Horror novelist Dean R. Koontz concocted this TV movie update of the Mary Shelley classic, directed by pop video ace-turned-slasher updater Marcus Nispel, of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and Friday the 13th (2009) fame. In New Orleans a librarian is found with his heart ripped out. Or two hearts as it turns out after an autopsy uncovers an array of gene-engineered organs that left him something more than human. Detectives Carson O’Connor (Parker Posey) and Michael Sloane (Adam Goldberg) latch onto this bizarre case, inadvertently riling rival homicide cop Harker (Michael Madsen), and are subsequently approached by a disfigured down-and-out called Deucalion (Vincent Perez).
Deucalion bares his patchwork body and displays superhuman strength and endurance, claiming to be the original Frankenstein monster, now over two hundred years old. With his help, the detectives discover the killer is also a monster eliminating other Frankenstein creations that populate New Orleans, where their creator now resides as the wealthy and feted Dr. Victor Helios (Thomas Kretschmann) with plans to perfect his master race.
Following Francis Ford Coppola’s producing credit on a dodgy reworking of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde into a kung fu thriller, this boasts none other than Martin Scorsese as executive producer, though it’s uncertain whether he had any creative input. A joint venture between the USA Network and Lionsgate (as part of their on-off interest in horror movies), this is a fairly slick package. Texas Chainsaw cinematographer Daniel Pearl brings a familiar grungy, rat-infested look to proceedings while David Lynch favourite Angelo Badalamenti supplies the score.
It also has a good cast, especially in indie queen Parker Posey and Adam Goldberg who excel as a couple of quirky detectives. Though saddled with the expected TV soap opera baggage (Carson struggles looking after her autistic kid brother), they weave some wry humour amidst the gloom. While this TV pilot wasn’t popular enough to sire an ongoing series, Koontz wrote the characters into a trilogy of novels - Frankenstein: Prodigal Son, Frankenstein: City of Night and Frankenstein: Dead and Alive - and the prospect of watching O’Connor and Sloane on-screen again holds more appeal than another tired re-teaming of Mulder and Scully.
However, as updates go this does not do enough with Shelley’s concept besides spin off a comic book mystery yarn, akin to the old DC serial Spawn of Frankenstein. Vincent Perez is unrecognisable from his Gallic heartthrob days but his brooding poseur-monster, riddled with flashbacks to his gothic creation, is sadly one-note and uninteresting. By contrast German superstar Thomas Kretschmann makes a suave, calculating Frankenstein - living it up in high society and enjoying fairly graphic sex (for a Frankenstein movie, anyway) with his self-made perfect bride (Ivana Milicevic - the loveliest Frankenstein monster since Dalila di Lazzaro in Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)). Among the more interesting touches: Helios’ attempt to refashion his “perfect woman” only makes her more headstrong and independent; a gross-out twist revealing the male killer is pregnant; and hints that half the authority figures around New Orleans are really Frankenstein creations, twist that recalls Scream and Scream Again (1969) though this could use a dose of that film’s pace.
It’s closer to a police procedural than a traditional horror movie but the detectives have no interaction with Frankenstein himself and the mystery is somewhat spoiled given most viewers will recognise the killer’s gravely voice. Nevertheless, the story shows enough potential to make one curious to seek out Koontz’s Frankenstein novels, if only to see whether it was developed or squandered.