Indie Buzz: Frankenstein’s Monster (2013) review

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Billed as a Steampunk-light adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic, First Step Cinematics Frankenstein’s Monster, shows just what independent filmmakers can achieve with a ‘production budget equal to the cost of a motorcycle’ and a bucket load of enthusiasm.

This is one of the most faithful adaptations of Shelley’s narrative that I have ever seen, despite transferring the action from early 19th century Europe to a Steampunked (for anyone wondering what Steampunk is, it’s a kind of retrofitted Sci-Fi based upon the works of Jules Verne and HG Wells or more to my mind the 50s and 60s movie adaptations of the same) late Victorian America. The film was shot in only 14 days using locations in south-east Texas that included eight historic landmarks including the Texas Seaport Museum where the rather beautiful Victorian square rigger Elissa stands in for Captain Walton’s ship.  A few extra plot tweaks have been made by writer and producer Judith B Shields to aid storytelling within the format of an 108 minute movie and for budgetary purposes, but otherwise the film is remarkably true to the original text.

Image provided by Judith B Shields
Image provided by Judith B Shields

What is the movie like? Pretty good, as it happens. As in the novel, the film opens with Victor Frankenstein (Dustin Sturgull) being rescued by Captain Walton’s expedition and Frankenstein relates the sorry tale of building the creature (Matt Risoldi), his subsequent rejection of his creation and the creature’s revenge on the Frankenstein family to the assembled crew.

So where’s the steam punk? Well Victor’s laboratory, designed by the film’s technical director Christopher Lowe (who also plays Professor Waldman), was inspired by Edwardian technology and there are some nifty little devices that power the creature and other props created by Margaret Hubbard and Preacher’s Powderworks and Projectiles. I won’t say any more than that as it will spoil your viewing fun.

Image provided by Judith B Shields
Image provided by Judith B Shields

I have no problem with the change of setting, some great art has been produced by just moving a classic’s period and location, the English National Opera’s production of Carmen set in a Mexican car park worked brilliantly for example. A rather tidy gruesome touch was to use an actual ‘Hanging Tree’ where old fashioned justice was handed out in the days of the Wild West, for the execution of poor Justine.

There are some minor niggles. The film does have a tiny touch too much of a theatrical production about it, which is probably due to most of the cast being experienced stage rather than movie actors and I think a touch of editing prior to general release could help to ameliorate that. I also think the creature looks a little too human and not quite monstrous enough to invoke the kind of fear that he does, although Risoldi’s performance in the role is quite excellent.

Image provided by Judith B Shields
Image provided by Judith B Shields

Despite these niggles and considering the micro budget this is a really enjoyable little movie.

I give it a 444 out of 666.

Watch the trailer below:

Frankenstein’s Monster will be receiving its first UK screening on 1 Dec at A Steampunk Christmas, a Steampunk Film Festival at the White Cloth Gallery in Leeds, with a more general release in 2014.

 You can like Frankenstein’s Monster on Facebook.

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Other Steampunk recommendations:

For me the granddaddy of Steampunk films is Disney’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1870 novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) where James Mason captains the mighty Nautilus and Kirk Douglas spears the giant squid. Other notable Pre-Steampunk movies included Master of the World (1961) also taken from a Verne novel, where Vincent Price played the crazed aviator, Robur who planned to rid the world of war by bombing military targets from his airship, the Albatross.

However, Steampunk really came of age in 1971 when Michael Moorcock’s The Warlord of the Air was published setting an Edwardian soldier on an adventure into an alternative 1971 where World War I didn’t happen and the pre-war superpowers maintain their colonial empires with the force of airships.  Funny thing was, as a teenager I can remember watching Master of the World on the telly and thinking ‘I wish someone would write fiction like that’ and then Mike did!

Review by Simon Ball

Connect with Simon: @RealShipsCook or here.

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