It’s alive! Franken­steIn re­turns – with a bro­man­tic twist. nick setch­field meets the mon­ster mak­ers...

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Franken­stein! It’s the great­est name in hor­ror. Go on, roll it around your tongue. Feel the power of light­ning in ev­ery last, corpse-both­er­ing syl­la­ble. Franken­stein! It’s alive with elec­tric­ity, isn’t it? Enough iconic volt­age to re­an­i­mate a heap of stolen, stitched-to­gether body parts. But it’s also a name that needs to be re­claimed, re­turned to its right­ful owner – even if that’s an ob­sessed, grave-rob­bing so­ciopath with a nasty side­line in dar­ing to be God…

“Peo­ple say Franken­stein’s the mon­ster and it’s not, it’s the man,” says di­rec­tor Paul McGuigan, point­ing out the great­est fal­lacy in hor­ror. “We’ve given Vic­tor Franken­stein back his name.”

This lat­est take on Mary Shel­ley’s en­dur­ing fable of mad sci­ence shifts the fo­cus from

crea­ture to creator. With a screen­play by

Chron­i­cle’s Max Lan­dis, Vic­tor Franken­stein maps the friend­ship be­tween the ti­tle char­ac­ter and his hunch­backed aide, Igor. Think of it as a bodys­natch­ing bro­mance. Think of it, if you must, as Franken­stein Be­gins.

“It wasn’t a hor­ror movie I was mak­ing here,” McGuigan tells SFX. “It’s about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween two young men and that’s what I was keen to play. Th­ese men are sci­en­tists who hap­pen to make mon­sters.

“This is the be­gin­ning of the story that ev­ery­one is fa­mil­iar with. Our story ac­tu­ally ends where the story nor­mally be­gins. We cre­ate a mon­ster at the end of the film. We still get the mon­ster at the end – it’s still a very ex­cit­ing last third – but that isn’t our movie.”

stooped in­ter­loper

Don’t look for Igor in the pages of Shel­ley’s high gothic mas­ter­piece. The crook­backed lab as­sis­tant is strictly a cin­e­matic fix­ture. But then nei­ther Lan­dis or McGuigan set out to bring that 1818 novel to the screen. The first page of the screen­play bore the words “Franken­stein – based on (the pop-cul­ture zeit­geist in­ter­pre­ta­tion of ) Mary Shel­ley’s Franken­stein.”

“That’s the kind of thing Max Lan­dis would say!” laughs McGuigan, whose movie aims to syn­the­sise vi­sions of Franken­stein from James Whale to Mel Brooks while bring­ing a con­tem­po­rary insight to the friend­ship at its heart. “He cherry-picked all the good ideas from all the Franken­stein movies as well as Mary Shel­ley’s book and he made up this whole back­story of who Vic­tor Frankstein was and how he and Igor met. Af­ter read­ing that script it felt like The So­cial Net­work or some­thing!”

McGuigan has form when it comes to im­mor­tal lit­er­ary fig­ures. He made his name on the big screen with Gang­ster Num­ber 1 and Lucky Num­ber Slevin but also launched Sher­lock, stamp­ing Steven Mof­fat and Mark Gatiss’s up­date of the Baker Street sleuth with a dis­tinc­tive vis­ual stamp. He tells SFX he wasn’t re­motely daunted by the prospect of tack­ling this equally much-told tale.

“I was ex­cited to take hold of it,” he shares. “When I did Sher­lock peo­ple would ask ‘Why do Sher­lock Holmes? It’s been done a hun­dred

times be­fore!’ And then sud­denly it comes out and they go, ‘Oh, okay… I un­der­stand.’ Max Lan­dis had some­thing new within his script that I liked, which was the bond be­tween th­ese two men.

“Igor was a con­trivance of cin­ema, this weird char­ac­ter who’s a hunch­back and who’ll do any­thing for the mad sci­en­tist be­cause he’s crazy as well. In a way those char­ac­ters were very much a re­flec­tion of what Hol­ly­wood at that time thought sci­ence was like. So we’ve taken them back and re­aligned this whole re­la­tion­ship. We’ve ac­tu­ally given Igor a voice. And to give Igor a voice al­lows us to see Vic­tor Franken­stein for the first time.”

Igor’s played by former boy wizard Daniel Rad­cliffe, carv­ing a niche as a mod­ern hor­ror icon fol­low­ing turns in Horns and The Woman In Black. “Daniel brings a heart,” says McGuigan. “He brings a voice to a char­ac­ter who’s never had one be­fore. He’s a bit like Wat­son to Sher­lock. We see Vic­tor through his eyes.”

this is the be­gin­ning of the story that ev­ery­one is fa­mil­iar with

Weird sCi­enCe

Rad­cliffe’s paired with X-Men fran­chise star James McAvoy, cast as the ob­ses­sive crea­ture maker who’s out to chal­lenge death it­self. “James is just full of en­ergy and flam­boy­ance. He will never just walk in a room. He’ll al­ways think of an­other way to come through that door. He’ll run, he’ll bat­ter down the door, he’ll come in side­ways. Vic­tor Franken­stein is a so­ciopath. He doesn’t like peo­ple very much and that’s hard to watch if you don’t colour that with some kind of en­ergy and ec­cen­tric­ity. You need some­one who you want to watch on screen and James is a per­son you want to keep watch­ing de­spite your­self, even if you don’t know if you like the char­ac­ter or not.”

And then there’s Vic­tor’s mon­strous cre­ation it­self. Ev­ery big-screen in­car­na­tion of the Crea­ture in­evitably lives in the lurch­ing, flat-skulled shadow of Karloff but McGuigan’s take doesn’t run from that com­par­i­son. In fact the man who rein­vented Sher­lock in­sisted he em­brace it, neck-bolts and all.

“I spoke with Steven Mof­fat about it,” McGuigan re­calls. “I told him I was go­ing to do this movie and he said, ‘Prom­ise me one thing – don’t fuck with the mon­ster!’ And I know what he means. It’s so good. Why fuck with it?

“I was so glad that Steven said that be­cause it re­ally res­onated with me. Peo­ple were end­lessly send­ing me sketches of how they thought the mon­ster should look. I kept say­ing, ‘No, no – I want it more like Boris Karloff!’ Peo­ple thought that was a bit strange but it was the best piece of ad­vice I had. It made sense be­cause a lot of th­ese other Franken­stein movies try to rein­vent the wheel too much. Some­times it’s best to leave it be. We went okay, this is our tem­plate and we’ll make our ver­sion of it. It still has the same sil­hou­ette. We have bolts on the neck but they don’t stick out as much. And we had the flat head be­cause we could.”

McGuigan laughs, re­al­is­ing he’s a cre­ative soul­mate to Mary Shel­ley’s mon­ster maker. “In the film some­one asks Vic­tor, ‘Why de­sign it this way?’ And he says, ‘Be­cause I could’. I’m a bit of a Vic­tor Franken­stein my­self that way.”

Vic­tor Franken­stein opens on 3 De­cem­ber.

Mak­ing a mon­ster looks like a job for a lot of peo­ple.

Note the lack of “Vic­tor” on the clap­per­board!

Paul McGuigan: not in cos­tume. Some film­ing took place at Dun­not­tar Cas­tle in Aberdeen­shire. An­drew Scott about to do to Vic­tor what he did to him­self in Sher­lock?

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