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June 13, 1993|JEFF KAYE

IVER HEATH, ENGLAND — Randy Quaid looks positively hideous, as well he should.

His face discolored and covered with a tangle of veins as thick as rattlesnakes, the Texas-born actor leans back in his chair and puffs on a cigar while the makeup man finishes the daily four-hour process that turns him into one of the world's best-known, if not best-loved, monsters.

After all his facial nasties have been buffed to perfection, Quaid will cross the lot at Pinewood Studios, just outside of London, and wrap up the last day of shooting on the Turner Network Television production of "Frankenstein," premiering this week.

In typically disjointed movie-making fashion, all that's left to film is the opening scene in which the monster pursues its creator, Dr. Frankenstein (played by Patrick Bergin), in a frenzied dog-sled chase across the vast emptiness of the Arctic.

If that icy sequence doesn't sound familiar, it could be because the TNT production is staying as faithful as possible to Mary Shelley's 1818 novel.

Over the years, the story of Frankenstein has taken on a life of its own, so to speak. Boris Karloff and the square-headed, bolt-necked descendants seen in countless later films have transformed the story in a way that has excised many of the human qualities of the monster and the humanistic questions raised by the novel.

As written by Shelley, the monster begins life with a child's sweetness and innocence, but turns bitter and violent against a world that rejects him because of his gruesome appearance.

Rarely has that version of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster been dramatized. But that is what TNT and writer-producer-director David Wickes ("Jekyll and Hyde," "Jack the Ripper") set out to do.

And that, in turn, was a powerful lure for Quaid, who began his acting career in 1971's "The Last Picture Show," was nominated for an Oscar two years later for his role in "The Last Detail" and has since starred in "LBJ: The Early Years" and last season's TV series "Davis Rules."

Quaid says he was captivated by the idea of playing the classic monster role as originally written.

Until accepting the part, his only knowledge about the story had come from seeing the Karloff film. He decided to block out that image in the hope of creating a fresh version of the creature.

"I wanted to forget that I was playing the Frankenstein monster," says Quaid, decked out in a paisley dressing gown and jeans. "I wanted to strip all that away and just look at the character for its own sake and see the tragedy of someone who wanted to be accepted and loved but was unable to because of his appearance."

After reading Shelley's novel for the first time in preparation for the role, he said: "I was really surprised at the articulation of the monster and how different the Karloff version was from the book. It seems like the monster speaking is an integral part of the story. I think the movies wanted to concentrate more on the horrific aspects and not so much on the human drama. But this isn't really a horror movie per se; it's a drama, a tragedy.

"I've tried to emphasize the human qualities of the monster and let the makeup take care of the monster side," Quaid says.

Says TNT production executive Laurie Pozmantier-Fudge, "Randy breaks your heart playing it." Director Wickes agrees: "I think he's going to have everyone in tears."

Although Quaid had not been familiar with the original Frankenstein, he once played a surprisingly similar monster. In 1984, he performed the title role in a staged version of "The Golem," the 1921 play based on centuries-old Jewish legends about a Prague rabbi who creates a gigantic being to protect the Jews from various anti-Semitic attacks.

Despite its superhuman strength, this creature ("golem" in Yiddish) has, like the Frankenstein monster, a childish innocence, and cannot understand why he is met with such fear and hostility. It is thought that Shelley may have taken the idea for her novel from the golem stories.

Quaid won critical praise for his performance in the play, which was staged as part of Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival.

Besides drawing on professional experience to play the Frankenstein monster, the 6-foot-4 actor also says he was able to draw on painful memories of his youth.

"I felt a real empathy for him," Quaid says. "I remember when I was a teen-ager I was really awkward and I wasn't that great-looking. So it was always a problem getting girls to go out with me. I had some derogatory things said to me by schoolgirls.

"You know, kids can be very cruel. So, on a minor scale, it gave me a handle on what the character was feeling like."

"Frankenstein" airs Monday at 5 and 8 p.m. and Friday at 7 p.m. on TNT.

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