Even these tapes cost something

1983 | Harmony Gold Inc.
anime Frankenstein

Hello dear readers and welcome to the first of Anime Bargain Bin's forays into classic literature. Today it is Mary Shelley's famous horror yarn Frankenstein that gets the anime treatment!

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During the 1970's the animation studio Toei forged a deal with the U.S. comic book giant Marvel which would allow them to produce TV shows based on the company's popular characters. This deal should have been monumental for future western anime fans as well as the Japanese TV audience of the time but for reasons that are unclear only two things ever came of it. The first and most interesting was the, now infamous, live-action Sentai show Spider-man featuring the much loved wall crawler in an all new scenario with his giant robot Leopardon. The other is the less exciting 1980 animated TV Special Dracula: Sovereign Of The Damned based on Marvel's 70's comic strip of the same name.

What has all this got to do with Frankenstein? Well Dracula was such a success that Toei decided to capitalise on it by releasing Kyofu Densetsu Kaibutsu: Frankenstein (Mystery! Frankenstein: Legend of Terror) the following year. Although Marvel did produce a comic series based on the character, called Monster Of Frankenstein, this TV Special doesn't appear to have any relation to it.

Airing on TV Asahi in 1981, with a running time of 111 minutes, Frankenstein is a reasonably standard retelling of the classic book by Mary Shelley. In a foreboding castle scientist Dr Victor Frankenstein performs a hideous experiment which he hopes will bring the dead back to life. With the help of his assistant he is successful in reanimating a man recreated from parts gathered from corpses but the creature is unpredictable and horrifying. The doctor flees back to his home in Switzerland leaving his assistant in charge of destroying the monster. But Dr Frankenstein soon finds that he cannot hide from his shameful secret forever as mysterious murders are committed around him forcing him to question if his creation really is dead and gone...

The crew for Frankenstein was made up of Toei regulars including some well known names. Director Yugo Serikawa a veteran of the much loved World Masterpiece Theatre series having made a name for himself by directing and writing the screenplay for Cyborg 009's earliest animated outing; 1967's Kaiju Wars.

Toyoo Ashida provided the design and animation work. Three years later he would direct the Fist Of The North Star (Hokuto No Ken) TV series' followed by the Vampire Hunter D movie in '85 and returning to Hokuto No Ken with the movie version the following year. A varied career has seen him working on projects as diverse as Dr Slump, Space Battleship Yamato, Princess Minky Momo, the low brow comedy OAV Ultimate Teacher, Osamu Tezuka's Cleopatra: Queen of Sex and the popular 80's TV show Ulysses 31. Music for Frankenstein was provided by the man behind the Macross score; Kentaro Haneda.

Anyone familiar with the popular 80's TV show Robotech will instantly recognise many of the voice cast of the English dub. Victor Frankenstein's voice is provided by Greg Finley (Captain Gloval) Minmei's Rebecca Forstadt is the voice of his daughter Emily while once again Tony Oliver (Rick Hunter) plays along side her as Emily's friend Philip. Finally the voice of Roy Fokker, Dan Woren has a small role as one of the police detectives investigating the mystery. The reason for this is simple; Frankenstein was dubbed in the U.S. by Harmony Gold (although they are uncredited- at least on this print), the company most responsible for the creation of Robotech.

The original Japanese version's running time was cut down to a more manageable but only slightly less adult 90 mins.

The video was released in the UK by a company called Mountain Video under their Graphic Video series of childrens tapes. During 1980-1983 Mountain distributed a large number of re-dubbed anime titles in Britain. As with many of the other labels in business at the time most of them were from Toei such as Dracula, Tecno Police, Nobodys Boy, Getta Robo and Mazinger Z but they also carried other company's titles too including Space Firebird from Osamu Tezuka. Unfortunately many of these video releases would soon become increasingly hard to find...

The advent of home video players had caught the UK censors unprepared, in fact they weren't taken seriously at all by anyone in power at the time. While films shown at the cinema were, by law, subject to scrutinising, possible cuts and an age restriction, video cassettes weren't. This meant content which couldn't been shown in theatres was now perfectly legal on video.

Steadily the stream of uncut horror movies grew and the shelves of Video Stores across of the country soon groaned under the weight of salaciously titled splatter films. Eventually things came to a head in 1984 with outraged self-appointed watchdog groups calling for bans, arrests and, most of all, legal action. As a result the 1984 Video Recordings Act (or VRA) was written which made it illegal to release or sell any video which had not been given a certificate (age restriction) by the censors. Getting one cost the video companies a lot of money.

This left labels like Mountain Video with a dilemma; do you submit your entire back catalog costing you a fortune but allowing you to keep these tapes on sale or do you instead scrap every release to date and start over with new, as yet unreleased, products. The VRA caused many of the small independent labels to cease trading, a fate which it seems befell Mountain Video.

What all this means is that anime tapes like Frankenstein which appeared in shops during these fabled 'Pre-Certificate' days are now almost impossible to find which is a shame considering many have never been released in English since and it's unlikely most ever will be.

anime frankenstein toei anime frankenstein  
Publicity stills for Toei's Frankenstein
The merry cast

There is no title card for Frankenstein just the pre-movie, blue background, black diamond that you see below. Looks like this video came fresh from the dubbing studio!

The story opens with an eerily pan across a desolate graveyard, ominous lightning flashes momentarily illuminating open graves and exhumed coffins. In the distance stands a spooky castle and the storm breaking around it is an omen of what is happening inside. Up several winding stone stair ways, past rows of sinister looking medical implements and and the bloody carcass of a decapitated bull, we find Dr Victor Frankenstein and his assistant Zuckel. Surrounding them in a dimly lit chamber are numerous arcane looking, machines and in the centre of the room lays what appears to be a giant man, bound from head to foot in bandages.

Zuckel warns the Doctor of the terrible moral implications of this experiment but he doesn't want to hear it. He gives the order and the generator switch is thrown feeding dangerously high amounts of voltage into the still shape laying on the table. As the power grows in intensity the creature begins to move and slowly opens its eyes. A final huge surge of power is sent through the generator by a bolt of lightning destroying the equipment, shattering much of the tower and finally giving life to the experiment. With incredible strength the giant man breaks the chains that held him and gets to his feet. The doctor and his assistant stare uneasily at their achievement. The giant's bandages are incinerated by a second lightning blast and now the scientists can clearly see what they have created!

No it's not Sylvester Stallone! "What have I done?" cries Victor "Have I just given life to a monster?" The two men flee, running from the castle and their hideous creation. The rain pelts down as they are pursued through the mud. Trapped on the edge of a cliff the men fear for their lives. Victor hands his lab assistant a gun and orders him to kill the monster rather than let it live and destroy his reputation. He makes a run for it leaving Zuckel to face Franken alone. He shoots several times at the hulking shape but the bullets have no effect. Angry Franken grabs Zuckel by the head and flings him aside. Quickly recovering Zuckel fires off several more shots causing the monster to back away and over the edge of the cliff...

Time passes and Victor returns home to Switzerland. His carriage passes a murder scene presided over by Police Chief Inspector (and part-time narrator) Belbeau. It seems a peddler has been found brutally dismembered and the authorities are at a loss as to who could have committed such an act. Nearby they find footprints but they are much too large to have been left by a human and they are unlike any left by an animal...

Finally Victor arrives home, much to the delight of his wife Elizabeth and house keeper Emma. He asks about his daughter Emily and is told she is visiting his father who lives in the mountains.

Just outside of town a huge pair of legs ominously walk into view!

At Grandpa's cabin Emily is doing chores while her friend Philip chops wood. The old man suggests it's time for her to go home and see her father and has the boy accompany her along with her dog Lucky (that name is never a good sign). On the way home the pair chat, casually informing the viewer that Victor doesn't get on with his dad which is why he lives with Philip in a cabin in the mountains. While stopping to pick roses Lucky growls at something lurking in the tall grass but the children pay no attention.

Returning home for dinner Lucky once again growls at the shadows but is ignored once more. Inside Victor frets about his daughter being out so late. He is relieved when Emily walks in and they settle down for dinner. Cutting into his steak the Doctor is horrified when it appears to bleed like a slasher movie victim, knocking over his glass in fright. His wife has barely finished calming him when their house keeper frantically calls them outside to find the pet canary's cage smashed and the bird dead. Note:- Counting the dismembered bull from the opening that makes two dead animals so far!

That night Victor worries that his monster hasn't been killed remembering that his father urged him against the experiment calling it "blasphemous" and "immoral". Elizabeth tells him his father loves him but is interrupted by what sounds like a dog yelping. Victor brushes this off and leaves for bed. But bedtime isn't going to be fun tonight- the Doctor approaches his bed finding the sheet stained with blood and there appears to be something beneath the covers... The audience is already way ahead when he flings back the quilt to reveal... Lucky's bloody and twisted remains!! (That makes animal death #3 not bad going for a kid's cartoon!)

The police are called and the bald headed Chief Inspector Belbeau arrives with an unnamed detective. The two police men tactlessly discuss the dead dog in front of Emily who bursts into tears at the suggestion that there was "Hardly anything left of him!" It is decided that this isn't a burglary but simply a madman on the prowl, probably the same one who murdered the peddler. The mention of giant footprints causes Victor to drop his teacup in horror. Even later that night Victor, who it seems sleeps in a separate bed to his wife, has nightmares about his dreadful creation much of which gets cut.

Finally it's morning. Dr Victor returns to work at the local University not realising he has another unpleasant surprise in store. Zuckel is waiting for him in his office and their reunion isn't a happy one. The former lab assistant harbours a bitter grudge against Dr Frankenstein. He lost an eye while battling the monster on the cliff and he holds the Doctor responsible demanding ?500,000 compensation. Victor agrees to pay but only with proof that the monster really is gone. Zuckel leaves with the message that the Doctor is needed at a faculty meeting. It's good news this time- he has finally been accepted as a member of the International Society of Natural Science, something he has longed for for quite some time. Now he has been accepted Dr Victor Frankenstein won't let anything jeopardise his position!

Elsewhere, in the mountains, a family sits down to eat lunch outside. Their idyllic family moment is horribly ruined by the uninvited arrival of a lumbering giant who scares them away and rudely eats all their food!

Returning home Victor tells Elizabeth his good news and she is pleased for him. Their moment of happiness is short lived however as Emma calls them outside to see that their garden has been vandalised. The only clue to the culprit- a giant footprint! Dr Frankenstein is once again wracked with fear. Behind a nearby tree Zuckel watches and chuckles grimly.

That evening, in a dingy, smoky inn Victor meets with Zuckel and hands him his bribe anxious for confirmation that the monster is dead. Unfortunately for the Doctor his former lab assistant offers no such peace of mind going as far to suggest that maybe the creature is responsible for all the recent unpleasantness. Later at home Victor is alone with a bottle of whiskey again fretting over his predicament. Suddenly the window behind him blows open and a rumbling voice repeats "Franken... Franken". The doctor is terrified and then, catching sight of the monsters shadow on the wall, quickly takes his rifle from its display and wildly blasts at the shape. His wife rushes in to find the room in a mess and no sign of the creature. Victor is becoming increasingly desperate. Is he really losing his mind?

No. In a shabby rented room Zuckel chuckles to himself absent mindedly toying with every device which would explain the recent events; a large papermache foot on a stick, a projector which casts Frankenstein shaped shadows and even demonstrating (to himself) his ability to say "Franken" in a scary voice. What a time then for Dr Frankenstein to walk in on him! With all the proof laid out Victor gets rough with Zuckel but the bitter ex-assistant threatens him with blackmail. He demands a further ?10,000. A month. For life. Dr Victor is understandably enraged at these demands but Zuckel doesn't budge suggesting that he sell his house or his daughter to get the money, which he wants the following night at the wharf. Victor storms out with no intention of paying.

The next day outside the Frankenstein residence Emily gleefully picks flowers. Zuckell approaches her and mentions he knows her father's secret. After scaring the young girl with his mangled eye socket he leaves telling her to remind her father about their meeting tonight. Inside the house Emily asks her father about the secret and Zuckell's eye and he tries to brush it aside. The girl won't give up though and Victor soon loses patience and angrily locks the girl in the dining room! Pushed to the end of his tolerance he then rushes upstairs to fetch his gun deciding the only way to put an end to this is to kill his former lab partner!

But maybe he won't have to. Down at the wharf Zuckel's wait is interrupted by the appearance of Franken who, recalling his ill treatment at the hands of the scientist that fateful night, attacks and, through a series of slightly jarring cuts, kills the man. The doctor arrives just in time to see the monster toss the corpse into the water. Horrified at the realisation that his creation lives Dr Frankenstein runs, accidentally dropping his gun.

Chief Inspector Belbeau and his detectives find the body of Zuckel the next morning. Dr Victor's gun is uncovered nearby. The police pay a visit to the Frankenstein residence just as Elizabeth is unsuccessfully pleading the maid to stay. Not far down the road Emma stumbles across a man stealing crops from the adjacent field. She scolds him realising too late that it is in fact the giant monster the police have been searching for. The beast towers over her roaring menacingly and tears open her suitcase. The melodramatic music builds into a hysteric crescendo!

Inside casa Frankenstein the Chief Inspector tries to catch the doctor out with the surprise revelation of the gun found at his assistant's murder scene but Victor simply denies it belongs to him. Next Belbeau suggests that Dr Frankenstein had been recreating his father's experiments at the castle which again he denies a fact his wife backs up, dishonestly stating she was with him in Castle Snowdon. The Inspector leaves the couple simply adding, on his exit, that a farmer had reported a sighting of a monster. A monster which muttered the name "Franken". Victor is convinced that his terrible secret will soon be out.

Up in the mountains Elizabeth visits Victor's father. He tries to put her mind at ease about his son's experiments but can't put aside his own suspicions. Back in town the police have made a grim discovery. Emma has been found dead in the road. The coroners verdict? She was literally scarred to death! The authorities concede that it must be a monster behind these killings and a hungry one- he tried to eat her belongings. Where will he strike next?

That night, at a stately hall, a young couple has just been married. Their first kiss is spoiled by a breeze from an open window blowing out the candles. While the couple and their party wait in the dark for the candles to be relit someone spots the shadowy outline of a man greedily eating the party food. With the lights back on the men in the crowd attack the brute for eating all the cheese on sticks but they are no match for Franken! He flings them around like dolls until someone sets light to the table cloth. The flames bring back bad memories and the monster runs through a window into the woods.

The police are waiting for him outside and a one-sided shoot-out ensues. Franken cuts short their pursuit by uprooting a tree and throwing it into their path. Injured, the lumbering brute heads for the mountains.

In her Grandfather's cabin Emily sings while he plays guitar. Even though her singing is missing from the English dub the sound of her voice attracts the wounded monster. Scared away by the sight of the open fire Frankenstein wanders dejected. He catches sight of his hideous reflection in a stream and in a fit of rage hurls rocks into the water attempting to destroy his horrible image. Eventually calming he gazes into the night sky and remembers Emily.

The next morning, at the police station, Belbeau makes another attempt to catch Victor out this time using the 'Monster Projector' recovered from Zuckell's room. While it seems to work the Doctor denies all knowledge of the monster. Belbeau tells him of Emma's death and Victor hurries home. Upon his return he decides the only course of action is suicide. By knife through the throat! This being family entertainment his attempt to take his own life is interrupted by his wife. Victor confesses his shame and the two embrace. The tape then sudden skips and the scene changes to a brief shot of a shirtless victor musing the broken line "-at what I have created even you wouldn't forgive me." What went on there? It's a mystery to me.

Morning comes and at the cabin Grandpa receives an unexpected guest. Franken drops by and the old man recognises his son's work. Emily returns and is shocked to see the monster. Thinking she is protecting her Grandfather she throws a glass at poor old Frankie and he leaves despite Grandpa's pleas. Things get worse for the monster as Victor is out with his shotgun hunting for him. In the woods the two finally meet and even though they are only several feet apart the Doctor manages to miss his creation twice- the third time only nicking his arm. Franken retaliates knocking Victor unconscious with a torn tree branch. A distant scream alerts him to Emily who is being attacked by a huge bear. Franken intervenes and wrestles the giant woodland animal until it is no longer a threat (dead animal #4) then carries the fainted child back to the safety of the cabin.

Waking up Emily realises that Franken isn't a threat. She bandages his wounds with the scarf her father gave her and the two bond which begins the brief happy segment of our film. Frankie makes bread, learns words, is a friend to the animals and pushes Emily on a swing. He also learns about the crucifix and that "the creator is good". How will that be relevant?

Philip returns to the cabin the next morning only to see the terrifying monster through the window. Fearing for his friend's lives his rushes back to town to assemble an unruly mob! With flaming torches and rifles they attack the monster as he is gathering wood for Grandpa. Franken retreats into the woods and the old timer goes after him. He is soon joined by Elizabeth who is searching for Victor. With the mob ignoring the Countryside Code it's not long before the forest is ablaze. Inside the wall of fire Franken battles his fear to rescue Grandpa but is unable to protect Elizabeth who is buried alive under the collapse of burning trees.

Outside the smoldering forest Emily cries over her mother's body. Victor arrives to see what his immoral experiment has cost him. A short distance away Franken lays Grandpa on the ground too scared to come any closer. He's right to be as Philip draws the wrong conclusion again and the hunt for the monster resumes.

Franken flees through the town giving the mob the slip but is confronted by Philip who is carrying a gun so large that it would make Charles Bronson blush from the implications. Unfortunately for him Philip is just as poor a shot as everyone else in this story and misses the hulking monster repeatedly. Franken tries to reason with him but his people skills are a little limited resulting in the boy's accidental death. Emily arrives on the scene and, faced with the evidence, turns against Franken too picking up the gun a firing a shot through the creature's hand. It's ironic that a 9 year old girl is the only person in the story who can actually shoot straight!

Completely without friends Franken lumbers away feeling understandably dejected. Seeing a crucifix on the Town chapel he follows it to find sanctuary. Inside he gazes up at the large sculpture of Jesus on the cross. He then looks down at his own hand- which has a bullet hole through it. The film then makes heavy insinuated parallels between Jesus and Franken which must have outraged any religious parents in the audience! Before the film makers get themselves into any deeper trouble with Christian Watchdog groups Dr Frankenstein bursts in.

At the cabin Grandpa has fully recovered and explains to Emily the terrible mix up she's made. Realising that the monster is innocent of the charges she rushes off to protect him from her father and the mob. She's too late though as by dusk the police have him cornered at the edge of a cliff. Franken stops short of killing Belbeau remembering Emily's words but his restraint is rewarded by a shot in back from his creator.

Emily arrives in time to see the retreating monster shot by her father a second time. She reasons with her dad explaining that Franken isn't a murderer and that he saved Grandpa from the fire. Victor finally can see the truth and lowers his gun. She then comforts Franken telling him he's not a monster but her friend. Franken reciprocates by finally managing to speak her name. But this touching moment can't last forever and Franken, resided to his fate, gets to his feet and slowly walks off the edge of the cliff. Emily is heart broken to see her friend commit suicide. Then dad seals her future in the mental asylum by turning his gun on himself!

Our cheery tale ends as Chief Inspector Belbeau visits the monster's grave. He leaves the kiddies with this final thought...

"Though the Doctor may have been misguided in his attempts to create life, I often ask myself 'did he create a monster or was it mankind's inability to accept the outwardly monstrous form of what he created that caused us to treat him in a way that made his violent actions inevitable'? I've never been able to answer that question and I don't suppose I ever will..."

Think about that little Timmy!

Just one final closing comment. Below is the description that Mountain Video gave for this tale on the back of the case. See if you think that it is an apt summary of this sorrowful story...

"GREETINGS VIEWERS. Welcome to our Cartoon Creature Feature. If you are looking for chills and thrills, then this little story should be your idea of perfect entertainment. It is a simple story of a man interested in 'Do It Yourself', only instead of making a cabinet for the kitchen, he decides to make a human being. His first attempt was not successful, and... no, I'll say no more, I wouldn't want to spoil your fun!!!"


The Birth of Franken!
The opening scenes. Witness the birth and supposed death of the monster!

The Death of Zuckell!
The scheming former lab assistant has a run in with Franken at the wharf...

Good dubbing
Solid animation
  A fitting score
  Unexpectedly violent!
  Iffy religious sub text!
Slow pace
Dull at times
  No credits
  Franken is a little cartoony
  Misleading cover!

Misleadingly marketed at children I spent most of the movie waiting for it to turn into the merry 'child befriending monster' tale that the cover promised. When viewed without such expectations Frankenstein is quite an enjoyable fable.

Fairly heavy going through out building to an unexpectedly tragic ending, this really isn't meant for children. To be fair to Mountain the self-appointed age rating that was found on many of their tapes recommends it for 7+. An enjoyable horror thriller for the true audience it was intended. Plus the animation is impressively solid for a made for TV project.