Cut from the same cloth as and created as a companion piece to Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) does for James Whale and Boris Karloff what Coppola’s movie did for Tod Browning and Bela Lugosi by proving that the iconic original is in no danger of being outdone by a new pretender. As wrongheaded as Coppola’s film (but in different ways), Frankenstein is all bluff, bombast and bargain-basement borrowings from Ken Russell’s Gothic (1987), a film that sought to tell the origins of Mary Shelley’s novel.
This isn’t to say that this most recent telling of the Frankenstein story is without its merits. It’s merely that its merits tend to be of the unintentional mirth variety—not in the least thanks to Robert DeNiro offering us the world’s first method Frankenstein monster. At the same time, Branagh does the almost impossible by offering a performance as Dr. Frankenstein that is even more overwrought than that of Colin Clive in the 1931 film. The notion that the film is a faithful adaptation of the book extends little further than the possessive use of Mary Shelley’s name on the title (not necessarily a bad thing, since the book isn’t exactly a dynamic read). The central note of the film is one of uncontrolled cinematic hysteria, which at least is rather fun. And it takes a colder heart than mine to witness the shirtless (and then buffed-up) Branagh atop the container in which his creation is being jolted into life screaming, “Live!” and not burst out laughing.