's chair here after an absence of 20 years.
Is it scary?
A few very graphically gory shots
A brief scene, no nudity.
Who is it for?
Of interest to Frankenstein and Roger Corman fans only.
Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour The
print is good with strong colours, minimal print damage and only mild grain.
Original English audio - sound fine. Spanish dub track.
English HOH, French, Spanish
disc is barebones, although the DVD case includes a 4 page booklet,
including some notes on the film (although containing a few noticable
Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Not available on DVD elsewhere.
film is presented in its R rated cut, 23 seconds are missing compared
to the Japanese Laserdisc release, including some additional gory
shots, and dialogue (detailed at DVD Maniacs forum). The print used is English language.
Well produced and acted, with some good ideas, but too rushed to be a good film. Not generally recommended.
decent looking DVD release, although using a cut print and devoid of
worthwhile extra features (Roger Corman has given interviews and
commentaries on many of his earlier films, and most of the cast are
still alive to interview). Worth picking up, but any future release is
likely to be better.
All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 3rd January 2007. Thanks to Mattias Karlsson for the DVD/Laser disc comparison post.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.