Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Movie Information

The Hendersonville Film Society will show Mary Shelley's Frankenstein at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. (From Asheville, take I-26 to U.S. 64 West, turn right at the third light onto Thompson Street. Follow to the Lake Point Landing entrance and park in the lot on the left.)
Score:

Genre: Literary Horror
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Robert DeNiro, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Hulce, Aidan Quinn
Rated: R

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.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

12 thoughts on “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

  1. Dionysis

    TigerShark raises a valid question. As a long-time horror and science fiction fan who has seen 90% of everything made in those genres, it has been my opinion from their release dates that both of these films are high-budget garbage. Coppola’s ‘Dracula’ was plagued mostly by bad casting decisions, and Branagh’s ‘Frankenstein’ for reasons outlined in this review. They’re both (IMO) undeserving of anything above two stars (‘Dracula’ deserves two stars for the sometimes impressive but overused special effects). ‘Frankenstein’ is just boring and silly.
    You want some good Halloween chills? Allow me to recommend these excellent but obscure titles:

    * The Woman in Black, a BBC ghost story
    * The Asphyx, a rare horror/sci-fi film for the thinking person
    * Tombs of the Blind Dead, eerie Spanish zombie flick
    * Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. Not obscure, but a great film for Halloween

    And there are so many more that are far better than these revisionist Dracula and Frankenstein films.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Oh, I quite agree that there are many better films than MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN (though I’m not sure I’d have the same alternates). The reason the film has three stars — to me that’s about a C on a five star scale — is that I do find it entertaining…just not for the reasons that Mr. Branagh intended. At the same time, parts of the movie are visually striking so I don’t think it’s a complete washout on that score.

  3. Chip Kaufmann

    Of course one’s response to any film is purely subjective but I have always felt that everything in this film from the over the top camerawork (De Palma anyone) and performances (as Ken says Branagh out Colin Clive’s Clive) to the borrowings from earlier Frankenstein films (1910,1931,1957) not to mention such British fare as FLESH AND THE FIENDS is very intentional not to mention De Niro’s monster bears more than a passing resemblance to Max Cady in CAPE FEAR (although considering the traditional British disdain for the Method that may be a joke at deNiro’s expense). Perhaps I’m giving far more credit than credit is due to this film but I’ve always enjoyed it more than BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA which I think takes itself far too seriously (Coppola had been scheduled to direct this film after Branagh had been signed to star but had to pull out). It is both send-up and loving tribute which is why it never found an audience and remains misunderstood to this very day.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I’m not entirely sure that I can buy into the idea that the movie is intentionally over the top in a humorous manner, but I can’t say that it isn’t true. ‘Twould be a perilous position for me to take since I’ve long voiced the opinion that a couple of 1940s trash masterpieces — THE APE MAN (1943) and SCARED TO DEATH (1947)– are intentionally funny. (In fact, I once wrote of SCARED TO DEATH that “bad movies don’t get bad this way by accident.”) I will note that when it first came out I was pretty taken with BS’ DRACULA (I think BS comes nearer the mark than Bram Stoker, all things considered). Then when I bought the laserdisc I found it almost impossible to sit through. Haven’t tried it in years, though I did pick it up out of the Wal-Mart dump bin a couple weeks back with the idea of trying it again someday soon. (Someday has yet to come.) With that in mind, I freely admit I had no difficiluty sitting through Branagh’s opus last weekend. I still think Branagh, however, needs to take to heart to Woody Allen’s comments about directing himself in STARDUST MEMORIES. He could definitely benefit by learning to resist the temptation to give himself too many extreme close-ups.

  5. Chip Kaufmann

    It’s a fine line. Not always but sometimes and not by accident.
    Although Colin Clive and Ernest Thesiger didn’t direct BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN there are more than a fair share of extreme close-ups (especially of the latter) but they don’t last as long. I guess it’s considered vanity when you direct yourself. Speaking of Thesiger, he was in 3 of your top 13 films.

  6. Ken Hanke

    “Speaking of Thesiger, he was in 3 of your top 13 films.”

    You say that like it’s possible to have too much Thesiger! Why, you might as well say there could be too much Arthur Edmund Carewe, Edwin Maxwell or even Gustav von Seyffertitz.

  7. Chip Kaufmann

    On the contrary, I love an actor who can chew the scenery, spit it out, and build a lasting edifice with it. Actresses too (until they do away with the best and supporting actress Oscars I’ll continue to distinguish between the two).

  8. Chip Kaufmann

    I keep forgetting to mention what a great frame you selected from MSF for the review. There, now we’re back to the subject at hand.

  9. Ken Hanke

    Thank you. It’s the image that immediately comes to mind when I think of this movie.

  10. Chip Kaufmann

    All 13 people (really) who attended the showing thoroughly enjoyed it. None of them thought it was a horror film. One even commented that the categorization “literary horror” is an oxymoron.

  11. Ken Hanke

    I dunno. I’ve encountered quite a few literary horrors over the years.

    Then again, I’m not sure how a film in which a method actor is artificially created, a beating heart is ripped out of someone’s chest (and held up for our inspection), and an artificially created woman crushes an oil lamp over her head for a fiery suicide is anything other than a horror film!

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