“Dark Shadows” creator Dan Curtis was always fascinated by gothic literature, leading to his producing of notable TV adaptations such as 1968’s THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL and 1973’s DRACULA, both starring Jack Palance. Curtis also produced this version of “Frankenstein,” often overshadowed by a more expensive British film (FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY), also made for broadcast TV the same year. Shot on videotape, this particular re-telling of Mary Shelley’s immortal story does have merit and it stays fairly close to its literary source, something which many a filmmaker has failed to do.
While away at a university, young Victor Frankenstein (Robert Foxworth) creates a man out of corpses and gives it life in his laboratory. The lofty, blond and scarred creature, known as “The Giant” (Bo Svenson) is a childlike being, eager to learn about the world around him and make friends. The Giant accidentally kills Frankenstein’s assistant Otto (“Dark Shadows” star John Karlen) with a bone-crushing hug, and escapes from the lab to go out on his own where he tries to make friends, discovers his appearance is not welcomed in society and accidentally kills a number of bystanders in his moments of rage. Never straying far from home, The Giant makes life hell for Frankenstein, and jealous of his wife-to-be Elisabeth (Susan Strasberg) he demands that the good doctor makes him a mate.
FRANKENSTEIN stays fairly loyal to the original novel, or as close at it can be on what must have been a miniscule budget. Originally shown in two-parts over two consecutive nights as part of ABC’s “Wide World Mystery” late night program, it’s acted and directed much like a stage play, and these qualities come out with the live videotape look of the show. There are some truly impressive sets, due to what still existed on the MGM lot at the time of shooting (late 1972). At times, it resembles a “Dark Shadows” episode (Bob Cobert’s remarkable music from that program was recycled throughout) in terms of the performances and editing, but even if you weren’t a fan of the daytime vampire soap, don’t let that deter you.
The only other film to come so close to the novel is Calvin Floyd’s TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1975), but this one is more entertaining and capped by a wonderful performance by Bo Svenson as the monster (or The Giant). Here, Frankenstein’s creation is an articulate, misunderstood hulk who doesn’t know his own strength and often unintentionally destroys life because of it. He also gains audience sympathy in his attempts to find a friend, especially when his loneliness causes him to draw a face on a potato and converse with it. Blond Svenson, one of the taller actors to fill the monster’s boots, is physically perfect to be intimidating and dwarf the rest of the cast, and his make-up (mostly scars in and around his face in neck) is understated but registers effectively on the video camera’s lens. Future “Eight Is Enough” star Willie Aames plays Frankenstein’s younger brother, and fellow 1970s teen idol, Leif Garrett, can be seen briefly as a boy playing ball in a courtyard.
Dark Sky Film’s visual presentation of FRANKENSTEIN is very good overall. In spite of the primitive video technology of the time, the image is clear (over-lighting of many of the scenes helps a lot) and colors and fleshtones look fairly natural. Some minor ghosting (again, due to the video technology of the time) can be witnessed during darker scenes, but nothing at all too distracting. The mono audio is rendered with a clean track, and optional English subtitles are included. The whole show runs approximately 126 minutes.
The main extra is a commentary with actors Robert Foxworth and John Karlen, moderated by Jim Pearson. Since the two actors worked steadily and heavily during the 1970s, it’s seems like FRANKENSTEIN has largely been forgotten by them (Karlen is only in it briefly boot). Not a lot of information about the production is revealed, though Karlen does have a saucy sense of humor and Foxworth admires the show's solid sense of storytelling and anti-MTV style, but this is hardly enough to sustain 2+ hours. The other extras are the original opening promo, recap and preview from when this originally aired on “Wide World Mystery.” (George R. Reis)
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