Daniel Radcliffe cleans up nicely as Igor, the man behind the madman who makes the monster in this, the 60th (thereabouts) film to adapt or riff on Mary Shelley’s prescient 1818 sci-fi/horror novel. Happily, director Paul McGuigan, working from a script by Max Landis, takes the story in some new directions by choosing to retell the tale from the perspective of the famed hunchback. Speaking of which, Igor’s malformed frame turns out to be entirely different from Quasimodo’s situation, as the medical student Frankenstein (McAvoy, wonderfully manic in the role) diagnoses his condition as little more than a gigantic, acne-like pustule, which he then drains. Ick, yes, but inspired nonetheless! Shorn of his wild-man ’do and kitted out in a natty velveteen suit, Igor (as he is christened by Frankenstein) looks all the Victorian rage – too scientifically curious to be a posh boy but perfect as a “partner” for the crazed whiz kid Victor.
It should be noted here that Victor Frankenstein arrives with a surfeit of contemporary subtext not referenced in the cinematic canon since Paul Morrissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein, aka Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein. Not for nothing does Victor dub Igor his partner. The film is front-loaded with an underlying, albeit PG-13-friendly, queer sensibility that then takes an interesting turn into something of an unconsummated ménage à trois with the arrival of the deeply religious Scotland Yard Inspector Turpin (Scott, best known to audiences as Sherlock’s nemesis Moriarty). All of these gender/sexuality tidbits are self-referencing one of Hollywood’s first “out” directors, James Whale, who famously helmed the first two Universal monster classics Frankenstein and the superior Bride of Frankenstein. “Dr. Pretorious, I presume?”
The inspector, it turns out, is investigating the theft of various mammalian body parts from the London Zoo, and also the recent demise of a circus worker at the hands, possibly, of the missing, nameless hunchback. Fingering a crucifix and muttering about Satan and such, the inspector is every bit as frenzied as Frankenstein. The perpetual war dance between science and organized religion has rarely been so entertainingly addressed as it is here, with both Frankenstein and the inspector coming across as their own worst enemies.
The galvanic results of Victor and Igor’s labors, presaged by the reanimation of a cobbled-together chimpanzee (a terrific melding of practical creature effects and CGI), feels almost like an afterthought. In a throwaway line that made me laugh out loud, a totally toasted Frankenstein insists to Igor that their creation must have a flat head, “because I like it!” Humor of the gallows sort and otherwise runs through Victor Frankenstein like a trickle of a coagulating gore. Nods to Jack Pierce’s iconic, Karloffian monster design of 1931, Victorian opium consumption, and even Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein pop out all over the place, nicely placed and often when you least expect them.
In this age of genetic messing about and virulent anti-intellectualism, the enlightened, romantic Frankensteinian take on mankind’s rush to transcend itself (via science, or religion) can seem quaint, yet here the message remains essentially the same: Hubris unchained leads to folly, and homunculi are always bad news.
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