Tuesday, March 1, 2016

I saw Frankenstein Modernized...

A short time prior to Paul McGuigan's “Victor Frankenstein” (see Nov '15), writer/director Bernard ("Candyman") Rose conjured his own Mary Shelly adaptation: a modern-day one, told from the Monster’s perspective. Its supporting imagi-movie cast also characterizes it, with Tony (the Candyman, himself) Todd; Carrie-Anne (“Matrix”) Moss; and Danny (“30 Days of Night”) Huston.

Contrary to what one might expect of a modernization, “Frankenstein (2015)” (now available for home viewing) remains in tune with Shelly’s novel and at times, mirrors James Whale’s film version and its sequel, with a significant plot component culled from Jack Smight’s “Frankenstein: the True Story”.

The Monster, otherwise known as Adam, and portrayed by Xavier Samuel, is initially an attractive, childlike entity, but a gene malfunction deforms him (represented by Randy Westgate's disturbing make-up). Because of his degeneration, there comes a point where Victor Frankenstein (Huston) decides to euthanize Adam, even though his wife, Marie (Moss) has reservations. Victor nevertheless requests his assistants to dissect the creature, but Adam will have none of this and with playful, gruesome delight slays those who would otherwise slay him. 

Adam flees the facility, into the woods, where he befriends a resourceful dog, and for a time, the two hunt and nurture each other, before finally venturing into a nearby town. They come across a little girl (Mckenna Grace): an encounter that leads to a tense refashioning of Karloff's famous "flower scene", but in this instance, there are witnesses to the event, which inspire the frantic police and a riotous mob to assault the confused creature. 

Adam escapes, wandering through a number of unpleasant interludes, including a violent encounter with an unethical officer (Jeff Hilliard), until he finds himself in the urban outskirts, where he meets a blind, street musician named Eddie (Todd). Eddie pities his abused companion and takes him under his wing, teaching him how to speak and reason, but the arrangement turns ugly after he introduces his friend to a prostitute named Wanda (Maya Erkstine).

Adam grows weary of his doleful state and decides to track down his maker. He also remembers the consoling Marie (whom he considers his "mommy") and yearns for a reunion, but she, too, is now inclined to reject him, and from there, the story reaches its tragic fruition. 

Samuel's performance (accompanied by his whispery narrative) contributes significantly to the film's air of despair, his displays of bewilderment comparable to Terence Stamp's in "Mind of Mr. Soames", with hints of Karloff and Michael Sarrazin along the way. Though Samuel's creature isn't as towering as other film Monsters, his projection of unassailable strength often makes him more intimidating than his taller counterparts.

Huston, Moss and Todd are impressive as well, with Huston exuding worrisome deceit and Moss radiating angelically throughout (her expressions lovingly captured by Rose and Candace Higgins' dreamy cinematography). Todd's approach is laid-back, but he also offers a streetwise cragginess, which complements the rough environment that he and Adam inhabit. 

Rose's realistic approach also reaches sadistic heights at various points: the splatter portion exceeding that of Hammer's franchise, though never culminating in the full Grand Guignol of "Warhol's Flesh for Frankenstein". Nonetheless, watching Adam effortlessly smash an opponent with his bare hands will leave the stronghearted spellbound, and for the squeamish, give cause to turn away.

There have been other acclaimed updates of Shelley's story (the cultish Dean Koontz saga immediately comes to mind), but most deviate from the literary source and become their own thing. What's nice about Rose's version is its ability to redefine aspects of the story, while still nurturing a traditional outline.

I certainly didn't anticipate such a successful blend, but because of it, "Frankenstein '15" has earned my respect. It could have played solely on the novelty of its current-day setting, but instead (as any quality adaptation should) works on various emotional levels. It's refreshing, familiar and daring: worth a view for any mature Frankenstein aficionado and certainly worthy of anyone who appreciates depth in their monster movies. 


  1. That was fantastic read Michael. Thank you. Now I wish to watch this even more. :-)

    1. Thank you, my friend. I do hope you enjoy the film as much as I do.

  2. My friend, Leslie, who posted her comment above (on 3/02), managed to get Tony Todd to autograph my DVD slipcase of "Frankenstein" when she attended the Cherry Hill, NJ Monster-Mania Convention.

    Mr. Todd's autograph reads: "To Michael...Be Blessed...Tony Todd". Now, how cool is that?

    Leslie told me that Mr. Todd is quite proud of the film and was pleased that she referenced it. Indeed, the timing was obviously right on this one. What good fortune!