Judge Brett Cullum waited until 2:00am to watch this late-night TV entry from the '70s.
Frankenstein retold for '70s television by the creator of Dark Shadows.
Dan Curtis had incorporated every monstrous icon he could think of in his Dark Shadows days, but he also branched out to tell the oft-told tales of Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Turn of the Screw, and Frankenstein on his own as separate productions. The Frankenstein adaptation was produced for an ABC series called Wide World Mystery, and was broadcast on January 16th, 1973. It was scheduled late at night; the idea was for ABC to offer counter-programming against The Tonight Show. They would run two-part mysteries and horror films filmed exclusively for an insomniac audience that didn't want to watch a talk show. Curtis produced and wrote this production, but he didn't direct the televised film as he was working on another project at the time.
The plot is familiar, since Frankenstein is probably the most adapted of the Gothic horror novels. The tale of a mad scientist creating life from cadavers was one of the first films created back in 1910 by Edison. This one written by Dan Curtis and Sam Hall (Dark Shadows) attempts to stick closer to the Mary Shelley text by making the monster more sympathetic. He speaks clearly and looks more human. Naturally Dr. Frankenstein brings him to life, and all hell breaks loose per usual. The adaptation isn't strictly adherent to the text, since the closing scenes of the novel, set in the Arctic, would have been beyond the budgetary limitations.
For Dan Curtis fans, this one looks and sounds a hell of a lot like Dark Shadows. It is shot on sound stages using video cameras, so the entire production has the same technical qualities as the supernatural soap that made Curtis famous. It looks cheap, but it allows actors to treat the production as if it is a theatrical exercise. Takes are long, and dialogue becomes more crucial than special effects. The musical score consists of cues written by Roger Cobert from Dark Shadows and Curtis' earlier Jekyll and Hyde picture. You almost expect Barnabas Collins to come slinking out and bite somebody.
The actors include Robert Foxworth (Transformers) as Dr. Frankenstein, John Karlen (Dark Shadows) in a smaller role as Otto the lab assistant, Bo Svenson (The Delta Force) as the Giant or Creature, and Susan Strasberg (The Manitou) as Elizabeth the love interest. Of all the performances, it was Bo Svenson's that got the most notice. He does a good job of showing the humanity of the monster, and that was a new concept at the time when the creature had always been seen as more hostile and inhuman. Here he is childlike, a toddler abandoned and let out in the world with superhuman strength he doesn't understand. The rest of the cast does fine work here, especially given the shoestring budget and simple retelling. This was Foxworth's only foray into Gothic horror, and he acquits himself well as Victor.
Dark Sky Films offers an interesting DVD package for this release with a surprising inclusion of extras. The transfer is what it is, a clean enough image from a video source. It all looks like VHS and is full-screen. There's no escaping this since the film was made with video cameras. The sound is a flat '70s mono. Nothing on the technical side can elevate the source since it was a cheaply made television movie designed for late-night airings. Yet there is a very nice commentary with actors John Karlen and Robert Foxworth, who have a mediator present to keep things moving. It peters out after the first hour, but both men have fun memories of working on the production. Karlen's part isn't big, but he is brought in to talk about Dan Curtis in general. Also included are a promo, recap, and preview, which are a hoot. They are so low-tech and crude they become charming.
This is a low-tech '70s television retelling of Frankenstein, and it most notable for having Dan Curtis' involvement. It's a good-enough version of the story that should satisfy most Shelley fans who always had a soft spot for the creature. It runs a solid two hours and six minutes thanks to the two-part movie format, so it covers Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein territory. It has a languid pace that suits the story. The presentation looks about as good as video can and, thankfully, Dark Sky Films has provided a commentary and promotional spots to round out the package. It would make a great double feature with Count Dracula: BBC Mini-Series which represented another well loved '70s take on a Gothic horror masterpiece. It's a groovy production back in the days when actors and not special effects had to carry a piece.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
• Commentary with Actors Robert Foxworth and John Karlen
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