This writeup contains spoilers - do not read beyond the introduction if you intend to watch the film for the first time.


After the success of his critically-acclaimed film Bram Stoker's Dracula, Francis Ford Coppola set his eyes upon another classic Victorian horror story, Frankenstein's Monster, by Mary Shelly. As with Dracula, his aim was to recreate the original story in film without discarding or distorting the plot, as had happened previously with both stories (most notably when Hammer Films produced them). Like Dracula, this was to present the story as a tragedy as much as a horror film.

The "blurb" on the back of the DVD edition is as follows:

Passion, obsession and horror combine to recreate the most terrifying and shattering story of all time - Mary Shelly's FRANKENSTEIN.
It is the late eighteenth century. After the death of his beloved mother, young Victor Frankenstein (Kenneth Branagh - Hamlet) leaves his father and Elizabeth, the adopted sister he passionately loves (Helena Bonham Carter - Mighty Aphrodite), to attend university. Here he becomes obsessed with the teachings of Professor Waldman (John Cleese - A Fish Called Wanda) who believes that living creatures can actually be recreated from dead matter.
One electrifying night, Frankenstein's efforts are rewarded as his Creature (Robert De Niro - Heat) struggles to life. Alone, despised and driven by a rage of emotional agony, it sets off to find its maker... And so begins the nightmare that will engulf Victor Frankenstein.


The film starts with high drama, as a ship, commanded by a captain obsessed with reaching the North Pole, becomes trapped in ice. In the distance the crew can hear dreadful moans and shouts, and the captain starts to investigate. Through the Arctic fog, a figure approaches. We learn that this is Victor Frankenstein, who demands that the captain and his crew take up arms and prepare to kill a creature.

Taken on to the ship, Frankenstein recalls his story to the captain.

Flashback to Frankenstein as a young boy. His beloved mother introduces him to his newly-adopted sister, Elizabeth, whose parents are both dead. As time progresses, the two become closer, and a love affair starts to blossom. As he approaches university age, his mother dies during childbirth, despite the efforts of his father, a famous physician, to save her. Distraught by her death, Frankenstein vows to find a way to stop the pain of bereavement by preventing death or creating life.

He arrives at university at Ingolstadt having proposed to Elizabeth, and immediately throws himself into working towards his goal of preventing death. Despised by many of the professors, he befriends the mysterious Professor Waldman, who has a terrible burden on his conscience which he refuses to reveal. After Waldman's death at the hands of a peasant refusing to be administered a vaccine, Frankenstein discovers a ledger, written by the professor, in which he reveals his worst experiment - an attempt to reanimate dead matter. After toiling, Frankenstein discovers the method that will allow him to do the same, and he embarks upon a mission to create a creature from dead matter. He uses body parts from hanged criminals - including Waldman's killer - but uses the brain of the professor. Finally he is ready, and the Creature is brought to life. Realising the horrific nature of the experiment, he hoists the Creature to the roof of his laboratory and leaves it for dead, vowing to burn his journal and abandon the experiment. Unbeknown to him, the Creature escapes.

The Creature is attacked by people thinking he is the perpetrator of the plague sweeping across the city, and he escapes to the countryside where he finds refuge in the pigpen of a small farmhouse. Here he discovers the journal, and decides to meet his creator. Meanwhile, he helps the family, in secret, by pulling vegetables from the frozen ground and leaving them for the family. Repulsed by his own face, he attempts to hide but eventually makes contact with the family's blind grandfather who invites him in and tells him his appearance is immaterial due to his kindness. Nonetheless, the family force him out after he kills a debt collector, and, distraught at his loss, he burns their farm, vowing to take vengeance.

He struggles to Geneva, to the Frankenstein home, where he kills Frankenstein's young brother in the woods. The family's beloved maid's daughter is accused of the murder, and is lynched by a crowd. One evening the Creature accosts Frankenstein - the first time the two have met - and asks Frankenstein to meet him in the mountains. Frankenstein sets forth, and is taken by the Creature to a cave. Here the Creature tells him how he killed Frankenstein's brother, and demands that Frankenstein creates him a bride. He reveals to Frankenstein the folly of the experiment: "You gave me these motions, but you didn't teach me how to use them"; "What of my soul? Do I have one? Or is that a part you left out?"; "Did you ever consider the consequences of your actions?". Racked by guilt and grief, Frankenstein agrees to create another Creature to fulfil the first Creature's desire to be loved ("I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine; and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy one, I will indulge the other"). He says that if a bride is given to him, they will travel to live at the North Pole, away from the hatred of mankind.

Frankenstein starts to create the bride, but eventually becomes horrified again at the prospect of creating another Creature when his first creation chooses the body of the family's maid's late daughter as his bride. He is warned by the Creature, "if you deny me my wedding night, I will be present at yours." Choosing to ignore this, Frankenstein rushes home and marries Elizabeth, and hires a team of mercenaries to kill the Creature. Nonetheless the Creature slips through and kills Frankenstein's father and Elizabeth, ripping her heart from her chest.

Utterly distraught, Frankenstein realises his last hope. He rushes Elizabeth's body to Ingolstadt and attaches her head to the body of the maid's daughter. He successfully reanimates her, and despite her hideous deformity attempts to get her to remember her past life by uttering his name. The Creature appears and calls the new creature to him as his Bride. She is torn between her love for Frankenstein and her desire to be with the Creature who loves her for herself as opposed to her former life. She commits suicide by burning herself to death with an oil lamp.

At this point the film returns to the captain's cabin on the trapped ship. Frankenstein warns the captain that discovery can cause immense suffering. Nonetheless, the captain intends to press north, claiming that the death of his sailors is a worthy sacrifice for their place in history. Frankenstein dies, and the captain returns to his crew, who are near to mutiny. The Creature manages to enter the captain's cabin, and is discovered by the crew to be utterly devastated by Frankenstein's body. The Creature says that Frankenstein is his father, and is grief-stricken at his death. As the ice breaks around this ship, the Creature commits suicide on Frankenstein's funeral pyre. The captain, asked by his bosun for their destination, simply replies, "home".


This is possibly Francis Ford Coppola's crowning achievement. A film that fuses adventure, suspense, horror and romance, with a powerful moral - that the voyage of discovery can lead to devastation and misery - in this respect, Michael Crichton's classic novel, Jurassic Park could be seen as a modern Frankenstein. The casting for the film is truly superb. Kenneth Branagh, playing Frankenstein, draws upon all of his Shakespearian skills to act the role of a man hopelessly obsessed with relieving his grief at his mother's death, to the exclusion of his own creation's misery. Helena Bonham Carter, playing Elizabeth, is superb in the role of a woman who is deeply in love with someone whose drive and determination alienate the two - yet, despite this, she continues to love him, even when she learns the horrible truth of his experiment. Cameos by Ian Holm (who played Ash in Alien) and the great British comedians John Cleese and Richard Briers, in eminently serious roles, are also acted superbly.

Yet perhaps the greatest acting of all is displayed by Robert De Niro, who plays the Creature. Throughout the course of the film he combines grief, hatred, love, yearning, vengeance, and a desire for self-discovery effortlessly, and with incredibly moving consequences. The longest encounter between the Creature and Frankenstein, in the mountain cave, is tremendously emotional, as the two confront the realities of Frankenstein's mistake. The overwhelming effect of De Niro's performance is one of a devastated, empty Creature, who longs for acceptance yet realises that his hatred and love are the only two emotions strong enough for him to enact.

The film's score, composed expertly by Patrick Doyle, mixes heart-rending slow strings during the film's many scenes of grief with powerful, jarring, brassy melodies during scenes of high drama. In most films, a score is there to compliment the acting, and is often relegated to the background. In this case, the music is so powerful that this film would be incomplete without it. During the most powerful scenes, Doyle's music seems to resonate within the plot, creating a truly well-combined experience.

Of course, in any horror film one of the most important areas of production is in make-up. The Creature's make-up, credited to Daniel Parker, is flawless. To create the appearance of half-dead skin stitched together without it looking artificial is a difficult feat, but Parker pulls it off with incredibly good results. Costumes, too, have been selected carefully to reflect the historical circumstances of late eighteenth century Austria.


This is possibly one of the best films of its genre. Any film that can combine drama, horror, love and a strong moral without appearing overly-preachy is an excellent achievement, and this film is eminently successful in doing so. Acted with riveting intensity by a powerful cast, Mary Shelly's Frankenstein remains a classic horror film, and should grace the shelf of anyone interested in films about romance or horror.