Kenneth Branagh called his 1994 adaptation Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as if to assure viewers that he would be faithful to the 1818 novel, and indeed, he was more faithful than most: He played the doctor himself, starring opposite De Niro as his creature. As in the book, De Niro’s undead man is smart, highly articulate, and almost handsome. He also bears a huge grudge against his creator, which ends up exploding into homicidal violence.
Alas, much of the gothic personal drama gets lost in big-budget spectacle (this is one of the rare “Frankenstein” films, for instance, that includes Shelley’s depiction of an Arctic-wasteland battle between the man and the monster). Still, no one does misunderstood misfits with tendencies toward sociopathic violence better than De Niro. Like his Max Cady in Cape Fear, he’s the revenge of the id, made flesh.