Dan Curtis was the producer behind Dark Shadows, and after the gothic soap opera was cancelled he continued to produce eerie shows and movies for TV. In 1972 he produced The Night Stalker, which was the highest rated made for TV movie at the time, and the following year he brought Mary Shelly's Frankenstein to the small screen. This version of the famous story has now been released on DVD by Dark Sky Films. While die-hard fans of Curtis will want to snag a copy, the show suffers from a low budget and mediocre acting, making it a better rental for most viewers.
Dr. Frankenstein (Robert Foxworth) is laughed at by his colleges because of his radical ideas and sets out to prove that he's right. Piecing together parts from dead bodies, he fashions a man. On a dark and stormy night Frankenstein harnesses the power of lightning to bring his creation (Bo Svenson) to life.
Once animated, it is soon discovered that the giant creature is like a baby with no knowledge, but that he has super-human strength. Left alone with a lab assistant, the animated corpse accidentally crushes his newly found friend to death while giving him a hug. When Frankenstein discovers what has happened, he straps the monster down on a slab while he gets rid of the body, but mere leather won't hold the creature. He escapes from the lab and hides in the forest.
Dr. Frankenstein thinks that his problems are over and spends time courting his fiancée Elizabeth (Susan Strasberg). They're both happy until the doctor hears about people being attacked in the mountains by a giant with scars on his face and hands. Of course he realizes who it is, and knows that he must stop his creation.
This adaptation of the famous story takes a lot of liberties (Shelly never had lightning giving life to the monster, that's Universal Pictures) but at the core stays fairly true to the original text. It portrays the creation as lonely pathetic creature who realizes that he'll always be shunned just because of his appearance. I was pleased to see that they showed the creature learning to talk, and included the family from the book. This whole sequence makes the giant seem less like a monster and more like the object of pity. Though the script does drag in places and the end is a bit melodramatic, but it's a good telling of the story.
Unfortunately this project didn't have the time or money that it needed and it suffers because of that. This was presented as part of the Wide World of Mystery, a late night network show that was trying to compete with The Tonight Show. Presented on two consecutive nights, this story had low production values and has that 'soap opera' look. The sets look like sets and the costumes look like something that the designer found buried in the bowels of the wardrobe warehouse. It looks like everything was done in one take. Actors stumble over lines a couple of times and prop malfunctions are left in. Sometimes these are glaring errors too, like when the copper plates that are supposed to channel electricity into the creature's heart fall off of the actor's chest before the final jolt is given. These mistakes give the whole production an amateur look.
Most of the acting was just passable. Robert Foxworth is acceptable as Dr. Victor Frankenstein but just barely. He overacts in some scenes and seems rather stilted in others, but overall he's alright. Svenson on the other hand is very good. He was able to make the creature seem menacing yet pitiful and took him from child-like innocence to cold blooded murdered over the course of the film. It's too bad that more time couldn't have been devoted to second takes and polishing the production a bit. If it had this could have been a classic.
This movie comes with a two channel mono soundtrack, which honestly isn't very good. There's a lot of distortion through most of the movie and there's a hum in the background in parts. While these flaws never make the dialog indiscernible, the constant cracking of voices and slurred S's makes this show a little less enjoyable to watch.
Like the audio, the video leaves something to be desired. The show was recorded on tape in 1973 and had a very low budget and it shows. The image is soft, details disappear into shadows and dark areas, and the colors are flat. In the credits at the beginning, the letters don't have nice sharp lines but are indistinct and a little blurry. Though I doubt that this show looked much better when it was first aired, today's technology shows just how poor low budget late-night TV looked back in the 70's.
I was expecting a bare bones disc, but Dark Sky was nice enough to include some bonus material. The biggest extra is the commentary with actors Robert Foxworth (Dr. Frankenstein) and John Karlen (Otto, the assistant.) The track is hosted by Jim Pierson (I hope I've spelled his name correctly...it's not of the box of Dark Sky's web site) who keeps the discussion going and often fills in with interesting tidbits of information about the production. This track was much better than I thought it would be, and most of the credit goes to Pierson who keeps things interesting. There is also a promo clip that aired before the show originally aired, a preview to the second part, and a recap of part one.
This is an interesting version of the Frankenstein story. Though
it cuts and alters a lot from the book, it does try to remain true to the
original source. The main problem is the lack of a budget.
Not only do the sets look artificial and like, well...sets, but they didn't
take time to redo flubbed lines or malfunctioning props. This gives
the entire production a real amateur feel that hurts it. It's still
worth watching, but the replay value isn't that high. Make this one