Q&A: “CANDYMAN’s” Bernard Rose Brings New “FRANKENSTEIN” to LifeFearful Features,Home,Movies/TV,News Michael Gingold
It’s alive!—again, and this time it’s Bernard Rose, who established a big-screen horror icon with CANDYMAN, bringing a new, updated vision of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN to the screen. FANGORIA got exclusive words with Rose on his incarnation of the mad-science classic.
In this FRANKENSTEIN, on Blu-ray and DVD today from Alchemy, Victor Frankenstein (Danny Huston) works side by side with his wife Elizabeth (Carrie-Anne Moss) to create new life with the most modern technology, making their “monster” (Xavier Samuel) via 3D printing. At first appearing perfect, their creation starts to physically deteriorate and is rejected by his “parents,” leading the childlike being on a violent odyssey through the Los Angeles area. Also starring Tony Todd, Candyman himself, as a blind street musician who befriends the creature, this FRANKENSTEIN works current concerns and explicitly bloody scenes into Shelley’s timeless tale of scientific ambition and a monster misunderstood. Fango spoke to Rose as he accompanied FRANKENSTEIN at its New York premiere as part of last Halloween’s Scary Movies festival at Lincoln Center.
FANGORIA: What was the inspiration to do another version of this story?
BERNARD ROSE: Well, quite literally, the novel. I’d never read it, and it was kind of a revelation; first, how good it is, and how seminal, but mostly because I felt that, in two important respects, the novel had never been translated properly onto the screen. The first is that Mary Shelley did not write a novel about reanimating corpses; she says that Victor Frankenstein studies cadavers, but she doesn’t say he digs up body parts, stitches them together and makes a monster. She says that he creates life, and then when the ship’s captain asks him how he did it, he refuses to answer, because he says he doesn’t want anyone to follow in his footsteps. I think there’s a big difference between reanimating corpses and creating life, especially given that part of the novel has the monster killing everyone close to Frankenstein—but if he knows how to reanimate dead people, why doesn’t he just bring them back?
Obviously, James Whale, when he made the famous film, solved the issue the only way he could imagine it being plausible in 1931 terms—but of course now, we have the ability to create flesh with 3D printers, which people are doing. So I felt that what’s actually brilliant about Shelley’s book is that, at the very beginning of the scientific era, it intuits what the real ambition of science is, which is to create consciousness, and that’s why I think the book is still relevant.
Also, I wanted to give the monster the voice he has in the novel. When he tells his story to Victor, he sounds like a romantic poet, like Byron, and no one has ever done that [on film]. The whole point is that the creature is hyper-intelligent, and in fact Boris Karloff makes you understand how intelligent he is inside, but his Monster is very uncommunicative, which I believe is wrong. To me, the whole point of the monster is that after he learns to speak, he’s very articulate. During the course of this film, he doesn’t learn enough language to be the erudite, so I gave him Shelley’s words as an internal monologue. They are directly quoted from the novel.
FANG: How do you feel about the Hammer FRANKENSTEINs and some of the later movies?
ROSE: I enjoyed the Hammer film [CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN], but the big difference between that and the James Whale film is that Whale’s is kind of set in the ’30s, but you’re not really sure when it takes place. The women don’t look Victorian at all—they’ve got 1930s hairdos and they’re wearing 1930s dresses, or even 20s, really—and I think there’s even a car, isn’t there? Because it’s in sort of a bogus backlot Ruritania, you can’t exactly tell when it’s set, but it’s not 1819, when the novel takes place. Obviously, one of the things the Hammer film did was give it a sort of early Victorian setting, though I would say it’s probably around 1860, later than the novel.
But again, to me, the whole point is the real possibility of being able to do these things, so it didn’t make sense to set it in period. It’s something that people should believe could happen and really think about, rather than an old ghost story from the past. I think that was definitely Shelley’s intention.
FANG: Did you do your own scientific research for the movie?
ROSE: Yeah, absolutely, I mean, you don’t have to look very far; you can Google this stuff. Suddenly, they’re not only making body parts and limbs, they’re also making livers. They make these plastic armatures, and then they print 3D stem cells onto those and they grow into the actual organs. So this isn’t really even fiction; this is what’s happening today, and what’s happening out there on the far edges of the research…who knows? I mean, the idea that you could make an entire human being, inside and out, in a 3D printer isn’t that farfetched.
Of course, the big question is, how would you then imbue it with consciousness? But we don’t know what consciousness is; we have no idea. That is, of course, what the book is about: Does a being who has consciousness have rights, is he the property of the man who made him or not? In making a film from the monster’s point of view, that gives you an innately sympathetic character. You have this innocence, and what I believe Karloff captured more than anybody who came after him was that quality.
Also, I made him very beautiful, because why would they make him ugly? But they haven’t done it correctly, so over the course of the film he rots, and becomes hideous.
FANG: How did you approach modernizing some of the other story elements, like the blind man?
ROSE: Well, he’s played by Tony Todd, and the monster meets him when he ends up on Skid Row in Los Angeles, which is where he would end up. Tony’s character Eddie is down and out and plays the blues on his guitar, and he’s so moving. Their relationship is very touching; Eddie is the only person who’s nice to Adam. Adam doesn’t know anything; he has this terribly sensitive soul but no emotional maturity. He has the maturity of a 2-year-old, but the physical strength of 10 men. People keep beating him, so he beats them back; he’s taught violent behavior, and the first person who treats him kindly, other than Elizabeth, played by Carrie-Anne Moss, is Eddie.
FANG: Obviously, you had a professional relationship with Tony Todd from CANDYMAN; how did you go about casting the other three leads?
ROSE: Well, I have a long-term relationship with Danny Huston, who’s been in many of my films—IVANSXTC, THE KREUTZER SONATA and BOXING DAY. So I literally just told Danny, “Victor Frankenstein, that’s you,” and he said, “Of course, why not, it’s a good idea.” Our conception of Victor is somewhat different than he’s usually portrayed, because most of the films are essentially told from his point of view. But what that does, I think, is give you a first third where this guy’s going, [in heavy European accent] “I want to create life,” and then the monster is made too late in the movie, and the next part of the movie is Frankenstein going, “Oh my God, what have I done?” and I always thought that was sort of pathetic. Danny and I thought it would be much better to have a Victor Frankenstein who’s more like Steve Jobs, and is very f**king proud that he succeeded, but disgusted that his creation isn’t right, and he’d want to dispose of him and start again. In that sense, Victor is the villain, but he’s not really a villain; he’s brilliant and he doesn’t have the self-doubt that the character is normally imbued with—mostly because I sort of bifurcated Victor into him and his wife.
FANG: This is the first film, I believe, in which Frankenstein’s wife has been directly involved with his work.
ROSE: Yeah, normally she’s banging on the door saying, “Victor, what are you doing? Victor, Victor, come out of there now!” Again, in a modern context, that would be wrong, so here she’s in the lab with him and deeply involved in it. Also, for me, Elizabeth is kind of a representation of Mary Shelley, and also a bit of a nod to Elsa Lanchester in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Also, there’s a new idea that comes up because she’s the first thing he sees, so he thinks that she’s his mother. So he has Mom and Dad, instead of just Dad, rejecting him, and that makes it a little bit richer.
FANG: What was the process of finding the right actor to play Adam?
ROSE: Xavier Samuel is a brilliant young Australian actor, and he does look great, and I needed someone who was an Adonis. He’s totally naked in the beginning of the film, and he had to appear completely perfect physically, and Xavier is lucky enough to have those attributes. He’s also a terrific actor—he was in THE LOVED ONES and FURY, and he’s going to be a star one day, and he’s incredible in this film. Obviously, he doesn’t have very much [spoken] dialogue; he learns English, but I was very rigid that he couldn’t say a word until someone had said it to him, but then he would remember everything; he has a mind like a steel trap. So I took Xavier out into the woods, and we kind of improvised and he ate bugs and worms.
FANG: The film makes good use of the LA settings, but did you ever think about setting the story in Europe, as the book was?
ROSE: Well, again, I wanted to get away from the Gothic theme. I wanted the film not to have those trappings; I wanted to wipe that away, because the ideas in the book are still relevant today. There are speeches the monster has when he starts to look at the world around him and realize what’s happening… I mean, Adam looks at the people in downtown LA, and the divide between the rich and the poor, and the voiceover he has in those scenes was written by Mary Shelley in 1818, so nothing has changed. You know, we think we’re dealing with social problems for the first time, but it has always been like that; we’ve always maintained that divide. You take this text that’s 300 years old, and everything in it could have been written yesterday, except that the language is a little archaic. What I really wanted to do was strip away all the moldy bits that have kind of encrusted the story and get to what Mary Shelley was after.