THE ARCHIVIST XXIX: Halloween Round 3 — Frankenstein VS. Frankenstein

by Ryan Lewellen

The Archivist

Welcome to the Archive. Following the infamous “Format Wars” (R.I.P. VHS), a multitude of films found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their admittedly niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Disc On Demand & Streaming service devoted to some of the more idiosyncratic pieces of cinema ever made. Being big fans of the label, we here at Cinapse thought it prudent to establish a column devoted to these unusual gems. Thus “The Archivist” was born — a biweekly look at some of the best, boldest and most batshit motion pictures the Shield has to offer. Some of these will be recent additions to the collection, while others will be titles that have been available for awhile. With over 1,500 pictures procurable on Warner Archive (and more being added every month), there’s no possible way we’ll get to all of them. But trust me when we say we’re sure going to try.

It’s that time again, folks! Welcome back to The Archivist, where you can get all your rarely seen Halloween jollies out for the rest of October. This week, 90s TNT and Hammer Studios bring us two unfamiliar retellings of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Both depart wildly from the classic novel, but are also clever and unique entertainments in their own right… to varying degrees of success. I can guarantee you, however, these films are unlike any Frankenstein you’ve ever seen.


There is something about old, forgotten TV movies that make one smile… and laugh uncontrollably. Irish actor/human ham sandwich, Patrick Bergin takes the role of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, opposite Randy Quaid as The Monster. The story picks up with boatloads of low budget charm as the two of them chase each other on dog sleds through a styrofoam Arctic Circle. That charm quickly melts into low budget absurdity as the movie loses its grasp on tone and taste. Patrick Bergin is so consistently over-the-top, one has to wonder if he was directing his own scenes… on cocaine. He can barely keep his eyes inside his skull. Bulging to emphasize every other word in every line of dialogue, his ridiculous facial expressions distract from the film’s humble creativity.

When Bergin isn’t clawing at the wallpaper and bouncing off the walls, we are treated to some delightfully weird pseudoscience in Frankenstein’s lab. For whatever reason, the doctor’s experiments include growing a cat’s head at the front of a snake’s tail, some other nightmare rabbit, which must have once been a bunny and a rabid porcupine, separately, and a few other puppet-animated horrors. To add to the filmmakers’ bizarre reinvention of the tale, for whatever reason, they found it necessary to make significant adjustments to the already implausible science dreamt up by Mary Shelley. Electromagnetism and the chemical elements which make up all biological life are combined to essentially clone Patrick Bergin’s Frankenstein, and Randy Quaid, sporting thick rubber prosthetic veins, is apparently his warped doppelganger. They also have a psychic link for whatever reason, and despite that added element, the story remains largely the same. All this weirdness, combined with some really poor editing and audio work, make for one hell of a goofy film. If only it weren’t two-damn-hours-long, I would recommend it to anyone. Sadly, I can only endorse it for the hardcore Franke-nerds.

Though, it does also feature a wonderfully emotional performance from the guy who played The Merovingian in The Matrix (sequels) spouting some poetic rage-filled dialogue because he is a poet and that is how poets talk.


However, I can whole-heartedly vouch for 1974’s Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell. Another strange re-working of the over-adapted material, this Hammer Film picks up with The Bad Doctor long after he apparently survived his first experiment in reanimation. A reclusive young surgeon, Simon Helder (Shane Briant), has been studying Frankenstein’s work when he is caught and incarcerated in a loony bin. It just so happens the lunatics are literally running the asylum, however, as Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) himself has blackmailed the perverted director, and has continued his monstrous work there in secret. Frankenstein pardons Helder, and the two begin work on another patchwork man who might be science’s greatest success, and humanity’s most terrifying disaster.

David Prowse, John Stratton and Hammer regular, Madeline Smith, round out the capable and intense cast of actors playing beautifully complex characters. At first, young Helder seems nothing short of a sociopath, but even he finds himself drawing a line, as his stately mentor’s practice grows more sadistic. Smith plays a mute laboratory assistant; her face almost always fixed in a kind of longing sweet sadness, is marvelously creepy and magnetic. She carries such a mystery about her, one that is eventually revealed as the briskly paced film moves along. Peter Cushing is, of course, as great as ever playing the unfulfilled and retrained mad scientist. The film may not end with a feeling of completeness, especially considering it was the studio’s final Frankenstein film, but the themes it explores, and the performances it captures make for a fascinating and haunting watch you should add to your October viewing schedule.

Just when you thought you had seen all the Frankensteins you need to see, here come a couple more you should give a shot… if for completely different reasons.

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