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Victor Frankenstein and Harry Potter

Horror Duo

In the 2015 Victor Frankenstein, famed Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe is the hunchback Igor - except he's not really hunchbacked. He has a large hump-like liquid cyst on his back and extremely bad posture, both fixed after he meets Victor Frankenstein (James Mcavoy), who happens to be visiting the brutal circus where Igor works as a clown. A partnership is forged when Igor seems to miraculously save the life of a female acrobat (she's named Lorelei - played by Jessica Brown Findlay) that has fallen to the ground and broken bones which press on her diaphragm preventing her from breathing. Igor's ad hoc reading of medical books has made him a sort of freelance doctor at this circus. Igor saves Lorelei's life (a romance, after Igor is cleaned up and groomed, will soon thereafter blossom) and Frankenstein is mightily impressed with Igor's talented hands.

Not that Igor's skill is particularly appreciated by anyone else at this hellish entertainment facility. He is treated like a slave and an almost like an animal by the owner and the other performers. Igor is given a chance to escape in the company of Dr. Frankenstein (maybe he's not really a "doctor" since he is actually only still a medical student, visiting the circus to purchase the corpses of dead animals) who has sized up the situation accurately and realizes Igor's predicament.

Making a run for freedom and following Frankenstein back home (which is also a lab), Igor sees his life change dramatically, and not just from acquiring a new vertical posture, but by Frankenstein seizing upon Igor's medical knowledge gained from books and amateur practice. Frankenstein praises Igor's ability to see medical solutions, unhampered by the routine training of a professional doctor who, in Frankenstein's opinion, is therefore limited by conformity to the prejudices and limitations of Victorian era science.

Igor is not only delighted to be treated like a human being by his new friend, he is also given a sparkling new wardrobe and haircut, turning him into Frankenstein's elegant counterpart (they both have wonderful hair) and so they together appear at dinner parties, where Frankenstein, unhinged by alcohol, begins shouting his theories about "babies grown in vats!" and other ideas on how to circumvent death and the vaguely understood but frequently mentioned "natural order."

21st century Victorian Frankenstein

Paul McGuigan is the director and he keeps the story moving quickly, though not too fast since a lot of the dialogue (from writer Max Landis) gets a decent airing, which is nice since this is probably the most intelligent Frankenstein movie made in quite a long time (and loaded with inside-jokes alluding to previous Frankenstein movies and stories, from the Colin Clive/Karloff original to the Gene Wilder Young Frankenstein, and the Brian Aldiss 1973 novel Frankenstein Unbound).

Sumptuous art direction fills up the screen with over-stuffed Victorian furniture and bric-a-brac, but the dimly-lit cinematography (which is a sort of fashion these days) hides a lot of what otherwise might have been a better inspection of the visual design. But, we must have mood, and mood here, figuratively and literally, is darkness.

Special effects and makeup are the rest of the movie, and though the climax at a half-built castle-cum-lab in the wilderness of the Northern Scottish coast is sort of a repeat of the beginning (which was a circus, except now Frankenstein is the slave of a mad industrialist hoping to capitalize on on what he sees as a huge future market in resurrections) the whole episode gets truncated somehow with pyrotechnic lightning-flashes and a tidying-up of the story and characters in a too short range of space heading for the rolling credits.

The worst of this cleaning-up in the waning moments is how actor Andrew Scott as Inspector Turpin is unceremoniously deleted from the tale. Well, at least he made it almost to the end, you might say. Turpin had importance at the beginning, acting as a kind of mirror-image of Victor's obsessive nature, and how once unleashed, obsession expels ethics and human-feeling (the same mirroring was also provided by Freddie Fox as Finnegan, the young industrialist obsessed with profits, no matter at what cost, exhibiting a heart deader than anything Victor Frankenstein has to work with).

Inspector Turpin at first seems to be the voice of matters Igor can't grasp and Frankenstein won't face, but by the end he is become a religious stereotype and just another casualty of the mayhem, as if the writer said "I haven't got anymore ideas!" and the director said "and I have no more production money!"

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The spectre of Mary Shelley

One of the extravagant things about the movie is that is reflects outward onto Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley herself, the original writer of the 1816-1818 Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Mary Shelley had lost a sister to suicide just weeks before she began writing her story, and Victor Frankenstein screenplay writer Max Landis echoes this with the drama of Victor Frankenstein longing for his dead (and mostly unmentioned) brother Henry Frankenstein (as young children Victor and Henry were caught in a snow blizzard. Only one survives). In a way, Landis is trying to have it all, tying together Mary Shelley, Karloff and Clive to this 2015 film (in an ironic fashion that is true to current sensibilities, remember: Henry Frankenstein was the name of the mad scientist in the 1931 film) but also trying to fashion a sensitive tale about a rational mind (Frankensteins) pushed to succeed against a brutal father, an uncomprehending selection of friends (not counting Igor) and any sort of religious sense which would, logically, put the dead brother Henry beyond his grasp. Victor's painful method for dealing with grief is macabre, decadent, and produces what we knew was coming all along: a monster.

Clever cues aside, the tale is well told in a flamboyant way, courtesy of the shouting, spitting and grimacing of James Mcavoy who modulates Victor's topsy-turvy mental state visually with moments of pompous self-adulation then down to self-loathing and self-face-slapping, making Victor not only mad, brilliant, but sympathetic; a man trapped inside an obsession. The much more controlled Daniel Radcliffe is an Igor more interested in life than death, and eschewing all the petty cruelty that usually has been the attitude of Frankenstein's hunchbacked assistants in other film-treatments. Director McGuigan trains his cameras onto Radcliffe's face whenever he wants the audience to realize Victor is himself a victim, too, and Igor's eyes are so big it works in the same way that Victor and Igor think that their "man" will, with two hearts, 4 lungs, and:

"A flat-flat head!" - Victor Frankenstein, drinking heavily as they design.

"Why?" - Igor

"Because I like it! That's why!" - Victor

The storytelling skills of director Paul McGuigan and writer Landis make the best of Mcavoy and to a lessor extent, Radcliffe. The dialogue is often witty, and altogether the effort is more ambitious than any Frankenstein film I've seen made in many decades, and probably more than maybe anyone could reasonably have hoped for. Unfortunately the film is hampered by an impaired run-time and unrealized, flattened secondary characters.

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Original Page July 7, 2016