From someone who invested the Poe films see The House of Usher (1960) with brooding, moody atmosphere, you would think that the Frankenstein story would be full of possibilities for Roger Corman. However, Frankenstein Unbound shows that Corman has if anything regressed in his twenty years absence from the directors chair. Even though he is operating on a reasonable budget, the film looks like a B movie. The sets and period costumes are laughably tatty and the end face-off with the monster in a feeble display of twirling laser lights looks cheap and ridiculous.
Brian Aldiss wrote his novel as a sharp interrogation/deconstruction of the Frankenstein story but Roger Corman merely mounts it as a pulp B-movie. There is no sense of any of the literate metaphors contained in the stories that both Mary Shelley and Brian Aldiss wrote the script hammers the responsibility for science theme home with a complete lack of subtlety. The ending hints at some transcendental metaphor about the monster having been turned into a more powerful spirit form and the end of the human race, but we are not given the slightest clue about what this means.
There were several other films that came out around the same time Gothic (1987), Haunted Summer (1988) and the obscure Spanish production Rowing with the Wind (1988) that were fascinated with the Summer 1816 meeting at the Villa Deodati between Percy and Mary Shelley and Lord Byron, which inspired Mary to write Frankenstein (1818), while the later tv series The Frankenstein Chronicles (2015 ) wound Mary Shelley in as a character and featured a police investigation into somebody conducting a series of Frankenstein-like experiments. However, the Villa Deodati sequences that Corman mounts here are awful. Jason Patric makes an occasionally dark and magnetic Byron, but INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence is horrendously miscast as Shelley and the posturing poets sequence is entirely risible. As Mary, Bridget Fonda fails to quash an American accent, resulting in some bizarre contortions. Even John Hurt gives an atypically bad, smugly happy performance. On the plus side, Raul Julia gives a burly and effective essayal of the part of Frankenstein. As the monster, Nick Brimbles playfully curious facial mimes are sometimes effective. However, half the time the creature is played as a blundering comic foil, not a lot different from Chewbacca in Star Wars (1977), and the rest of the time as a brutal killer.
Frankenstein Unbound is a film that never manages to say anything interesting about either Mary Shelley or the Frankenstein story. While Brian Aldisss book explored both Mary Shelley and the origins of the story, all that Roger Corman does is conduct a B movie variation on Back to the Future (1985), a version of Back to the Future that offers the novelty of a time-traveller encountering both Mary Shelley and Frankenstein.
Roger Cormans other genre films as director are: Day the World Ended (1955), It Conquered the World (1956), Not Of This Earth (1956), War of the Satellites (1956), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Journey to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent (1957), The Undead (1957), Teenage Caveman (1958), A Bucket of Blood (1959), The Wasp Woman (1959), The House of Usher/The Fall of the House of Usher (1960), Last Woman on Earth (1960), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), Tower of London (1962), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Raven (1963), The Terror (1963), X The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), The Trip (1967) and Gas; or It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It (1970). Cormans World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2011) is a documentary about Cormans career.
Other Brian Aldiss works adapted to the screen have been the Steven Spielberg film A.I. (2001) and the non-genre Brothers of the Head (2005) about Siamese twins.
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