I like a good old-fashioned monster movie. “Frankenstein Unbound”, based on a novel of the same name by Brian Aldiss, promised to mix classic Frankenstein with science fiction. Sounds like fun, I thought.
The plot centres around a future scientist from 2030 who invents a weapon which can eliminate your enemies without causing any damage to the surroundings. Unfortunately the technology involved has unforeseen side-effects, including time displacements. The scientist gets caught up in one of these, ending up in nineteenth century Switzerland where he meets Dr Frankenstein and his creation, as well as Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and Mary Godwin (who would become Mary Shelley and write the novel “Frankenstein”.) Events eventually land the protagonist, as well as Frankenstein and his monster, in the far future.
What John Hurt and Raul Julia were doing in this truly abysmal movie I cannot even begin to imagine. Neither one seemed to be trying very hard, perhaps realizing that nothing could save this ridiculous film. While all the actors were serviceable enough (though I think Michael Hutchence may have taken Shelley’s reported drug use a little too literally and just looked stoned in every scene), the development of the characters is very shallow. The protagonist Buchanan seems remarkably unconcerned by his effect on the past, casually tooling around nineteenth century Europe in his futuristic car. The inhabitants are startled but no more than that, which seems unlikely, especially as a girl is tried and executed as a witch in the same film. Would not Buchanan be accused of witchcraft because of his magical carriage? Frankenstein is a cartoonish villain, a sad waste of Raul Julia’s talents. His most villainish line is ‘I am a scientist, I cannot sin.’ I find it implausible that a scientist would even look at it like that.
The monster is quite stupid, believing everyone he sees is created by Frankenstein and quite confused when he realizes they are not. His murderous behaviour is irrational and without direction. He wants to hurt Frankenstein at one moment and willingly does his dirty work the next. Mary does not want to read the book she hasn’t written yet when Buchanan shows it to her – I find her lack of curiousity unbelievable. She is written mostly as someone for Buchanan to have a fling with, saying, ‘Byron and Shelley preach free love, I practise it.’ Byron and Shelley are there merely as a backdrop to Mary. They have no real function in the story. The talking car shows more character than they do.
The script is very poor. As well as the quotes I have already mentioned, we have such drivel as Buchanan announcing grandly when he triggers another time displacement, “Meet my monster!” Then there is this exchange:
The Monster: What am I that you must destroy me?
Buchanan: An abomination, in the eyes of God.
The Monster: Then what are you?
Buchanan: I am…Frankenstein!
Oh the angst! Oh the melodrama! Oh my god …
The director, Roger Corman, has done more producing than directing, and is not noted as generating works of particularly high quality. It really shows. I have seen some of his older directorial efforts that I didn’t mind, however. While squarely in B-movie territory, works like ‘Masque of the Red Death’, ‘The Raven’, and ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ are reasonably entertaining. So I don’t know what he was doing here. Perhaps the fact that he wrote the script has something to do with it.
The effects were very cheap. For a 1990 film, the effects were more reminiscent of something from the 60s or earlier. It was relatively low budget so that may account for it. Even low budget films should do a better job with makeup. The monster, and later the monster’s bride, were very odd looking. Why did they have metal plates sticking out of their heads? The bride was Frankenstein’s own fiance, whose head was completely intact when she died. Why the metal plates, other than to make the characters look ‘monstrous’?
The ending was incomprehensible. Spoiler alert here – Buchanan kills the monster, the monster’s voice comes out of nowhere saying ‘You think that you have killed me, but I will be with you forever. I am unbound.’ Then Buchanan starts trudging through the snow towards a futuristic city he can see in the distance. Roll credits. I have no idea what this was supposed to mean.
Well there are films I have not been able to finish in the past. I made it to the closing credits, so I guess it’s not the worst film I’ve ever seen. But it’s pretty bad, and not in a ‘so bad it’s good’ way. I would not recommend this movie.