Despite my affection for filmed versions of Frankenstein, Sean Tretta’s 2010 offering, The Frankenstein Syndrome is not the kind of film I’d normally be attracted to. The film was released directly to DVD and as a low-budget production it received relatively little publicity. In fact, I’d never even heard of it until I searched for all things Frankenstein in the world of ‘on-demand.’ I decided to watch it as part of a tribute to Frankenstein on film I was considering posting and I’m not sorry I did.
Written and directed by Sean Tretta The Frankenstein Syndrome aka The Prometheus Project is billed as a modern interpretation of the Mary Shelly novel, Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus. I suppose every film associated with Shelley’s source material must be viewed as a modern-day interpretation, but I am particularly interested in the films that claim that as a goal, as they usually attempt a truer retelling.
“Low budget” is not a bad thing in the world of horror if the story is plausible. Well, that may be true of any genre come to think about it. Anyway, as far as it being a representative of the genre, The Frankenstein Syndrome is a pretty good deal. Not being a hard-core horror film fan I must admit, however, that I was compelled to roll my eyes by some of what is shown in this film. Still, it somehow kept pulling me back into the story.
This film opens with a bloody scene within the confines of a hospital-type facility. We move along narrow, dimly lit corridors – witnessing first-hand the results of the horrors that have taken place. There is blood everywhere. Suddenly it’s two years later. A young woman wearing a mask is being deposed. Her name is Elizabeth Barnes (Tiffany Shepis), a doctor of Biology who’d been a part of The Prometheus Project, an illegal medical research project involved in organ trafficking and stem cell research. The project and its leaders had a special interest in studying cell anomalies with potential to regenerate dead tissue.
As Dr. Barnes tells the story of the secret project that took place years earlier, we are transported back to witness the processes of The Prometheus Project. We meet the players, the geniuses who’d dedicated their lives to science for the betterment of mankind. Except, as expected, this is the story of science and good intentions turned mad.
The Frankenstein Syndrome has its merits as a worthy entry in the Frankenstein movie timeline because it attempts to fulfill its promise of telling the Shelley story truthfully. That is, in the sense that it injects as many references to the original source as is possible. For instance, the head of The Prometheus Projects refers to himself as a “modern-day Prometheus” and his hunger for the project’s success as his “search for that fire.” If you are not familiar with the Prometheus myth, by the way, you can read about it here.
Aside from the direct association to Prometheus and his quest, The Frankenstein Syndrome also pays tribute to Mary Shelley herself by having characters named after her. “Agent Wollstonecraft” and “Agent Godwin” are taken directly from Shelley’s name – Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley. In addition, this film follows the plot of many of its film predecessors as the project team in the film is unable to conduct legal human trials, the researchers turn to corpses to test their proposed life-generating serum. Finally, despite the horror committed by “the monsters” – and there are several in this story – it remains, in the end, that the true monsters are those with the white lab coats, which is a central theme of Mary Shelley’s original work. Oh, and there is a version of the “it’s alive” moment in this movie.
I can’t help but admire (to some extent) what The Frankenstein Syndrome tries to do. While the film has major flaws, in some ways it is more original than several other big-budget attempts to tell this story. It’s worth noting, by the way, that Syndrome features very effective cinematography, which along with the score make for several heart-pounding sequences.
In the end, however, two things stand out for me as unfortunate. For one, while there is an attempt to make the monster in this film sympathetic, his anger trumps all. He makes it clear that he suffers, stating outright he did not ask for what he was served but it’s too little compared to the crimes he commits and the manner in which he commits them. Also, the addition of kinetic abilities to go along with his impressive size and strength is just too over-the-top. Finally, the film’s ending doesn’t quite make all the blood and gore we tread through worth the effort. Oh, no they didn’t!