Monday, October 28, 2013


Hello, boils and ghouls! October is upon us and that means one thing: HALLOWEEN! While most holidays get a measly day or two of formal recognition, orthodox Monster Kids prefer to celebrate it in the tradition of our people: By watching tons of horror movies. This month at THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY, we're going to be discussing some of our favorites every day until Halloween. So, put on your 3-D spex, pop some popcorn and turn out the lights .... because we're going to the movies! 


One of the most interesting and underrated versions of Mary Shelly's novel, FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY originally was broadcast as a two part miniseries on NBC in the fall of 1973.  Something of a curiosity, and very loosely based on the novel, despite the title - I feel that this is one of the best FRANKENSTEIN movies ever made.

The film stars James Mason (pre-SALEM'S LOT) as Dr. Polidori, sort of a Dr. Pretorius (see BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) figure, except his name is taken from history: The real Dr. Polidori was present that fateful weekend in the Villa Diodati  when Mary Shelly wrote FRANKENSTEIN - he was one of Lord Byron's guests and wrote THE VAMPYRE which was the novella that laid the groundwork for all future vampire novels and stories. But here, we have a Dr. Polidori, who is deep into ancient mystic arts and a progenitor for Dr. Clerval (David McCullum) and his colleague Victor Frankenstein (Leonard Whitting).

The story follows the basic routine of FRANKENSTEIN, but what makes it so interesting to watch is where screenwriters Christopher Isherwood (who wrote the novel A SINGLE MAN, and BERLIN STORIES which would eventually be turned into CABARET for those of you who are taking notes) and Don Bachardy go off on their own. The first thing they do is give Polidori and Clerval a homoerotic twist, which then spreads to Frankenstein and his slowly rotting creation, played marvelously by Michael Sarrazin.

Elizabeth (Nicolla Pagett, who resembles Emily Blunt at times) is another character they mess with, and this version of the classic "Oh no!! Victor I love you!!" character has been turned into a conniving and castrating woman who is jealous of anyone that comes within 10 feet of her Victor. Just the opening scene in which Victor tries to save his younger brother William from drowning, which Elizabeth looks on coldly, is so odd and dark - it's entirely refreshing to the viewer instead of the normal "screaming heroine" one is accustomed to in these films.

The "creation" scene and the monster itself is also different. Rather than the electrical storm as cemented by Universal Studios, we instead see the "Monster" brought to life via solar energy. It's a very ethereal sequence in the film and also fascinating, when one considers how solar energy is now being used almost as widely as electricity. The Monster is also interesting in that he's born "perfect", but slowly begins to rot over the course of the film, causing his father Victor to reject him, rather than continue to keep him as his housemate.

Polidori - as touched on before - is another interesting twist. With hands gruesomely burned away from an accident with some chemicals, and assisted by two Chinese henchmen, he is a traditional alchemist rather than a "modern scientist"; with his goal set upon conquering the world by using careful manipulation, magic, and hypnotism. Sounds like Dr. Mabuse. Hmmm..... When he entraps Victor into helping him create a female mate for the Monster, solar energy is ditched in favor of what I'm going to call "lava lamp mysticism" which then produces Bond Girl Jane Seymour. How awesome is that.

Prima, as "The Monster's Mate" is called, doesn't have hair standing up accessorized by white lightening streaks on the sides, but instead has a scar around her neck, which she hides with a choker - a la the classic tale THE GREEN RIBBON, which is only fitting considering what she's got coming to her.

The film features an array of great supporting actors which add to the film's production value: Sir John Gielgud, Agnes Moorehead, Clarissa Kaye (James Mason's wife), Ralph Richardson, Margaret Leighton, Michael Wilding and Tom Baker (the 4th Doctor!) all show up to the ghoulish yet classy proceedings, and the English locations really add to the flavor of the whole piece. It's more open aired WITCHFINDER GENERAL, than studio bound Hammer proceedings (though I am not digging at Hammer, believe me.)

At a run time of 182 minutes, it's a perfect film for a lazy October Sunday afternoon. Its strong cast, nostalgic effects, and 'ahead of its time' script, make it a piece of great entertainment that really needs to be rediscovered - both as a 1970s Gothic classic, and one of the best FRANKENSTEIN movies of all time.

Ansel Faraj is an award-winning independent American film director, screenwriter, and producer. He recently wrapped production on his latest film, DOCTOR MABUSE: ETIOPOMAR.

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