“Oh! If I could only contrive (a story) which would frighten my reader as I myself had been frightened!”
Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus as the result of a dare from a friend. The friend was poet, Lord Byron and he challenged her to write a ghost story as part of a game while passing the time on a rainy day.
“I busied myself to think of a story – a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror – one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart”
Mary Shelley and Byron would often play games involving creative story-telling along with Shelley’s husband, poet Percy Bysse Shelley. On that rainy day Mary Shelley accepted the challenge and, drawing from state of the art medical experimentation at the time, came up with a story that would end up being one of the most influential books in the history of popular literature.
Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus was published in 1818 when Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (her birth name) was 21 years old. She wrote the novel at 19. The first edition of Frankenstein was published anonymously in London. Shelley’s name first appeared on the novel when it was reprinted in 1931. Only 500 copies were issued for the book’s initial release and in the nearly 200 years that have passed Frankenstein has never been out of print. In addition to her novel’s continued popularity, Mary Shelley herself remains – by way of print and technology – the most accessed author of gothic literature ever.
Heavily influenced by the Gothic and Romantic literary movements of the 19th Century, the original Frankenstein novel is thematically different from many later versions of the story. The characterization and motivation of the creature constitutes one of the main differences. Rather than a non-speaking loaf, the original creature is a sensitive, intelligent being who becomes bitter, vindictive, and ultimately murderous because he is spurned by society and the man who is his father, Dr. Frankenstein.
Instead of killing simply because he was evil, Shelley’s version of the Creature performs his most horrifying acts as a vengeance against Dr. Frankenstein for not creating a bride for him – and due to the deep hurt caused by the creator abhorring the creature he has brought to life. Also interesting is that the iconic creation scene, which plays such a central part in most film adaptations of the Frankenstein story, is barely given attention in the novel. As Shelley wrote it, the creation sequence takes place in a darkened room with little other details offered. The mental states of both the doctor and the creature are the focus.
Since his introduction in Shelley’s story, Frankenstein’s Monster has grown, morphed and/or regressed in all forms of media during the last Century. But it wasn’t Shelley’s writing that started the media frenzy toward all things Monster. That accolade must be given to a relatively small film from a relatively small studio when a man who would be billed simply as “Karloff” portrayed Shelley’s Monster for the first time. The studio was Universal International and the film, James Whale’s 1931 classic, Frankenstein. That film transformed Shelley’s creature from a great literary character to the king of monsters – one of the most popular and influential figures in the history of media.
The image of Frankenstein’s Monster as introduced in Whale’s 1931 film – flat head, bolts on the neck, scars, even the wardrobe and green tint to the skin we couldn’t see – is etched on our minds for eternity. It is the iconic image of The Monster despite his numerous, subsequent incarnations – the standard – thanks to Boris Karloff’s brilliant depiction and the extraordinary talents of make-up artist, Jack Pierce who designed and applied the greatest monster make-up ever conceived.
Karloff’s Monster has haunted our popular imagination since he first walked through those dungeon doors in 1931 at the command of his maker.
Derivatives of the Karloff version of The Monster have served as one of the most popular marketing tools ever conceived, second (perhaps) only to Lugosi’s Dracula. As descendants to that particular version of The Monster there are innumerable films, cartoons, television shows, books, magazines, music and ultimately, an entire culture.
Here is a gallery of some of the consumer products and cartoons that have portrayed The Monster’s likeness through the years:
Here are a few commercials in which The Monster has played a part:
But perhaps most memorable of all, aside from feature films, are depictions of The Monster on television, which is how I and entire generations of horror fans were introduced to Karloff and his monster. Television began showing classic
“monster movies” in (about) the late 1950s and these became that generation’s “must see” television. With Dracula and Frankenstein leading the pack, Universal monsters became household names. At that point in time Hammer Studios was resurrecting these characters in movie theaters with its own brand of bloody productions that took a strong hold on the monster helm in theaters. Monsters were everywhere. As a result, the 1960s saw the development of popular television shows that featured versions of these monsters or featured stories centered around old monster lore. These included The Addams Family, which featured a butler character made in the style of The Monster and of course, The Munsters. In case anyone is not familiar with that series, The Munsters was a situation comedy that parodied the American nuclear family. The show ran from 1964 to 1966 and centered around a family of friendly monsters who constantly scared people unintentionally. However, the Munster clan never quite understood why people reacted to them so strangely. The family included a version of Dracula in the grandfather, a Bride of Frankenstein character in the mother, a child version of The Wolf Man and the head of the family represented The Monster. The
“black sheep” of the family was the ugly niece, Marilyn who was actually beautiful. By the way, the Munster’s extended family included representations of some other classic movie monsters as well. If interested, take a look at this introduction posted on How Sweet it Was.
I must mention my favorite episode of The Munsters because it was a play on the popularity of Karloff’s depiction – popular culture within popular culture. The episode is titled “Munster Masquerade” and it’s about a masquerade party the family is invited to. Herman, the head of the Munster clan who looks just like The Monster we’re familiar with dressed up as a Knight in Shining Armor, but the host of the party wore a Frankenstein Monster costume. Fun ensues when Herman and clan are highly insulted at the obvious insult – that the host, and everyone else at the party, would think Herman’s image is a halloween costume. Or something like that. In any case, it’s a lot of fun.
As a special tribute to Frankenstein’s Monster and his story, here are a few of my favorite classic film versions of Frankenstein. The Monster as movie star in the classic era.
Frankenstein (1910) – Written and directed by J. Searle Dawley.
Made by Edison Studios (Edison Manufacturing Company), this 13-minute movie is the first known filmed version of the story of Frankenstein.
The story as depicted in this early film begins as a young Victor Frankenstein leaves for college. Then…
“I shall create into life the most perfect human being that the world has yet known.”
The results of the good Doctor Frankenstein’s intentions don’t turn out as planned in this film as is the case in subsequent productions of the story. To read a more detailed commentary on Frankenstein (1910), go to a post I recently dedicated to this film here.
Il Mostro di Frankenstein (1921) – Directed by Eugenio Testa (from Italy)
I wasn’t able to find a copy of this silent film to watch, nor am I sure one exists. However, because it is the sole production of the Frankenstein story in the 1920s, I want to give it at least a mention. Plus the film’s poster is gorgeous! Il Mostro di Frankenstein stars Luciano Albertini and Umberto Guarracino.
Frankenstein (1931) – Directed by James Whale
Carl Laemmle, Jr. had fought his father to focus on horror pictures for some time before he was able to convince the elder to make Todd Browning’s Dracula in 1931. That film was so successful that it saved Universal Studios from bankruptcy and began a trend the studio would become synonymous for – Universal Horror. Laemmle Jr. was vindicated and following Dracula‘s great success, everyone was on board to try to capitalize on the box-office formula they’d found. The studio’s next, obvious choice was Frankenstein helmed by James Whale.
Whale’s Frankenstein is innovative, highly influential and, if I may say, wonderful – still affecting more than 80 years after it was made. It is leaps and bounds in quality from Browning’s classic released that same year. I’m a huge fan of Dracula, but I can’t ignore this fact. With Frankenstein, Whale managed a tragic tale of terror that is beautifully shot and atmospheric and captures the pathos of Shelley’s sympathetic creature, a wonderfully well-rounded character thanks to Karloff’s outstanding performance in his star-making role.
“Certainly I was typed. But what is typing. It is a trademark, a means by which the public recognizes you. Actors work all their lives to achieve that. I got mine with just one picture. It was a blessing.” – Karloff
The iconic “IT’S ALIVE” scene in this film deserves a bit of praise and here it is. All jokes and the myriad of copycats aside, Colin Clive‘s portrayal of the doctor at the moment when he realizes his dream is quite impressive, a bravura moment. Clive’s seemingly over-the-top performance is typical of many from the early talkie era in film, but it serves this moment and film well. The exhilaration exhibited comes across as truthful – when Frankenstein’s madness eclipses his genius – and it results in one of the greatest moments in the history of film.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935) – Directed by James Whale
James Whale resisted directing a sequel to his great 1931 film. No doubt it was a daunting task to replicate the popularity and quality of the original and to come up with a premise that complemented the source material. Whale also longed to be considered an A-list director and didn’t feel directing only horror movies would help him achieve the prestige he craved. However, Universal was eager to replicate the fervor for Frankenstein and Whale eventually gave in. Taking personal control over all facets of the sequel – from script suggestions to set design – James Whale made a sequel that, to the opinion of many, bettered the original. The Bride of Frankenstein would become the film that would immortalize him, his greatest achievement and the crowned jewel in the pantheon of Universal Horror according to all film historians I’ve ever heard comment on the film.
As for Karloff – Frankenstein made him a star, but the sequel demonstrated he was an actor to the core. He is magnificent as the lonely creature who longs for a mate, fully realizing the character in this film. When one considers the rigorous make-up sessions that left the actor with only his eyes to register emotion, his performance looms larger still. As noted in City of Dreams: The Making and Remaking of Universal Pictures by Bernard Dick, “Karloff’s eyes are curious, almost leering, when the monster learns he will have a bride; uncomprehending, when he is tied to the stake; malevolent, when he pulls the lever at the end. His eyes most expressive when the hermit (blind man) puts the monster to bed; realizing he now has a friend, the monster attempts to smile as a solitary tear trickles down the side of his face.”
“My dear old monster. I owe everything to him. He’s my best friend.” – Karloff
For The Bride of Frankenstein James Whale had the money available to make a more elaborate film than the first and he succeeds in every facet of the production. Bride features an extraordinary score by Franz Waxman, outstanding cinematography by John J. Mescall, a great story and wonderful characters. Aside from Karloff reprising his role as The Monster, Colin Clive returns as Henry Frankenstein. Universal Horror favorite, Dwight Frye whose character, Fritz, died in Frankenstein, returns in a couple of new roles in this film. New additions who play a huge part in making The Bride of Frankenstein unforgettable include Ernest Thesiger in a role intended for Claude Rains, as the eccentric Doctor Pretorius, great character actress Una O’Connor provides comic relief as Minnie and of course, Elsa Lanchester in a dual role as both Mary Shelley and The Monster’s Bride.
In Bride The Monster, now a lot worse for wear, is again testament to Jack Pierce’s amazing make-up talents. The make-up for the bride, enhanced by Lanchester’s great performance, is also wonderful. Lanchester’s bride becomes the most iconic female monster ever created. And she does so with only a few minutes on screen.
I had the pleasure of watching both Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein in a theater last year in a special, double-feature presentation sponsored by Turner Classic Movies. You can read about that experience here, if interested.
Son of Frankenstein (1939) – Directed by Rowland Lee
His father’s name has become synonymous with horror and he and his family – wife Elsa and young son, Peter – are not welcomed by law enforcers and townspeople who look upon him with fear and disgust. Baron Wolf von Frankenstein arrives in the castle where his father had performed experiments that terrorized. The Baron feels his father’s reputation is unwarranted as the murders and mayhem caused by his father’s creation were the results of the bungling of his father’s assistant who’d brought him the brain of a killer.
Several decades have passed since the father created The Monster and six unsolved murders have been committed since The Monster had been destroyed. Superstitions abound as to murdering ghosts, but the ghosts in this case are made of flesh.
Lurking within the shadows and dungeons of Frankenstein’s castle in Son of Frankenstein is Ygor (Bela Lugosi) who is presumed dead as he’d already been sentenced to death and hanged. Ygor is resilient, however, and the hanging served only to break his neck and leave him disfigured. Excited about the new Frankenstein in the castle, Ygor lures the young scientist into the belly of the castle, where the crypts of his father and grandfather lie next to the immobile body of The Monster again played by Karloff. It turns out The Monster had not been destroyed at the end of Bride as we were led to believe. Ignoring The Monster’s “we belong dead,” Ygor had saved him.
Well, it doesn’t take much convincing from Ygor for Wolf von Frankenstein to be enthralled by the prospect of doing good by his father’s creation and vindicating his name. Wolf begins work to revive The Monster all the while encouraged by Ygor who has a vested interest in his friend being brought back to life.
Meanwhile – Ygor, who the townspeople now know is alive and kicking, is called before a tribunal as he’s suspected of the six mysterious murders. And who can blame them? It turns out that the six dead are members of the jury who’d sentenced Ygor to death by hanging.
Now – I’m leaving you hanging as I refrain from recounting the rest of the story depicted in Son of Frankenstein. I’m thinking many who would have taken the time to watch the first two Universal entries may not have seen this very enjoyable movie so no need to spoil it.
In Son of Frankenstein Boris Karloff portrays The Monster for the last time in a feature film and he does so with as much conviction as he did in the first two outings. Here again he is under the guise created by Jack Pierson. Of the many memorable scenes in this film, I’ll mention two that stand out for me. The first is the scene of the
first encounter between Doctor Frankenstein and his reanimated creation. Wolf stands in his laboratory, facing us in a close up with his head down while busy with a task. Ever so slowly we see the shadow of a figure rise up over the doctor’s shoulder. (I couldn’t find a picture of the shadow to post here, but it’s a scene that never fails to send chills up and down my spine.) As The Monster’s face becomes clear to us, the doctor raises his head, aware of the force that approaches from behind. The Monster raises his arm and puts a hand on the shoulder of the one who brought him back to life. It’s another memorable introduction worthy of the one, true Monster. Again, a very exciting scene enhanced by Rathbone’s wonderful reaction. Karloff’s Monster aside, I could hardly take my eyes off Basil Rathbone. He is stunning.
The other scene I am moved by follows the one I just described. While in the laboratory, The Monster happens across a mirror and sees his own reflection for the first time. He takes the time to fully comprehend the demon that stares back at him by moving his arms. When the realization hits that he is, in fact, looking at himself – a monster – he asks, “Why” in such
a way that breaks my heart – guttural devastation made clear with one word. The Monster didn’t ask to be brought upon this Earth or to be made to suffer, to make others suffer and it is a fate too horrible to bear. Beautifully done.
As is the case with both of James Whale’s Frankenstein films, Son of Frankenstein features wonderful sets and lighting making this, in that regard (to me), on par with its predecessors. I know that’s a statement few would agree with but I think this is a very decent follow-up to two films ranked among the best ever. No one should expect the art the first two films represent to be equalled, but this one is damned entertaining. Oh, and add the great, Bela Lugosi to everything else that makes this film a standout. In my book Son of Frankenstein is overshadowed, underrated and wrongly ignored.
Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) – Directed by Erle C. Kenton
Friend, good. This movie, bad.
Ygor (Bela Lugosi) is still alive despite dying as a result of four bullet holes and another hanging in Son of Frankenstein three years earlier. A resilient fellow! Anyway, he’s still friend and caretaker to The Monster played in this film by Lon Chaney, Jr. Wanting his friend to be the best version of himself, which he realizes happens whenever The Monster is hit with a bolt of lightning, Ygor brings his friend to Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein for care. The care would come in the form of harnessing lightning so The Monster stays ever strong. Ludwig Frankenstein is the brother of Wolf and son of the original Doctor, both of whom have reputations for madness after their experiments proved detrimental to society. Interested in restoring the family name, Ludwig gets the idea of replacing the monster’s criminal brain with a “normal” one – a permanent fix, rather than a lighting bandaid on occasion.
That’s the premise of this Universal installment of Frankenstein, which continues the story from Son of Frankenstein although it isn’t nearly as good. Clips of that previous film are included as the story is recanted in flashbacks, which helps, but the “camp” here makes this implausible. I won’t get into all the details of how we get to the film’s climax, but it involves Ygor, who admits his body is a lot worse for wear, volunteering his own brain to be used to upgrade The Monster. The end result makes for a laugh or two. If you’re a fan of these classic films and characters then I don’t hesitate for a moment to recommend this film. However, this one is a serious deterioration from the previous Universal offerings.
The Ghost of Frankenstein Monster tidbits:
In this film Lon Chaney, Jr. plays The Monster for the first time, but he’d do so again in subsequent films and on television. Despite the make-up, which is very effective, I never quite get used to Chaney’s Monster “look,” but that probably has a lot to do with the fact that it’s difficult to picture anyone in the role but Karloff (or Glenn Strange who is my second-favorite Monster actor). In any case, Lon Chaney did play The Monster several more times, including in stock footage used in House of Dracula; he doubled for Glenn Strange for several shots in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein; and he played The Monster in a short, but infamous, version of Frankenstein on TV’s Tales of Tomorrow.
House of Frankenstein (1944) – Directed by Erle C. Kenton
The writers of horror movies at Universal studios had exhausted every conceivable original idea for new horror stories for their monsters by the 1940s. But then they came up with the idea of combining the most famous creatures into one feature film. Eventually they went on to exhaust those stories as well escalating from two monsters to three to four and so forth. In House of Frankenstein they used five of their most famous monsters and the results were successful box office receipts.
House of Frankenstein is included here because of its valued place in the timeline of Universal Horror for the reasons I just noted. But also because of some of the players and their roles. For instance, Glenn Strange who would become (arguably) the second-favorite actor to portray The Monster at Universal, would do so for the first time in this film. I’d say Karloff is revered and rightly so. But Strange made a fantastic Monster. It may well be that he became adept in the role after getting tips from Boris Karloff who plays the leading role of Dr. Niemann in House of Frankenstein. Niemann is a Doctor Frankenstein-type character, but he is not from society’s upper crust, but from the dregs – he’s an escaped felon. You can view the entire The House of Frankenstein cast and crew list here.
By the way, House of Frankenstein was so successful that Universal used the exact same formula in House of Dracula the following year. That production spawned a superior film. In it, Glenn Strange reprises his role as The Monster, Bela Lugosi returns as Dracula and Lon Chaney, Jr. plays the role he is best remembered for, The Wolf Man.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) – Directed by Charles Barton
I won’t spend much time on this gem in this post since I already published a post in its honor, which you can access here. I do want to mention, however, that this is one of my all-time favorite movies, one I never tire of watching.
Oh – and a few important Universal Frankenstein tidbits:
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was Universal International’s second highest grossing film of 1944 and Abbott and Costello’s biggest hot since their first starring feature, Buck Privates in 1941. Meet Frankenstein appealed not only to fans of Abbott and Costello’s brand of comedy, but to classic monster fans as well, much as it continues to be the case today.
Variety praised the pairing of the two genres noting, “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is a happy combination both for chills and laughs. The comedy team battles it out with the studio’s roster of bogeymen in a rambunctious fraes that if funny and, at the same time, spine-tingling.”
The Los Angeles Times noted that the film’s “comedic inventiveness seldom falters, yet it never seriously violated the tradition of the three celebrated creatures who are its antagonists.” I love the notation of “violating the tradition.” Fans of these classic monster have high expectations in regards to maintaining a certain recognizability for what they each stand for. Even in outings where campiness takes control of the stories, the characters must remain true. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein does that with each – Glenn Strange is The Monster in this movie (except for the few scenes where Chaney’s Monster was shown because Strange suffered an injury during the production), Bela Lugosi plays Dracula and Lon Chaney, Jr. plays The Wolf Man.
By the way, since this post is a tribute to Frankenstein note it is no coincidence that the title to this 1948 film lists that particular name. That’s because it is a name synonymous with horror and its impact cannot be denied. Abbott and Costello would go on to “meet” other greats in subsequent films, including The Killer, Boris Karloff, The Invisible Man and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but none had the popularity or prestige of Frankenstein.
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) – Directed by Terence Fisher
It was surprising to discover that Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein has been somewhat maligned, credited by some horror fans for killing off the horror film genre by hardcore horror fans. That is, until Hammer Studios took the horror mantle and brought the genre to new heights and to new generations.
The Curse of Frankenstein is a movie of firsts and distinction. Hammer Studios changed the course of horror with this, their first offering, which established the Hammer Horror brand. The Curse of Frankenstein was the studios’ first color horror film, the first in what would be seven films in a series dedicated to Frankenstein and its success would lead to the equally popular versions of Dracula (1958) and The Mummy (1959). Many credit this film’s success – as the most profitable film ever produced in England by a British studio – with resurrecting the horror genre because it had experienced a steep decline since the glory days of Universal in the 1930s and 1940s. Perhaps most memorable of all is the fact that Curse introduced a film pairing of monstrous proportions – one of the greatest two-actor film collaborations ever. All in all it can be said that The Curse of Frankenstein‘s impact was as important as the 1931 Karloff classic.
Reports are that Christopher Lee was chosen to play The Monster in The Curse of Frankenstein because of his height. At 6’5″ (I believe) his imposing figure serves The Monster well. But in truth The Monster is secondary in the Hammer Frankenstein series with the focus being on Baron Frankenstein and his deeds. In the Universal films The Monster served as the driving force where as Hammer used Frankenstein as the recurring character that connected the stories. One way they did this is by
featuring the same actor in all but one of the seven films in the Hammer Frankenstein series. That actor is the great, Peter Cushing who adds a class to the role no other actor has ever done. The only film in which Cushing doesn’t play Baron Frankenstein is The Horror of Frankenstein, which was a remake of this original film.
The story of The Curse of Frankenstein goes like this…
A priest arrives at a prison at the request of a prisoner. The prisoner is Baron Victor Frankenstein who has requested the priest’s visit as a last-ditch effort to save his own life. He is imprisoned as repayment for his atrocities. What he wants is the priest to believe and relay his story, defend his actions and ultimately, his sanity.
The Baron’s story starts as the story of a boy, a well-to-do, already brilliant mind with an unrelenting thirst for knowledge. The boy, Victor, is in charge of his own fate since an early age due to the death of his parents. One day he hires a tutor, Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) who serves not only to teach him, but also to enhance the boy’s curiosity. As time passes and the boy grows up, his knowledge and curiosities eclipse those of his tutor. From pupil to collaborator to master scientist the Baron’s experiments take a turn toward obsession when the two are able to give life to a dead dog. Thrilled with this
accomplishment, the Baron quickly sets his sights onto what he sees as the one true accomplishment – to CREATE, “to build the most complete thing known to man…man itself.” And he has lofty ideas – to use the brain of a genius and the hands of a sculptor.
As Baron Frankenstein becomes increasingly obsessed with the creation of life, Paul becomes horrified and pleads with his former pupil to give up his morbid quest. But the Baron will have none of it.
Paul: “This could never end in anything but evil.”
Baron Frankenstein: “My creature will be born with a lifetime of knowledge.”
Having procured the brain of a great intellect by way of murder, Victor believes he cannot fail. However, during a struggle with Paul the brain is damaged. Still, Victor ventures forth and now, with all the necessary parts in place we hear thunder. The creature’s body is submerged in liquid, all conduits are in place, waiting for a jolt and the laboratory comes alive with the sound of madness.
Meanwhile, Frankenstein’s cousin Elizabeth (Hazel Court) has moved into the Frankenstein castle with plans to marry the Baron as was decided when the two were children. Paul, seeing Frankenstein’s madness grow each day and knowing only
danger can result makes it his mission to get Elizabeth out of the house while not divulging the secrets of the goings on in the laboratory.
Suddenly we see the creature now lying in the glass container devoid of liquid after a lightning strike sent bolts through the contraption. As the camera pans in for a close-up we see the chest expand and contract. IT’S ALIVE!
We next see Frankenstein, frustrated and angered with Paul who refuses to assist him and judges, incorrectly, what his experiments could mean for the world. The Baron walks toward his lab and as he nears a crash is heard beyond the bolted door. Rushing to open, Victor sees his creation standing there, as shocked as we is the Baron and he can’t even hear the shrill music as we can. Christopher Lee’s first magnificent Hammer entrance! I mentioned above how this is really Baron Frankenstein’s series, but this introduction to The Monster (nearly) equals the stupendous introduction to Lee in The Horror of Dracula, which is one of my all-time favorite character introductions in film. The sight of him standing there with that impressive frame and make-up never fails to send a bit of a jolt through me.
Lee’s Monster is a somewhat pathetic creature who obeys orders and follows the nature of his maker with a hunger for blood. I’m not quite sure why I never feel Karloff’s Monster is pathetic. In any case, this monster is, but there is never a doubt that the evil lies within the mind of the Baron as he doesn’t hesitate to lead those who get in his way to the slaughter. The Monster is merely the means by which the Baron’s most sordid dreams come true.
I’d be remiss not to mention the music, typical of Hammer in all (if not most) future Hammer Horror movies. Composed by James Bernard it goes far in adding such atmosphere – OF DOOM – to these films and to the glorious Hammer “look.” There’s just nothing like them – horribly delicious. And I don’t even consider myself a horror fan. But what’s good, is good.
The complete list of films in the Hammer Frankenstein series and their trailers:
- The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
- The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
- Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
- Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)
- The Horror of Frankenstein (1970, non-Cushing)
- Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1973)
Young Frankenstein (1974) – Directed by Mel Brooks
When Frederick Frankenstein, pronounced “Froderick Fronkensteen” steps off that train in Transylvania and meets Igor or perhaps Eye-gor, the Frankenstein lore falls on its head and never will the Universal classics be seen in the same way again. At least by this fan who can watch the James Whale films in the vein in which they were intended only with deep concentration and in the right frame of mind. Otherwise, Mel Brooks‘ antics trample all over them. In honor.
Taking the legend and lore that encompasses the entire span of the original telling of Frankenstein’s story in the classic Universal films, Mel Brooks broke the mold with a hilarious movie that stays true to the plot depicted in the first three films. He took the “Son trying to restore the family name” theme from Son of Frankenstein, the creation of The Monster story from the original film and several scenes, including the iconic one between The Monster and the Blind Man from Bride. All intertwined to make a succinct retelling of the story – an irreverent depiction made with reverence. Young Frankenstein.
It’s Brooks’ love of the classic films and his astounding comedic writing talents that make this movie so great. The Young Frankenstein script, written by Brooks and Gene Wilder received one of the film’s two Academy Award nominations, which is unique for a comedy. The other Oscar nod was for Best Sound. Brooks decided to make Young Frankenstein in black and white as an homage to the Universal classics – a salute to Whale’s films. The laboratory equipment used in this film is the same as used in the 1931 original film and Brooks went to extraordinary lengths to recreate Frankenstein’s castle and ensure the look and feel of the entire film was classic.
Oh – and a more incredible cast Mel Brooks could not have assembled – all comedic geniuses born to play these roles, according to the director himself. Gene Wilder plays Frederick Frankenstein, Peter Boyle plays The Monster, Marty Feldman is Igor, Cloris Leachman is Frau Blücher, Teri Garr is Inga, Kenneth Mars is Inspector Kemp with fake arm and all just as depicted in Son of Frankenstein and the incomparable, Madeline Kahn is Elizabeth and ultimately, the bride of The Monster.
There is one more thing worthy of mention about Brooks’ movie in relation to Mary Shelley’s novel. That is that as funny as Young Frankenstein is it depicts through the relationship between Doctor Frankenstein and The Monster, a paternal love that few other filmed versions of Shelley’s story do. I’d read once that Mary Shelley annotated in her book the first ever instance of womb-envy as the only thing men have never been successful at was the creation of life. Mel Brooks mentioned this in an interview around the time of his film’s release as well. That theme is central to Shelley’s Frankenstein, which incorporates the “maternal” instinct, if you will, into a story of horror. Well, somehow, through the laughter Brooks succeeds in depicting this in Young Frankenstein as well, which makes the film that much more impressive. The most obvious example of this is the scene where The Monster weeps and Frederick cradles him as one would a child, but it exists throughout the film.
I include this brief commentary on this film because I simply cannot ignore it. However, I include it under the assumption that whoever might read this has seen it. If you haven’t, do so immediately! Wait only if you’ve yet to see (at the very least) James Whale’s two classics. Otherwise watch those first.
Only a relative few classic films about Frankenstein’s Monster are mentioned in this post, but to this day he shows no sign of letting up. In one form or another, he is created and/or recreated in film, in literature, in myth and in our everyday lives with enough frequency that we are apt to take him for granted. He is most often depicted as a lumbering figure, both terrifying and pathetic and on occasion, sweet and comical. His demeanor may change as does the way he comes into existence, but we never seem to tire of him. He is our friend.
I must end this post making note of the biggest impact Mary Shelley’s novel has had on us all, assisted by that incomparable image discussed early in the post. That is, her work’s enduring influence on how we think. Nearly two centuries after she wrote about her Prometheus he and the image most associated with him are still summoned and considered by the greatest minds among us, affecting serious debate regarding the possibilities of life.
Chosen by Publisher’s Weekly as the greatest horror novel ever written, Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus endures for many reasons. On one level because of its infamous horrors. On another for the richness of the ideas we continue to contemplate. Or simply, because it represents a level of genius the mere mortal cannot comprehend, and what we cannot comprehend we fear.
“I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others!”– Mary Shelley
It is ever-fascinating and…IT’S ALIVE!
Related articles and sites:
The Frankenstein Syndrome (2010)
Frankensteinia: The Frankenstein Blog dedicated to all things Frankenstein