The Australian-American film adaptation of Kevin Grevioux’s graphic novel I, Frankenstein opens wide today, and in its attempt to follow the Batman-reboot ‘fantasy kitchen sink process’ it is already being compared to some of the stranger Frankenstein productions out there.
Aaron Eckhart is playing the monster, known here ‘Adam Frankenstein’ (per Grevioux), channeling a look more like Nicholas Hoult’s ‘R’ zombie in Warm Bodies (2013) than Boris Karloff in the iconic 1931 version. Needless to say, there were no zip-up hoodies in Mary Shelley’s day.
Which brings us to the late Ken Russell’s Gothic (1986), available now via FilmOn’s on demand service. Ironically, the flamboyant maverick British director gained renown for rebelling against a different kind of ‘kitchen-sink’ approach, that of the mid-century British realist school of filmmakers,. And it’s hard to think he would have been bothered by I, Frank’s gangs of ‘demons’ and ‘gargoyles.’
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Gothic was in the middle of Russell’s fecund mid-eighties period (including Crimes of Passion (1984) and 1988’s Lair of the White Worm), re-energized after a post-Altered States pause.
Set in the summer of 1816, the film portrays the stormy, hallucinatory night inside the Swiss Villa Diodati of Lord Bryon (Gabriel Byrne, in the midst of an ‘80s run of his own with Defense of the Realm (also 1986), Siesta (1987) and the Coen Brothers’ 1990-released Miller’s Crossing), when he is visited by fellow poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (Julian Sands, also at the top of his game after The Killing Fields (1984) and 1985’s A Room With A View), his fiancée Mary Wollenscroft Godwin (the film debut for the late Natasha Richardson), her stepsister Claire Claremont (Miriam Cyr) and Byron’s personal physician John Polidori (an early role for the great character actor Timothy Spall).
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What gives the events of this evening such weight is the knowledge that they would inspire the writing of both Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Or the Modern Prometheus (1818), and Polidori’s Dracula-inspiring Vampyre (1819); and that within six years Byron, Bysshe Shelley and Polidori would be dead. The film combines Russell’s ‘Mannerist’ tendencies and religious themes evident in his films such as The Devils (1971), Lair and Salome’s Last Dance (1988) with the idyllic imagery of Women In Love (1969) and the wildly psychedelic imagery of Tommy (1975) and Altered States. In that sense, it’s a great introduction to his work.
Ken Russell’s Gothic is available to watch free now via FilmOn:
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