Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Most Faithful Adaption Of The Classic Novel

Terror of Frankenstein(1977)
Director: Calvin Floyd
Cast: Leon Vitali, Per Oscarsson, Nicholas Clay

Several versions of Mary Shelley's all-time horror classic have been filmed since Edison first adapted the story back in 1910. There was of course, the venerable James Whale version of 1931 and it's follow-ups. There were the Hammer films of the 50s and 60s with Peter Cushing and the 1970s saw a whole slew of adaptions including Frankenstein: The True Story(1973) and Frankenstein(1973), but no adaption had ever succeeded in capturing Shelley's text very accurately, most basing the plot around the Universal films. This version was the exception. Designed as a follow-up to the unsuccessful, but highly interesting documentary, In Search of Dracula(1976), this was originally to have been a similar documentary on the Frankenstein legend, until it was decided to go in another direction and adapt the original novel, which had really never been done before. The film was an Irish-Swedish co-production and was shot on several lovely locations that really recalled the 18th century. It was made on a low budget, but that appeared to fuel the artistic integrity of the product and while not everything was spot on, most of the film works quite well. Also titled, Victor Frankenstein, as evidenced in the theatrical trailer, this film did not see a wide release and remained an elusive title until it's DVD release in 2003.

The film begin,like the novel, in the arctic, as a mysterious, frost bitten figure walks towards a ship stuck in the ice. He is found by the Captain of the ship, a man named CaptainWalton(Mathias Henrikson) who claims he is to discover a passage to the South pole. The stranger reveals himself to be Victor Frankenstein(Leon Vitali) and begins to tell his story, in the hope that the Captain does not make the same mistakes that he had made. Victor always has a fascination with science and the occult and spends most of his time indoors and studying ancient books by the likes of Paracelsus and Cornelius Agripper. He even manages to talk his best friend, Henry Clerval( Nicholas Clay) into helping him steal a mandrake root from a graveyard to perform a seance! Victor's fiance, Elizabeth(Stacy Dorning) believes this all to be childish, but Victor is really obsessed and remains so when he enters the University.

His mentor is Professor Waldman(Archie O' Sullivan) who is the kind of professor that keeps a picture of Prometheus on the wall. He does have a nice moment when Victor announces his intentions to learn the secrets of life and a clap of thunder appears to answer Victor's blasphemous sugggestion. "If I was a religious man, i'd take that as a warning, but since I am a scientist, I know that thunder is a dispersion of the air!"
Victor is an adequate student and completes six years of study in only two. Meanwhile, he has been experimenting on his own in a somewhat bizarre fashion, including torturing a monkey strapped to a small chair(?) and witnessing the real execution of a cow! At the prodding of Waldman to expand his research, Victor decides to work on creating artificial life, by building a man. He procurs an eight foot ice box(which provides a humorous scene with the carpenter who made it) and soon Victor is robbing graves and going to some really creepy morgues and charnel houses to buy "fresh parts."

Finally, his experiment is near completion and with the aid of a kite and some vague electrical aparatus, Victor prepares to infuse life into the lifeless thing he has created. This scene is probably closer to the Shelley novel as she had kept the actual creation very vague and did not include any of the pyrotechnics later associated with the story. The Creature(Per Oscarsson) awakes and Victor is horrified at what he has made and runs from the room. A little later, the Creature enters his bed chamber and Victor promptly freaks out and bails his apartment, where he falls asleep in the courtyard. Henry finds him the next day and is acquiring where he has been for the last months and finds him very ill and he is taken home and nursed back to health.

Victor's little brother, William(Jan Ohlsson) is playing in the woods one day, when he is discovered dead. Victor goes into the snow covered forest to find the killer and instead finds his creation, now able to speak and filled with fury. He invites Victor to a cave and he tells Victor his own story and thehardships he has endured, including his first experiences with nature, being chased and beaten by scared people and his stay at a cottage where he peers on a small family living there and learns how to speak and read. After introducing himself to the blind father of the family and suffering rejection from the family, who believe him to be a monster. He burns the deserted cottage and goes to find his origins, returning to Victor's apartment(not castle) where he was created and finding his journal and discovering the truth. He now urges Victor to build for him a mate, which Victor is hesitant about, until the Creature promises that if he does not consent he will be with him on his wedding night, a line that all the filmmakers of Frankenstein adaptions feel they must keep.

Victor journeys to an out of the way island with Henry, but stays alone in a small hut where he attempts another creation. However, his conscious catches up to him and after discovering a couple brutally murdered, feels that he cannot complete his creation. The Creature is furious and swears vengeance on Victor and his family and kills Henry, who was an avid rock climber, by tossing him off a cliff. Victor, filled with remorse, returns home and immediately marries Elizabeth in a creepy ceremony with virtually no one present. Arming himself for protection and guarding the house, Victor waits for the Creature who sneaks in and manages to strangle Elizabeth. Victor goes to the authorities, but no one belives him. After visiting the graves of his family(his father has recently dies as well), the Creature taunts him and invites him to "catch me if you can!"

In a very well shot sequence, Victor looks back on his family home for the last time and journeys down the road on his quest for vengeance. He travels over fields and mountains, always alone and never being able to capture his creation, until he finds himself in the arctic. The Captain is astounded by the story and has a change of heart and decides to turn back. Meanwhile, the Creature arrives on board for the final confrontation. The ice shifts and Victor suffers a violent concussion. On his cot, he watches the Creature enter his room and screams, "Monster!" before expiring. The Captain believes he has slain Victor, but the Creature shows remorse and vows to end his own life and no loner be a monster or a man. Walton attempts to attack the departing Creature, but is shunted aside as the Creature leaves the ship, looks back one more time, as Captain and crew watch him walk away into the night and lost in darkness and distance.

Terror of Frankenstein is an entirely unique adaption of the novel and more faithful than any previous versions and any that followed. It manages to capture the fear and dread of the original novel and retain much of it's prose and class. The more literate approach may not sway over all film fans, who may find the film slow, but the narrative structure works as a deliberate attempt to mimic the flow of the Shelley novel and it works. The locations are grim and bleak and truly resemble the decay and simplicity of the period. Several interesting props are utilized, particularly in Victor's minimalist laboratory which is one of the most realistic on film, complete with jars of body parts and animals, dead babies and various other grotesques. The scenes in the morgues are genuinely upsetting and authentic with bodies on ice or brought out from brine chambers. The grainy photography actually enhances the gothic mood of the picture and makes the horror elements that much more effective. Certain shots are cribbed right from the novel and are only in this version including a great shot of Walton seeing the Creature as almost a mirage out on the ice, leading a dog sled. This is a great dream-like segment and one of the film's best. Floyd handles the directorial duties quite well and really seems to have a grasp on what made Shelley's novel work. Some elements are missing, such as Victor's childhood and the character of Justine, but these are compensated by the inclusion of so much else that has never been depicted from the novel before.

The acting is overall decent for a low budget production, Vitali making for a properly naive and irresponsible Victor, much in keeping with the novel's character. He is able to be sympathetic, but his eslf absorption is part of his ultimate downfall. It's one of the most underrated Frankenstein performances. Per Oscarsson recives the lion share of critical attention for his performance as the Frankenstein Monster and it is a truly one of a kind creation. His ghoulish makeup may recieve some criticism, though truth be told, this is what a sewn together corpse would probably look like in the time period and it's actually really creepy and in keeping with the Shelley description. His childish fits of rage and signs of compassion and pain are what make the film really work. It is one of the very best Frankenstein Monster performances in any film, and is very deserving of reappraisal.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein(1994) is often considered to be the most faithful, but that overblown mediocrity failed to capture the soul of the Shelley plot or any of the atmosphere required for a true adaption. The 2004 Hallmark version, running at an epic three hours long(!) is the only other version to come as close, including most of the plot and narrative, but failing to deliver the horror elements that the 1977 version has in ample amounts. Frankenstein and classic horror buffs should consider this as an essential to see and while it still remains one of the rarer and least appreciated adaptions of this novel. Combining the sophistication and wonder of the novel with the gothic terror of the Universal original and the decadence and flamboyance of the Hammer films, Terror of Frankenstein is a real discovery and deserves it's place among the best and most important of all Frankenstein films.

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