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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Frankenstein Unbound' Scares Off the Thrills, Chills

November 02, 1990|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Roger Corman's Frankenstein Unbound" (selected theaters) marks the return of the famed low-budget producer to directing after a hiatus of nearly 20 years. In its aura of romantic horror the film recalls Corman's celebrated Poe cycle of the late '50s and early '60s but was made on a much larger scale and with considerably more seriousness.

Corman retains his visual flair, but for "Frankenstein Unbound," which Corman, F. X. Feeney and Ed Neumeier adapted from a Brian W. Aldiss novel, to have succeeded, the dialogue and characterizations should have been stronger and fresher, in keeping with the film's ambitiousness. The result is a film of some wit and style but of far more reflection than excitement.

Corman does himself no favors with an opening sequence, set in 2031, in which painted backdrops are as obvious as they were in the days of the earliest silents. Scientist John Hurt, in the process of testing a super-weapon, winds up in a time-warp vehicle that sends him back to the 1817 Switzerland of Lord Byron (Jason Patric), Percy Bysshe Shelley (Michael Hutchence) and the teen-aged Mary Godwin (Bridget Fonda), who has just started writing "Frankenstein." Aldiss imagines that she has been inspired by a real Baron Frankenstein (Raul Julia) and his Monster (Nick Brimble), who yearns for a mate.

Byron, Shelley and even Godwin are given short shrift in order to concentrate on Hurt's clash with Julia as the film emerges as a cautionary tale about the dangers of tampering with nature and of playing God, which becomes tedious in its familiarity for all of Hurt and Julia's welcome theatricality. The point is that both scientists have unleashed powers beyond their control. Surely, it would have been fun to have spent more time with the Romantics.

Once past its opening, the film is handsome-looking with its ancient Italian locales gorgeously photographed by Armando Nannuzzi. "Roger Corman's Frankenstein Unbound" (rated R for violence, some adult situations), which has a majestic, thundering Carl Davis score, ends in a razzle-dazzle fantasy sequence that arrives too late.

'ROGER CORMAN'S

FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND'

A 20th Century Fox release. Producers Roger Corman, Thom Mount, Kobi Jaeger. Director Roger Corman. Screenplay Corman, F. X. Feeney, Ed Neumeier; based on the novel by Brian Aldiss. Camera Armando Nannuzzi, Michael Scott. Music Carl Davis. Associate producers Laura Medina, Jay Cassidy. Production designer Enrico Tovaglieri. Costumes Franca Zucchelli. Film editor Jay Cassidy. With John Hurt, Raul Julia, Bridget Fonda, Jason Patric, Michael Hutchence, Nick Brimble, Catherine Rabett, Catherine Corman.

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

MPAA-rated: R (for violence, some adult situations).

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