Film review: Gods and Monsters (1998)

The title of the film “Gods and monsters” is a line from Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
This is a critically acclaimed biopic of the retired director of "Frankenstein" and "Bride of Frankenstein" James Whale.

The story of doctor Frankenstein’s and the monster’s struggle to be accepted may have resonated deeply with James Whale. He grew up a misunderstood artist in a family of factory workers. Also, Whale was a homosexual, which added to him being different.
James Whale is played by Ian McKellen, who was nominated for an Oscar for his leading performance. The film won an academy award for best screenplay adaptation.

I usually hate Brendan Fraser movies, I feel this is an adequate effort by him, but McKellen is a much better actor in my opinion. It probably helped playing this role that McKellen is already gay in real life. Clearly Brendan Fraser was picked because his head resembles the monster. The film plays around with the idea of the outsider. The monster/Brendan Fraser wanting a friend is similar to the monster's behaviour in the old Frankenstein movies of the 30s.

I am not gay, but Gods and Monsters still impressed me. A good character study of what it must be like to have those tendencies and how others might respond.

Also, it’s about what it might be like to be a celebrity of the past. You can compare the tone of Gods and Monsters to Ed Wood (1994), a movie I liked as well, which also portrayed a fading star of the past who befriends someone younger. I definitely felt Tim Burton could easily have directed this, but the job went to Bill Condon. The movie owes a lot to Ed wood, so if you like that one, or just enjoy Frankenstein movies, I recommend you give this film a go. It is very similar to Ed wood, but still very different.

I liked the slow pace of the movie, the story didn’t have any big action scenes. For the most part it’s interaction and dialogue between Fraser & McKellen. The flashback sequences are interesting as well. However, I did feel there were too many scenes sitting or standing around drinking, they could have mixed it up a bit more.

It definitely has Oscar written all over it, but that didn’t bother me, instead I was touched by the vulnerable characters.

To me, Gods and Monsters is about remembering the past, friendship, loneliness, the psychology behind Frankenstein. And about being a father figure to someone in need of a friend. Not just about being gay. The first 20 minutes or so almost play out as a comedy.

Definitely gives you the itch to rewatch James Whale’s two Frankenstein movies, which is probably the movies mission, to share the love and admiration for those classics.

Also, check out my recommendation of Frankenstein (1931)



Any thought on this film, readers?


  1. 'Gods and Monsters' is a really great film. It's and interesting exploration of sexuality, war and the ravages of age. Great choice for a review.

    I also agree with you that Brendan Fraser is usually an actor to avoid ('Furry Vengeance', 'Bedazzled' and 'George of the Jungle' come to mind) - he struck it lucky in this one. I love Ian McKellen, he's a national treasure.

    I've noticed that you're a fan of the old Frankenstein movies (of which I am also). Have you read the book by Mary Shelly by any chance? I really love it and place it up there with other gothic classics such as Bram Stoker's "Dracula" and "The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson. It's also vastly different to the movies, which seem to take Shelly's basic principle in a slightly different direction.

    Good stuff! x

  2. I was surprised at how much I liked this film. I also like McKellen and did not know until now that he is gay in real life. <> But I loved how the film tries to lead you into believing the old man has a sexual interest in his gardener when in fact he wants to use him as a means of committing suicide. We think he's admiring Frasier's neck because it is attractive, when in fact, he likes that it reminds him of his Frankenstein monster. This ruse continues as McKellen makes passes at Frasier who gets annoyed. He does this not because he likes him but because he wants to get him angry enough to attack him. And we come to the climactic moment when Frasier brings him to the ground in anger and exclaims - "I AM NOT..... YOUR MONSTER!". We find he is more insightful than we might have thought. Very good stuff.

  3. @Ray Virzi: That's a very good interpretation! Although I don't totally agree the whole story is building up to Whale wanting Frasier to kill him. I think that would be a bit cold, if that was all Whale wanted from him. I think both needing a friend is also key, and as you say his looks remind him of the monster, and I think he is attracted to this. At least that's how I interpret ending.
    Some scenes reminded me of Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950), which is also about a fading star.

    @Sam: Of the titles you mention, I've read Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and remember it to be ambiguous, is it about man is both good and evil, is it supernatural, does he suffer from schizophrenia, and so on. Sounds like you prefer the Frankenstein and Dracula books rather than the movies, which I can totally understand why.


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