Not acquiring the expected success with his vampire docudrama, IN SEARCH OF DRACULA, Swedish director Calvin Floyd decided to follow it up with the inevitable subject of Frankenstein. Instead of attempting another fact-packed travelogue/stock footage hodgepodge, Floyd decided to faithfully adapt Mary Shelley's novel to the screen, something that had never been accomplished before. Aside from a few missing plot points, Floyd succeeded on this level, but with 70s audiences laughing at the witty spoofery of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, or camping it up with the 3-D guts and perversion antics of FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN, his film got lot in the shuffle.
A Swedish/Irish co-production, shot in English in Ireland, TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN was originally more aptly titled VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN. Like in Shelley's novel (though she'd hate to find her name misspelled here in the opening credits), Victor Frankenstein (Leon Vitali) is a young student who goes away to medical school against the wishes of his bride-to-be, Elizabeth (Stacy Dorning). In his quest to rejuvenate dead tissue, he assembles a being out of corpses and his patchwork creation (Per Oscarsson) comes to life with a bolt of lightning. Running in fear from his waking "monster," he is coaxed to come back home for a vacation by his best friend, Henry Clerval (Nicholas Clay). Now roaming the countryside like a lost child with homicidal tendencies, the monster tracks down the deserting Victor and makes life hell for him.
Modestly budgeted, the film makes great use of the (sometimes snowy) Irish countryside, with quaint interiors that give it a literary look. Performances are up to par, with Vitali (looking something like Tom Hulce) making a suitable young Victor, and Oscarsson (a still very busy Swedish actor) making an intense monster, a literate "babe in the woods" who thrives on jealousy of his creator, ultimately destroying everything that he loves. The monster also looks the way he is described in the novel, and like the TV film FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY and Kenneth Branagh's overblown 1994 FRANKENSTEIN (both far from the literary source), the film concludes in the Arctic, like in the novel. But Floyd's film doesn't have the monster's would-be bride come to life (she doesn't in the book) or have an elaborate laboratory, or special effects, or excessive characters. Sometimes literary material doesn't translate well on film, and needs to be cinematically boosted with different ideas. TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN is quite dull but fascinating at the same time. Floyd should be commended for remaining fairly faithful to Shelley's story, and this film should be owned by every Frankenstein enthusiast, if not for Saturday afternoon entertainment, then at least for reference.
Never given a theatrical release in the U.S. and syndicated straight to television, TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN had been previously available on DVD through Image Entertainment. Wellspring uses the same transfer, so not much has changed in terms of quality. The film is presented full frame, and looks very awkwardly open matte, losing any compositional value whatsoever. Colors are on the brownish side and look pretty faded overall, and sometimes faces get "heated" and look distorted. Dirt and other blemishes are not overbearing, but the English mono audio is substantially hissy, with a good number of loud pops present.
Wellspring's disc at least has
some supplements that were not on the Image release. There's the trailer for
the film, which I assume was for a British theatrical release (it's narrated
by the guy who does a lot of the Hammer films trailers). There are also trailers
for TERROR IS A MAN, MISSION TO DEATH, RAIDERS OF LEYTE GULF and THE FIGHTING
RATS OF TOBRUCK. Jim Arena writes the some excellent liner notes that include
quotes from Sam Sherman who backed the film financially, gave it its new title,
and distributed it to TV and video.
(George R. Reis)
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