Throughout high school and college one of my regular activities was to hit the neighborhood video stores and pick up some of the movie posters they had for a few bucks. One of the coolest ones I ever picked up (and I still have it) featured a giant eyeball with several different colored irises stitched together. It was for the final film, at least so far, directed by legendary B-movie director/producer Roger Corman…1990’s Frankenstein Unbound.
The film begins in the year 2031 where Dr. Joe Buchanan (John Hurt) is working on a new weapon that he hopes will end all wars (!?!). However, recent tests have been causing some strange weather related side effects, not to mention some pesky time warps. In fact, one ends up happening right in his front yard, whisking him off to Switzerland in the 1800’s. In this village where he lands there is talk of a large killer monster that roams the countryside. Plus, it just so happens that in this village we have one Dr. Frankenstein (Raul Julia).
When Frankenstein meets up with Buchanan he is intrigued by the man from the future’s knowledge of things electrical. You see, the monster is anxious for Frankenstein to create a mate for him. When the monster kills Frankenstein’s fiance, this seems like the perfect subject to be resurrected. As for Buchanan, he needs to figure out a way to get back to his own time and stop Frankenstein’s evil ways in the process.
Frankenstein Unbound is an odd mix of sci-fi and gothic horror that is not without its charms. The film does have a strong cast, much stronger than I would’ve expected for a Roger Corman film coming almost 20 years after his last directorial effort. I especially enjoyed Raul Julia’s take on Dr. Frankenstein. The good doctor is a part that is often approached in a somewhat over-the-top fashion, but Julia handles the role in a very believable way. He’s obsessed and he’s sinister, but he’s not a raving lunatic. Nick Brimble as the monster also brings an original approach to the part. He comes across as a bit more intelligent monster with less emphasis on groaning and lumbering. The monster’s look is also refreshingly unique.
The film does stumble a bit, however, starting with the fact that the time travel element is just so silly. We also have a subplot that involves Hurt’s character becoming romantically involved with a young lady who the villagers look down on…none other than Mary Shelley played by Bridget Fonda. Fonda does an admirable job with her performance, but her character is so unnecessary. The presence of her character also brings us a scene with the bizarre casting of Jason Patric as Lord Byron and late INXS frontman Michael Hutchence as Percy Shelley.
The scenes that really make Frankenstein Unbound somewhat interesting are those that stick more to the gothic horror style. Corman had his fair share of films in this genre. His Edgar Allen Poe series of films are especially worth a look. I kind of wish he’d stuck more to the strengths he displayed in those films with Frankenstein Unbound. Sadly, the sci-fi element ends up souring the film and makes it all feel a bit too gimmicky. Frankenstein Unbound does manage to be a slightly intriguing final effort from a very eclectic filmmaker, but it’s not a great representation of Corman’s true skills.