Welcome to Script to Pieces, a recurring feature at Wicked Horror where we look at the best, most interesting and at times most unbelievable horror movies that never happened. Sometimes these will be productions that never came together at all, other times, they will be original incarnations that were completely different from what we wound up with. Each should be fascinating in its own way, because the stories of movies that never see the light of day can sometimes be even more interesting than the stories of those that do.
Given that most of David Cronenberg’s body of work within the genre, from exploring body horror from every possible angle to his focus on science and technology and its relation to the body, it’s not remotely surprising that he, at one point, considered directing an adaptation of Frankenstein. It’s the book that set forth most of the ideas Cronenberg would wind up examining in his films.
Most of what is known about this particular adaptation comes from an ad taken out in Variety—an ad which was taken out before Cronenberg had even written a single word of the script. Interestingly, this is basically the same inception as Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, so it is not entirely unheard of.
Frankenstein and David Cronenberg are a match made in heaven. The two seem tailor made for each other. The classic story represents everything that Cronenberg was interested in as a filmmaker during the 1980s, which is when the film would have happened, had it happened at all.
Perhaps some of the hesitance came from the fact that Cronenberg had just come off of a big-budget 1980s reimagining of a classic horror tale with The Fly. It’s possible he didn’t want to leap directly into another. Cronenberg seemed to be enthusiastic about the project, however, taking out the ad himself.
I can only imagine that the story would have taken a similar approach to The Fly in that it would be a modern interpretation infused with the science of the time, or at least something close to it. David Cronenberg and producer Pierre David, who were meant to team up on Frankenstein, had previously worked together on The Brood and I could see Cronenberg’s version of Frankenstein taking several cues from that as well. The Brood is, after all, a tale of a mad scientist who never set out to do anything nefarious, it’s a tale of broken, strained relationships and ultimately a story about taking responsibility for your offspring, even if they are mutants. These themes are all tied directly to the center of Frankenstein.
While this version never seemed to make it very far into development, there is one rare snippet of interview footage from the project in the collection Cronenberg on Cronenberg. In that, the director says “It would be more a rethinking than a remake. For one thing, I’d try to retain Shelley’s original concept of the creature being an intelligent, sensitive man. Not just a beast.”
It’s an enticing comment, but there seems to be no other official word from the director of what we could have expected beyond that. Still, we can’t help wonder what might have been and who may have played this “sensitive man” had the film ultimately been made.
In the book, the creature is described as a tall, lanky figure with a long mane of dark, flowing hair. Having just come off of the success of The Fly, it’s easy to imagine this version of the monster being played by Jeff Goldblum.
Sadly, we’ll never know one way or the other. Cronenberg’s Frankenstein remains one of the most notorious unmade films of all time, but the truth is that it never actually got that far into production.
I think it’s still something people talk about, though, because it’s hard to imagine a better fit between director and source material than this. Even now, it is as notorious as several Frankenstein adaptations that never got made, from Guillermo Del Toro all the way up to Ingmar Bergman. Given that we’ll never actually know just what the approach may have been, we’ll always have plenty of room to speculate and imagine what a Cronenberg version of Frankenstein would have been like.
Only one thing is certain: It would have been unlike any Frankenstein you had ever seen before.