Frankenstein: The True Story ***


Amazon Prime could surely have sourced a better print that the rather grainy one chosen to reflect this mid-1970’s US tv version of Mary Shelley’s classic story. Not only that, but this shortened feature-length version is clearly and dramatically cut to a degree which renders several scenes and characters laughable. It’s worth complaining about, because Jack Smight’s re-telling of the Frankenstein story is highly original, and those who claim it’s the best version to date aren’t wrong. Writer Christopher Isherwood was responsible for the genesis of the musical Cabaret, and radically re-noses the story to focus on the close relationship between Frankenstein (Leonard Whiting) and Dr Henri Clerval (David McCallum). Other innovations include a new character, Polidori (James Mason), a moustache-twirling villain who dominates the second half of the story. And there’s an innovative twist, taken from the book itself, that the monster does not initially appear hideous, but deteriorates as his ills increase, and the monsters mate storyline is also carried over, with Jane Seymour the improbable result. Frankenstein; The True Story has a variable production and a weak lead, but it’s a literate, clever adaptation that makes the ancient story come up in a fresh and dynamic way.


The Old Dark House 1932 *****

Old Dark HouseIn 1932, just getting horror in the screen was something of a trial; the Universal classic version of Dracula and Frankenstein are both slow and stagey at some points, even if they have iconic moments to burn. James Whale’s style flourished post Frankenstein with The Bride of Frankenstein, and The Old Dark House sits neatly between the two as an example of how good his director was. Adapted from a play called Benighted by JB Priestley, The Old Dark House is nicely opened up from the theatre, with two couples arriving at a house with secrets to burn. A gallery of eccentrics give way to even more bizarre characters, and the movement up to the house’s attic had a firm progression. Of course, even the maniacs are scared of each other in this dark comedy, and there’s plenty of opportunity for Ernest Thesiger and Charles Laughton to shine. Amazon’s print of this film is the 2018 restoration, and it looks sensational; horror and comedy fans should clear their schedules to enjoy this lost masterpiece of dark humour.

The Bride of Frankenstein 1935 ****


Striking as the appearance of Boris Karloff in the original 1931 Frankenstein film is, the film itself is pretty hard going; the camera barely moves, and early scenes are like a filmed play, stiff as a board. Allowed to revisit his creation in 1935, James Whale’s sequel is a much jollier affair, with Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) goaded by rival Dr Pretorius (a rampant Ernest Thesiger) to create a mate in the iconic form of Elsa Lanchester. Whale plays things for dry but genuine laughs, and there’s fascinating special effects when Dr Pretorius unveils the tiny bottled creatures he’s been nurturing. A sequel that’s not cut from the same cloth as the original, The Bride of Frankenstein is probably an improvement.


Gothic 1986 ***


The ash-clouded summer that Mary Shelley spent at Lake Geneva has been the subject of several films; Ken Russell’s 1986 phantasmagoria is probably the least authentic, but arguably the most imaginative. The late Natasha Richardson is Mary to Julian Sands’ Shelley, with Gabriel Bryne as a cane-toting Lord Byron and Timothy Spall dealing out the laudanum as the wayward Dr Polidori. Russell clearly enjoys having some potent hallucinatory imagery to get his teeth into, and Gothic features demonic imps and nipples that morph into eyes amongst the smorgasbord of strangeness. Russell doesn’t shy away from the sexual aspect either; it’s a wonder any literature was produced at all by these eccentric, hedonistic characters. Dexter Fletcher also features.

Gods and Monsters 1998 ***


Writer/director Bill Condon skillfully adapts Christopher Bran’s novel about James Whale, the director of the 1931 version of Frankenstein and a classic Brit in Hollywood. Sir Ian McKellern plays Whale as a tortured soul, with a charming veneer barely covering his anxieties about The Great War, and seeking solace in a relationship with his gardener Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser). The delicacy of this story is balanced by plenty of evocations of cinema classics to please film buffs, as Elsa Lancaster (Rosalind Ayres), Colin Clive (Matt McKenzie) and Boris Karloff (Jack Betts) are all brought to life without the use of lightning, and the atmosphere of the expat community of 1930’s Hollywood is brought to life with considerable charm. Fraser and McKellern appear in so many daft movies that it’s a pleasure to see them with something serious to do, conveying the essence of a complex relationship between two men at a time when many viewed such love as something monstrous.