See It Instead: I, Frankenstein
Sometimes a movie comes along and makes you aware of an itch you never knew you had. Perhaps a review piqued your interest, or you’d rather stay in and pay yourself $10 for a small popcorn and watch a movie on the cheap. Perhaps you’re valiantly struggling through your queue on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and need a wise, cultured voice to direct you to where the real movie viewing gold is hiding amidst the terrible Zombie Stripper movies . Well, look no further. See It Instead is here to take today’s new releases and guide you to what you should really be watching.
I, Frankenstein (2014)
Recently re-animated this week at a cinema of dubious taste near you is I, Frankenstein. The latest attempt to strike some of the Sin City gold, I, Frankenstein is adapted from a graphic novel you’ve probably never read, into a movie you probably shouldn’t see. After luring his creator into the frozen north, Victor Frankenstein’s creation is attacked by demons and then rescued by gargoyles, because fuck it, we’ve run out of ideas. At least good ones. Despite featuring the talented Aaron Eckhart, this ghoulish creation smells like it’s past its expiration date.
The Serious Pick: Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein (1994)
During the mid 90’s, Kenneth Branagh took a break from creating a film version of literally everything Shakespeare ever wrote in order to create the definitive adaptation of Mary Shelley’s famous monster parable. Heck, he even included her name in the title, so you know he’s sticking close to the source material. Or read it once between takes on Sonnet 67, The Movie.
Starring Branagh as Victor Frankenstein, this film tells the tale of a talented (if not ethically challenged) young doctor who charges recklessly forward during the hey-day of scientific advancement, hoping to use the recently harnessed power of electricity and galvanism in order to cure the greatest disease haunting mankind: death. His efforts are eventually successful, but the brash scientist is unready for the consequences of having created new life, especially as he discovers that his new creation is not a superman, but essentially a child in a hideously cobbled body. He repents of his endeavor and abandons the creature (played by Robert De Niro), but the creature does not die. In fact, the creature learns to read and speak…and to envy. Denied any social interaction, the monster confronts Victor on the eve of his wedding, demanding that Victor create him a helpmate so that he will not have to live in solitude. Victor balks, and two become relentless enemies.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is gorgeous and atmospheric, and attains a wonderful sense of period that highlights the struggles of science versus human frailty. The acting is top notch, though those who are not fans of Branagh’s style may find his portrayal to be a bit melodramatic. A box narrative breaks up the frantic action of the finale, but Frankenstein was never meant to be an action film per se. For those hoping for a faithful introduction to the material, Branagh’s Frankenstein is the best entry point outside of reading the classic book.
The Lighthearted Pick: Young Frankenstein (1974)
Ladies and Gentlemen, Madames et Monsieurs, may I present for your intellectual and philosophical pleasure this cultured, sophisticated…man about town. Hit it!
Consistently rated one of the funniest comedies of all time, and arguably Mel Brook’s finest creation, Young Frankenstein skewers the original while remaining largely a faithful retelling of the original. This tale follows the talented (if not sexually challenged) young doctor who attempts to harness the power of his grandfather’s legacy to cure people of mispronouncing his name. Frahnkensteen. It’s Frahnkensteen.
Having received the will of the late Victor Frankenstein, young Frederick (Gene Wilder at his manic best) returns to Transylvania, and with the help of Marty Feldman (as the demented Igor) and Teri Garr (as his devoted assistant Inga), they manage to recreate the seminal experiment and unleash a new creature upon the world. Peter Boyle shines as the monster, and great cameos are made by Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and Gene Hackman.
If you haven’t seen this gem, it’s about high time you had a riot. If you have seen it, why not watch it again, and then reunite with the cast for The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother...the twin feature that the studio roped the stars into making. It’s not great, but it is another chance to appreciate the amazing chemistry Wilder, Feldman and Kahn created on Frankenstein.
The Unconventional Pick: Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965)
Another epic offering from those mad geniuses at Toho studios, famous for their work on the Godzilla series of monster-fests. To nobody’s surprise, this movie is at heart a monster-fest. The film starts with some mumbo jumbo about Nazis bringing the heart of the Frankenstein’s monster to Hiroshima to conduct secret experiments on, before it is bombed straight to hell by the allied forces. Years pass, and wouldn’t you know it, that heart has become attached to a feral boy who is now growing like a weed thanks to the radiation and botched Nazi chicanery. Is there anything you can’t blame on the Nazis?
The local military police are alarmed by attacks on civilians, and blame the monstrous child. The creature is detained, and it is determined that he is impervious to radiation and growing at an alarming rate. So they get alarmed. And chain him up. Sounds like science to me.
Meanwhile (there’s always a meanwhile in these films) the attacks have continued, and the scientists discover another monster, Baragon, has been behind the destruction all along. Oops. Baragon is a pretty vanilla Toho monster, but is still tougher than the model tanks and pop guns the military sends his way. So what’s a terrified populace to do? Unleash Frank and let him Siberian suplex that mofo back into the stone age, that’s what!
Utterly camp-tastic, Frankenstein Conquers the World managed to even garner a sequel, because really, who could say no to this face?