TNT's kinder, gentler 'Frankenstein'

More than a half-century before Freud thought up the science of psychoanalysis, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley plotted out a pretty insightful understanding of some of the mind's inner conflicts in her 1818 novel, "Frankenstein, Or The Modern Prometheus."

Now, most viewers remember "Frankenstein," the landmark 1931 film with Boris Karloff, as the prototypical horror/monster movie, followed by many more versions. But a new cable television telling of the story delves more deeply into Shelley's original psycho-study.


The new "Frankenstein," premiering at 8 p.m. tomorrow on TNT, brings us Randy Quaid as less a monster than a bewildered child. Shunned by all, including his creator, he can find no place in the world, and so turns to raging vengeance.

Indeed, as in the Jekyll and Hyde story, this "monster" can be seen as the dark, hopelessly lonely side of the human personality -- in this case, of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, played by Patrick Bergin.


Himself shunned in his work by the closed minds of the Victorian age, the scientist turns to trying to create a better kind of human, stronger and free of the disease that grips his city in an epidemic.

"He was meant to have my thoughts without my flaws," he explains.

"He's you, isn't he?" challenges Victor's fiance, played by Fiona Gillies.

But the offspring to whom the scientist gives life flees his laboratory birthplace before Dr. Frankenstein can begin to teach him anything.

The creation process is portrayed only vaguely here, with none of the ghoulish stitching together of parts from corpses of the Karloff movie. The monster is somehow animated inside a womblike tank, sharing characteristics of Dr. Frankenstein himself.

As in the novel, the movie is told in flashback form. Dr. Frankenstein relates the tale to the captain of a ship frozen into lTC the polar icecap. He has chased his creation there, seeking to destroy him.

The production, filmed in Poland, at times plods stiffly, projecting period authenticity through costume and location at the expense of the story. But this "Frankenstein" projects the monster of Shelley's novel as an innocent being of intelligence, who learns modesty, language and kindness -- especially from a gentle blind hermit, portrayed by veteran English actor Sir John Mills.

The classic scene of the unintentionally slain little girl from the 1931 film is nicely turned around here, as the monster actually saves her from drowning.


But the pure soul also learns violence and intolerance from most of the humans he encounters, for Shelley's view of mankind was not very kind.

Mr. Quaid spent five hours a day getting made up with latex and putty, but manages to project personality through the appearance of "a bald old brain tumor," as he described it in an interview with The Cable Guide magazine.

To help learn the isolation of his character, the actor also left the studio one day in full makeup to see how people would react.

"It really had an effect on people -- and on me, too. I realized he only wanted the things every human being wants -- a home, someone to love," he said.

Indeed, when Dr. Frankenstein and his creation finally meet, the monster demands the creation of a woman to be his mate. And Dr. Frankenstein almost does the deed -- as in the 1935 sequel, "Bride of Frankenstein."

This film takes a little liberty with Shelley's ending, but effectively so. For the closing scene strongly emphasizes the theme, as creator/creation finally recognize and accept their oneness.


A half-hour special, "Frankenstein Monster Salute," follows tomorrow's telecast, at 10:30 p.m., and the film repeats at 11 p.m.


When: 8 p.m. tomorrow

Where: TNT cable network

Stars: Randy Quaid, Patrick Bergin, Sir John Mills and Fiona Gillies