Death By Cinema – 23 – Frankenstein Unbound

“If I must just choose the method of my demise, I choose…


Death By Cinema!” -Britt Rhuart

Day 23 – Frankenstein Unbound

So, I’m not going to talk about Roger Corman too much. I’ve already written quite a bit about him, though not this month. I do think it’s safe to say he’s quite possibly one of the most influential men in filmmaking of the past 60 years or so. He jump started countless Hollywood careers, from many big names, Nicholson, Deniro, Scorsese, Cameron, Towne, Howard, Bogdonovich, being just a handful. He influenced the way independent movies are shot, financed, and marketed. As a producer, he made memorable film and, more importantly, he made profitable films.

However, I don’t really see much about him as a director, though he directed about 56 films, both officially and unofficially. Last year, I did a review of his film X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes. While no modern marvel, it is at least a serviceable film, that is very watchable. The directing is unremarkable, though decent. It tells a good story though and does have some nice visual images. Today, I’ll be looking at the last film he’s directed (so far, though likely ever), 1990’s Frankenstein Unbound. Not only was this the last film he directed, though by no means the last he has produced, it was also his first official return to the director’s chair in 19 years. So, how does he do? Let’s see!

Random Thoughts While Watching the Film:
I just realized, this is the 3rd Frankenstein film I’ve watched this month, the other’s being Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks and Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster. It’s technically the 4th, if you include Dr. Orloff’s Monster from yesterday, which shares some minor plot similarities.
I should mention, by the way, that this movie has a solid cast in John Hurt, Raul Julia (playing Dr. Frankenstein), and Bridget Fonda.
We being in 2031 New Los Angeles, where we see John Hurt as a doctor who makes a machine that creates black holes. This will eventually lead to big time slips.
Hurt’s character, Buchanan, seems to both be horrified and not care that the potential end of the world weapon he’s created. Very uneven writing.
This movie is just fairly bizarre, like this scene where Buchanan helps the neighborhood kids bury a bike and one of Genghis Khan’s warriors plops down from out of the sky in a time slip.
You can say a lot about the futuristic stuff in this film (though we’re now in the past), but Buchanan has a cool car and jacket.
You know, this movie is probably the best looking of Corman’s films. It looks very professional.
The initial interaction between Buchanan and Frankenstein is quite well done and enjoyable. Comes from having two very good actors.
The dream sequence with Buchanan relies WAY too much on that wavy effect common in flashbacks.
I like that, though this film is set in Vienna, the accents are all over the place. Some English, some American, and Julia even tries for a continental accent.
We see Bridget Fonda as Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, soon Shelly. She’s pretty, as usual, but like many of her co-actors, doesn’t even attempt an accent.
I’ll tell you, this movie is very cheesy thus far, but it is by no means boring and even somewhat enjoyable. I think this is largely because of Julia and Hurt, plus the polished look of the film
We see the Monster. He’s very cool looking and unique, if a bit cheesy. Plus, he speaks like in the way that was intended by the original Shelly novel.
Actual dialogue: Frankenstein: “You murdered my brother!” Monster: “Mur…dered?”
Damn, that Monster has some big ass hands.
Actual line: Byron: “I thought all American scientists were known as Ben Franklin.” True story.
The guys playing Byron and Shelly actually act sorta like an over the top version of what I think Byron and Shelly were actually like. I wouldn’t call this good writing or acting, but a mere coincidence.
The crowd reactions to the hanging is way too corny. The hanging itself looks kinda neat though.
You know, for a Frankenstein movie, we’ve seen very little of Frankenstein or his Monster. It’s not bad, because Buchanan is fairly interesting, but it is bizarre.
I was about to say, it’s weird that Buchanan can drive his car around without anyone noticing, but he blatantly drives through town just as I write this, plus he tells Mary Shelly about him being from the future. Nice undercover work there, guy.
I just realized, John Hurt became a master of time and space here, years before he became the Doctor.
And, they’re having Buchanan hook up with Mary Shelly? Jesus… for a master of time and space, Buchanan is really screwing with history. Also, I should just point out that John Hurt is 24 years older than Bridget Fonda.
Actual line: Mary Shelly: “Percy and Byron preach free love. I practice it.”
So, Mary Shelly believes that Buchanan is here to stop Frankenstein. Hopefully he does and we don’t see what we see in every Frankenstein film, a scientist become enamored by the story and helps him.
I will say, the Monster’s killing of Elizabeth, Frankenstein’s love, is very gruesome and cool. He literally tears her chest open. It still looks hokey, but it’s about as well done as can be expected.
I hate these dream sequences of Buchanan’s because of all the wavy effects Corman uses. Doesn’t matter that without it the sequences might make for interesting film.
Julia’s Frankenstein is a solid villain, though he grows to accept his Monster way too easily.
So, Frankenstein goes legitimately insane, though Julia’s performance is more subdued in it’s insanity. He and Hurt have great chemistry.
Frankenstein revives Julia as the Bride of Frankenstein… but is it his own bridge or the Monster’s bride? That doesn’t matter because Buchanan uses a laser to transport the time and place and move himself, Frankenstein, the Monster, and the Bride to a frozen tundra.
The Monster goes to Elizabeth’s aid (she’s dressed in bandages, like Elsa Lancaster), but like in the Bride of Frankenstein, she rebukes the Monster and goes to Frankenstein. Though in this one, horrified that she’s a monster, she forces Frankenstein to shoot her.
The Monster than picks Frankenstein up and breaks his back, like he’s a piece of wood. He dies soon after, leaving only Buchanan and the Monster.
The area they are now in is apparently a far flung future, where they are the only two left alive. Soon, it will be only one.
They both enter a subterranean lair, where the machine somehow recognizes Buchanan. The stupid light show looks stupid though.
Really cool actual dialogue: The Monster: “What am I that you must destroy me?” Buchanan: “An abomination, in the eyes of God.” Monster: “Then what are you?” Buchanan: “I am…Frankenstein!” Buchanan the destroys parts of his lab to destroy the Monster, finally using a laser to eradicate it. Though, I’m not sure I get how the lasers work, as he controls them as a conductor would control a symphony.
I’m not sure I get the ending. The Monster says, “You think that you have killed me. But I will be with you forever. I am unbound.” I guess the Monster is now in Buchanan’s machine? Or maybe he represents Buchanan’s machine? Buchanan then walks through the frozen tundra to a nearby city. Does the city contain life? Is there life in this future? Is it life connected to Buchanan and his time experiments? I genuinely don’t know.

Okay, this movie suffers it’s share of problems. The script waivers between very bad and sorta decent, the ending suffers from this especially. The effects of the dream sequences and the final lab scene look bad and really hurt the enjoyability of those scenes. The supporting cast beyond Hurt, Julia, and Nick Brimble (The Monster) are not very good (sorry Bridget Fonda). The film runs into the problem of being horribly campy. Corman’s directing is nothing at all to write home about.

That being said, there is a lot of good here as well. The performance from all 3 of the main actors are absolutely wonderful, particularly Hurt. I was surprised how much I like Brimble, though he’s still got some problems. The story had potential. The production design was marvelous. And finally, while I said Corman’s directing was nothing to write home about, it’s not terrible either, just middle of the road. But then again, as a director, Corman was kind of middle of the road, so this was a good film for him to go out on. I’ll always love Corman the producer, but I can also respect Corman the director. He took a lot of risks with this film. Some really paid off, most didn’t. As I said, this movie had a lot of potential and much of it was wasted, but it’s still a worthwhile film. Very watchable and fun in places. I’m glad I saw it.

Tomorrow, I’ll actually look at one of my friend Salim Garami’s favorite films, the always insane 1977 Nobuhiko Obayashi film, House!

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