A few weeks ago, while attending the Days of the Dead convention in Los Angeles, I sat in on a panel with director Bernard Rose and Tony Todd. Though I was familiar with both of them, as I am a big fan of CANDYMAN, I hadn’t heard of his Rose’s latest film, FRANKENSTEIN (which also stars Tony Todd). Hearing them discuss the movie perked my ears up and I knew this was a film I needed on my radar. As soon as I got home that night, I immediately went on Amazon and rented it. I was absolutely blown away with what I was watching. Not only is FRANKENSTEIN a brilliant horror film, it’s also capable of pulling on your heart strings and making you feel such deep emotions for the monster on the screen. Once the movie had ended, I wondered why more people weren’t talking about this film. I decided I wanted to learn more about FRANKENSTEIN so that I could spread the word to horror fans far and wide and I figured what better way to do that than to sit down with the director himself.
Shannon McGrew: Hi Bernard! It’s so wonderful to be talking with you today about your latest movie FRANKENSTEIN. I just watched it and I thought it was absolutely brilliant. I loved that it was horrific yet played with my emotions. It’s something that isn’t seen a lot in horror films. What made you decide to do a movie based off of Frankenstein?
Bernard Rose: Well, I wasn’t super familiar with the Mary Shelley book Frankenstein. I knew of the James Whale movies and I loved Boris Karloff’s adaptation of Frankenstein, but we are so used to seeing the Karloff rendition which is subsequently filtered through to Mel Brooks “Young Frankenstein.” When you go back to the Mary Shelley book you kind of go, “Oh no, this books is really serious and very emotional.” It’s a key work of romantic fiction as much as anything. In the 1930s, Whale used this convincing idea that Frankenstein was created by digging out body parts and reanimating corpses, when in actuality that’s a major distortion from the book. Mary Shelley writes about Victor Frankenstein creating life which is not the same as reanimating corpses, and I thought that was a big deal. I also really loved certain chapters within the book that dealt with the Monster’s point of view and my adaptation is largely based on those chapters. I loved that the Monster was a new type of creature and the only one of his kind in the world; he’s just desperately lonely and can’t understand why everyone hates him.
SM: You briefly touched on this in the above questions but what do you think your adaptation of FRANKENSTEIN brings to the table that no one else has done prior?
BR: I wanted this film to be an immediate existential journey into the creature’s life from birth to death. I also wanted to do the classic inversion of the Monster where the viewer completely identifies with the Monster and the people surrounding him are the ones that are evil, which leads to the Monster imitating the violence that he sees around him. You are seeing his journey and where he finds himself in a world that is hostile. In reality, that’s really how the world feels towards us anyways.
SM: You have an amazing cast that includes Danny Huston, Carrie-Anne Moss, Xavier Samuel, and Tony Todd. How did you go about casting the role of Victor Frankenstein?
BR: Danny (Huston) is an old friend of mine and he seemed like the obvious casting choice for Victor Frankenstein. One of the things we wanted to avoid in the movie is when Victor, before he creates the Monster, is like “I’m going to create life!” and he’s all into it but as soon as he create the Monster he’s like “Oh no what have I done!?” and I never really bough that in any version of Frankenstein. I believe that’s why Victor Frankenstein (with the notable exception of Gene Wilder’s performance) is always the weakest character in the story. Danny and I figured that Victor would be someone from Silicon Valley, probably a plastic surgeon, who has all these weird techniques up his sleeve, who wouldn’t care a damn for this creature and would just want it gone. I thought this was much more realistic and a much more interesting character. Anyone that achieves life would be tremendously egotistical about it.
SM: Once you had everyone casted, how did you prep them to take on the challenge of such a classic novel?
BR: I think the film obviously sticks pretty close to the novel as well as reference major points in Whale’s film. For me, the most important thing was to treat this like a drama and for the cast to act as though they didn’t know the outcome of the story. When you are dealing with a classic horror story, everyone knows what’s going to happen, right? It’s as if you bought a house in Transylvania and it was inhabited by a creature, you would know that it’s Dracula; however, time and time again people keep buying that house in Transylvania and keep getting surprised when Dracula appears. The whole point of me doing FRANKENSTEIN was for it to have the same impact that it had when people first read it in the early 19thcentury. They would have found the novel shocking since it’s very violent – even violent in a sexual way. I wanted the film to feel very visceral which is why I made it very violent.
SM: Well you definitely achieved the violence haha. On a side note, my horror icon has always been CANDYMAN. I know most people’s horror icon are Jason, Freddy, or Mike Myers, but mine has always been CANDYMAN. That’s the only movie that has ever truly frightened me and it actually got me to almost stop watching horror. Having watched it recently, I have to say CANDYMAN really stands the test of time in regards to it still be a chilling horror film. I know you have worked with Tony Todd numerous times, what is it like working with Tony Todd as the Blind Beggar in FRANKENSTEIN?
BR: Tony is great and I think he’s an actor with tremendous versatility and skill. The whole catch of the Blind Beggar in the Frankenstein novel has always been a very memorable scene. It was also very memorable in Bride of Frankenstein and even more memorable in some ways in Young Frankenstein when Gene Hackman played the Blind Beggar. In a sense it was quite dangerous to do those scenes after having seen them portrayed in the other films, but I didn’t want to avoid not doing it as it’s a magical part of the story. I got the idea of doing the scene in a modern context where the LA Police would dump the Monster in downtown LA so the Blind Beggar would have to be someone on Skid Row. This scene is the first time the Monster hears music and he has a terribly profound reaction to hearing it which resulted in a very powerful scene. I knew the Blind Beggar would have to be someone who is playing the Blues and someone suggested Tony and I thought, that’s a good idea. Tony really makes the Blind Beggar his own, he’s singing all that stuff live and I think Tony really pulls it off. It’s the right amount of polish and unpolish. I really think he gives the movie an emotional core and as well as a sense of hope for the Monster.
SM: You’ve done all types of film, drama, historical, and obviously horror. What keeps you coming back to the horror genre?
BR: In the 19th century theatre there was a fire wall between tragedy and comedy. Comedy ended in a wedding and a drama (tragedy) ended with the death of the hero. Now-a-days we basically have a form that is melodrama where the story ends in either a wedding or with the victory of the hero. There is actually nothing cute about that. What is wonderful about the horror genre is it’s about the only mainstream genre where there is no obligation to not kill the main character, it’s actually expected. Narrowing down the audience to only watching the most sentimental clap trap has kind of really polluted dramatic movies. Compared to what films were like in the 70s, nobody makes films like that anymore and if they do, it seems as though they are just for Oscar bait. If you want to do anything controversial or say anything off-colored, or strange, the horror genre is a good vehicle for that.
SM: What do you think is missing in the horror genre?
BR: A true horror film needs to be transgressive, meaning that most people aren’t going to like it. The problem with FRANKENSTEIN is it’s had a lot of critical success but not a lot of support from the distributors and I think that counts for a lot. I think a lot of these numbers and online rankings work when a studio gets behind a film and has people spreading the message. I don’t think those numbers and rankings are very trustworthy anymore.
SM: What can we look forward to from you in the future?
BR: I have a variety of projects going, none of which are 100% yet, but I have written another update of a classic 19th century horror film which has a slightly bigger budget. It’s very racy but I think it could be fantastic so I’m hoping that will go forward. There are also a couple other things that I have cooking so we will see in what order these things happen. In the case of FRANKENSTEIN, the more people like yourself that write about it will help push out there that this film is something different, and if you are the type of person who likes something different than you may want to seek this out.
SM: Thank you so much Bernard for your time and for answering questions about your film FRANKENSTEIN. We with you continued success in your upcoming projects and can’t wait to see what you bring to the screen next!
Curious as to where you can see FRANKENSTEIN? It’s available to rent on Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu, and GooglePlay.