Graphic Horror: The Monster of Frankenstein
The Monster of Frankenstein aka Kyōfu Densetsu Kaiki! Frankenstein 1981
Another day, another obscure Marvel anime released by Toei in the early 80’s. This was produced just one year after their Tomb of Dracula adaptation, this time they adapted yet another Marvel adaptation of a classic horror icon with Frankenstein. There were a couple things that I noticed very early on when comparing the two films, first is that many of the American dub voice actors would later go on to lend their voices to the iconic original dub of Akira. And second, that this was a much better film overall than Dracula. It’s still a long ways away from being a good movie, but it’s not the hilariously bad mess that Dracula was. This was a very serious and somber look at the tale of Frankenstein with a combination of some unique ideas as well as some of the standard ones. For the most part, I did enjoy it even if I knew how it was going to end up.
The film starts out pretty much the way you would expect a Frankenstein movie to start, the lab, the storm, the bandaged body on the table, with only a couple subtle differences. The lightning isn’t needed to bring the creature to life, they are able to do that under their own power. There is a lightning strike, but it happens when the creature is already alive and succeeds in setting his bandages on fire. This is actually an intelligent bit of foreshadowing for the creature’s well known aversion to fire which does play a part later in the film. But right after he awakens, the doctor and his assistant realize that they have made a mistake and take steps to destroy the creature. Victor Frankenstein has a gun, but isn’t able to use it himself and he tosses it to his assistant who is an awful shot and merely grazes the monster. During their struggle, the monster gouges out Zuckel’s eye, but during the struggle eventually gets knocked off a high cliff where the two scientists think he is dead. It’s the first moment of blood, and it’s used in a similar way throughout the film, there is no gore moment where we might see the eye get taken out, instead it shows the creature’s finger head towards his eyes and it cuts away to see blood falling down his body.
There are several other moments of horror similar to that, probably the most gruesome is during the first half of the film where Victor is back in his home where he thinks he is being haunted by the monster. He takes a bath and finds a horse’s head hanging above the tub, spilling blood all over him. Once the initial scene with the monster is over, the film transitions into more of a mystery story where the creature remains mostly unseen and Zuckel is trying to blackmail Frankenstein due to his lost eye until it’s revealed that Zuckel was behind most of Victor’s torment like the horse’s head and the family dog killed and placed in their bed. Though during this time there’s also other unrelated events of farm animals and one other person who were killed, torn to shreds, and likely eaten. There’s also a handful of scenes that do show the creature so that the audience is aware that he survived, even if he wasn’t the one behind all of the grisly events surrounding Frankenstein’s family.
At the end of the first act, the monster kills Zuckel right as Victor was on his way to do the deed instead of paying him off. It’s here that the film transitions into a different type of story that plays on the sympathetic side of the creature as it tries to find a place in the world. During the rest of the run time he doesn’t intentionally kill any more people and merely kills farm animals for food. He finds his way to the cabin of Frankenstein’s near-blind father who is also watching Victor’s young daughter Emily and a young neighbor boy Phillip. It’s eventually revealed that the father also played a part in the research to create the creature they eventually call Franken based on his first words, and when Franken comes into the hut the father isn’t afraid of him. There’s a montage of him befriending the father and Emily, but as is expected Phillip comes back and gets the wrong idea. From there it goes more or less in the expected direction of mob justice, heroic actions by Franken, accidental deaths blamed on the creature, to end in a final act of self sacrifice.
What is most surprising to see in this Japanese animated film are the several moments of Christian faith and teaching. Emily wears a cross on a necklace and tells Franken about good and evil, and later Franken finds his way into a church where he has a moment of religion, staring into the statue of Jesus on the Cross. There’s even the Christ parallel where Franken had been shot in the hand by Emily and he looks at the wound in his hand and the stake in Jesus’s hand. And when the film ends, he mutters “good” and finally pronounces Emily’s name correctly before throwing himself off the cliff once again. Apparently it must be a higher cliff than the one he survived the first time around.
It’s difficult to not compare this film directly to Dracula which was produced the year before. This does have some of the same problems that Dracula had where it’s obvious that it was several short story arcs turned into a single feature length movie. But where Dracula felt like it was pulled from seven or eight different story lines, this felt like it drew from a much more manageable three to four. It also relied much less on heavy exposition-filled dialogue and had more visual storytelling. There were also far less hilariously ridiculous moments, though I do admit that the final moment after Franken throws himself off cliff, when Victor takes the shotgun and turns it on himself, it made me laugh at the sheer audacity of the film. It also helps that it spends more time focusing on the central theme where Victor is ultimately guilty about the crime he had committed against nature with his abomination. He felt like it was his responsibility to rid the world of his creature as well as the one who created it. Throughout the film it has a very somber tone to it, with moments of horror during the first act, but those fall away in the second and third acts as it becomes more of an allegory. It’s still not a great film by any means, the animation is very cheap looking and dated, and the voice acting is passable, moreso if you’re a fan of the original Akira dub, but the story itself has enough good moments that carries it through. It’s worth looking up especially if you’re a fan of the Frankenstein story. It’s honestly a better adaptation than I, Frankenstein. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.