I wouldn’t claim to be an expect on the work of sci-fi writer Brian Aldiss, but his work has inspired films as diverse as Brothers of the Head and Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Roger Corman’s adaptation of Frankenstein Unbound is something of a curiosity piece, blending many elements of Mary Shelley’s classic tale with some thought-provoking science-fiction. The resultant hybrid was universally despised in 1990, but looks better with each passing year.
The plot is not simple. The year is 2031, and scientist Dr Buchanan (John Hurt) dresses like neo from The Matrix and is reliant on his super-sleek talking car. He’s just invented a mega-ray that destroys everything, but each time the weapon is used, the environment around him starts to collapse. There’s a simple power behind this idea, although Corman’s script doesn’t quite follow up on their environmentally sound notion. Instead, a time-slip caused by the machine sends Buchanan and his car back to Switzerland 1817, where he’s forced to attach electricity wires to a church tower, Back to the Future-style, to send himself and his car back to 2031.
But even that’s not even half of the real plot; while in 1817, Buchanan runs into Dr Frankenstein (Raul Julia), whose brother has just been killed; an innocent nanny is accused of his murder. At her trial, Buchanan runs into Mary Shelley (Bridget Fonda) who is taking notes for a proposed novel she’s writing. Eagle-eyed readers will note that Frankenstein Unbound posits a fictional past where both the writer and her creation (Nick Brimble) co-exist, a somewhat radical post-modern concept. Things resolve with more time-slippage and a good old-fashioned scrap, but not before retelling a fair chuck of Shelley’s narrative.
Did I mention that INXS lead singer Michael Hutchence turns up as Mary’s Shelley’s poet husband Percy? That’s one of a number of mind-zonking features here, with all concerned playing with gusto and moments of gore to justify an 18 certificate. While hardly a coherent film, this is an interesting stab at a riff on the Frankenstein myth, and with a sumptuous Carl Davis score to boot, well worth catching just for the novelty factor, which is plentiful here.