John Buchanan (John Hurt) is a scientist in New Los Angeles, 2031. When one of his experiments fractures the very core of time and space, he is thrust back in time to nineteenth century Geneva where he finds Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Raul Julia) desperately trying to cope with his own disastrous experiment. Impressed with Buchanan's advanced knowledge of electricity, Frankenstein enlists his help with his "creation" - persuading Buchanan that the only way to stop "it" from killing is to create a mate. The outrageous endeavor could either save the scientists... or destroy them!
Spoilers follow ...
- Frankenstein Unbound review by NP
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The brilliant John Hurt, who seems incapable of ever delivering a bad performance, wrestles with some very American dialogue in cult Director Roger Corman’s adaption of the Brian Aldiss novel. In a sleek, silver, self-driving car, Hurt – as Doctor Joseph Buchanan - is transported from Los Angeles 2031, to Switzerland 1817. He travels through a time rift he himself has created as a side-effect of a pioneering ‘ultimate weapon’ he has determined would eventually bring to an end all wars.
This was Corman’s first directorial job after 20 years, and his final to date. The mixed reception which greeted his horror/science-fiction fusion and disappointing sales probably fuelled his decision.
Joining Hurt is Raul Julia, who is excellent as Doctor Frankenstein, whose bewildered reactions to Buchanan’s futuristic accoutrements forge an instant bond. As Frankenstein’s orange haired creation, Nick Brimble features under a wide-eyed, square jawed make-up seemingly inspired by Charles Ogle’s look in the ten minute 1910 adaption of Mary Shelly’s tale.
This is almost excellent, marred by some of the performances and the jumbled narrative in the middle portion of the film. What emerges is a series of wonderful set-pieces, often shot in beautiful locations (filmed in and around Italy). Strands of the original story – the Monster’s murder of William, Justine Moritz’s wrongful execution, the Monster pursued across snowy wastes (though by Buchanan, not Frankenstein) – are woven throughout Buchanan’s meeting with both Frankenstein and Mary Shelley, as well as his burning desire to return to his present time – which he eventually does through another time rift. Only he inadvertently takes Frankenstein, his Monster and the Monster’s bride with him.
He emerges in the snowy wastes of the far future (which is also where we first see Buchanan during the opening moments). This provides some wonderful imagery, a certain surreality in which Frankenstein and the bride ultimately perish, leaving Buchanan and the Monster to battle in the remains of Buchanan’s laboratory. The world, it seems, has been decimated by the ramifications of Buchanan’s ‘ultimate weapon.’
As a whole, this is a flawed but very interesting project that just manages to evade greatness. Yet, as an original take on the Frankenstein legend, it remains of great interest.