following came about when a webgroup I frequent was
asked if they knew of any film and book variants on
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein novel.
I answered at excessive length, but others threw into
the mix, too. Thanks to the members of the Mt Lawley
Mafia (especially Chris Dickenson, whose handy thematic
snapshot I quote at the end).
Notes on Frankenstein variants
was a silent Frankenstein (1910) (it
was a very early contender in the popular film race),
and a very successful stage adaptation, which inspired
the famous James Whale version (a good source on this
is David Skal's The Monster Show: A Cultural
History of Horror, which gives a thorough account
of the film’s genesis. There is also an excellent
documentary, narrated and written by Skal, on the recent
classic Universal Monster Classics DVD of "Frankenstein").
success of the 1931 Frankenstein with Boris Karloff
led to a series of follow-ups:
of Frankenstein (1935) (a must-see in any terms)
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
House of Frankenstein (1944)
Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein
this series of films, the consistent element is the
monster -- firstly played by Karloff and then less successfully
by others, including Bela Lugosi (who, in a fit of ego-driven
miscalculation, had refused the role first up on the
grounds that the monster had no dialogue, only grunts),
Lon Chaney Jr and Glenn Strange. The impact of the ‘interfering
with nature will destroy us’ theme was gradually
lost to the demands of franchising.
the late 1950s when Hammer films started their successful
run of horror films -- and in the process revitalised
the whole horror film industry – the story they
started with was "Frankenstein". However,
they couldn't get the copyright to use the make-up designs
of the famous Universal version, and this governed the
nature of their film sequence by forcing a concentration
on the good doctor (played by Peter Cushing) rather
than his creation.
director of the series was Terence Fisher, and his Frankenstein
films, taken as a whole, are my favourite variant on
the novel. The films are:
of Frankenstein (1957)
Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)
Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell
The Evil of Frankenstein was directed by Freddie Fisher, as Fisher wasn't available, but nevertheless stars Peter Cushing in the title role and more or less fits into the sequence. Hammer made one other Frankenstein film, this one without Cushing: Horror of Frankenstein (1970). It was not meant to be part of the main sequence and was in fact a humorous/satirical variant.
it's Hammer's Dracula films that get
the kudos, but in my opinion, the Frankenstein films
are Fisher's greatest achievement, taken as a sequence
rather than as individual works. There is a definite
development that takes place, with Dr Frankenstein himself
as the central protagonist (rather than, as in the Universal
Frankenstein films, the monster). His character is developed
as the series progresses -- with the relative moralities
being explored and themes of class structure and responsibility
high on the agenda. Often Cushing’s Frankenstein
is seen as a man out of his time, misunderstood and
hounded by the ignorant, and conservative, scientific
community. He is up against a particular (and failing)
social background – a class system based on aristocratic
privilege – that is fighting for its life, though
what he offers in return is another utterly pragmatic
and amoral power structure that is equally self-serving
and in the end self-destructive: he represents the modern
scientific world that replaces the old feudal one. In
Revenge of Frankenstein he even becomes his own creation! The films get rather dark and cynical as they progress.
last film (Monster from Hell) was finished
mere weeks before the director's death and really does
represent a pessimistic view. The fact that it is set
in a madhouse and that the only sympathetic characters
are a young deaf and dumb woman who is raped by the
inmates and exploitatively destroyed, and the monster,
who is literally torn to bits by the mob, says heaps
about what Fisher felt about the moral possibilities
inherent in modern sensibilities.
any rate, these films were the beginnings of the modern
horror film and set the basis for what was to come.
was a rush of great (and greatly bad) exploitation horror
films based on Frankenstein in the 1970s and 1980s –
often Italian. One of the best is Andy Warhol's Flesh
for Frankenstein, directed by Paul Morrissey
according to the credits, through really it was Italian
exploitation master, Antonio Margheriti, who did the
deed. Filmed in 3D, no less, it’s real 'liver-in-your-lap'
stuff (as someone once described it), and totally amoral.
have also been assorted other variants featuring the
Frankenstein character, with Frankenstein and/or his
creature in the old West (Jesse James Meets
Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966)) and I
Was A Teenage Frankenstein (1959) (a good one,
this – Frankenstein as a metaphor for socially conditioned
teenage acne), not to mention The Teenage Frankenstein
Meets the Teenage Werewolf (1959), and lots
of others. The Monster Squad, a very
entertaining horror-comedy pastiche from the 1980s,
re-envisions all the universal monsters (including the
Creature from the Black Lagoon). In this film the
monster teams up with a gang of kids to defeat Dracula’s
Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965)
[Furankenshutain tai chitei kaijû Baragon (1965)]
and its sequel, War of the Gargantuas
(1966) [Furankenshutain no kaijû: Sanda tai Gaira
(1966)] are Japanese daikaiju films. The premise is
this: The Nazis ship the still beating heart of the
monster to Hiroshima just before the bomb is dropped,
it is eaten by a scrounging vagrant kid, who subsequently
gets bigger and bigger and escapes into the backwoods.
Eventually he gets to be the size of Godzilla but retains
his passing resemblance to Frankenstein's monster. Fantastic!
In 1976, there was a Doctor Who episode that directly draws upon the Frankenstein
story, called The Brain of Morbius. In this
story, a renegade Time Lord scientist is building himself
a new body from the corpses of unfortunate space travelers
who happen upon his planet. The four-part story is very
gothic and very dark, with a definite Hammer horror
vibe, as did many of the Doctor Who stories from this period of Tom Baker's time as the famous Time Lord.
Gods and Monsters (2000) is about James Whale
(director of the 1931 film) in his dying days, based on the novel Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram (1995).
Brooke’s Young Frankenstein (1974)
is essential viewing for its referencing and loving
parody of the Universal film tradition of Frankenstein.
Frankenhooker – a young man who's girlfriend
has been killed by a lawn mower, scavenges bits from
exploded hookers -- who die through ingestion of a sort
of explosive form of cocaine – in order to re-build
her, and ends up creating a Frankenstein monster with
a strong sexual attitude and street-walker clothes (as
well as stitches).
X-Files episode, "Postmodern Prometheus”,
filmed in lovely black-and-white, is a tribute to the
Universal film tradition, but (as the title suggests)
also explores some of the novel’s issues.
well as stories based on the novel, there is a tradition
of stories based on the history of the writing of the
novel (you know, the Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley,
Dr Polidori, Mary weekend of drugs and storytelling
in a Swiss chalet). Bride of Frankenstein
includes a sequence in this vein. But there is also
Ken Russell's excellent Gothic (well,
I like it), and several others that skip my mind at
were also several TV mini-series/telemovies that extended
the book. The best was Frankenstein: The True
Story (1973) (which concentrates on the doppelganger
aspect of the story). Another was The House
of Frankenstein (1993) , which takes a sort
of modern corporate slant – Frankenstein meets
Dallas, as it were.
to see a good listing of the various Frankenstein films,
go to the Internet Movie Database: http://us.imdb.com/Tsearch?Frankenstein
Tim Burton's early cartoon Frankenweenie
(1984) -- about a dog.
there’s always The Rocky Horror Picture
Show: “In just seven days I’m gonna
make you a man”…
Another trend has seen Frankenstein (the monster, not the man) depicted as an action hero. I, Frankenstein, directed by Stuart Beattie in 2014 and based on a graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux, depacts the monster, now named Adam, becoming entangled in a war between demons and gargoyles, thus gaining a soul in the process due to his selfless actions. The monster-as-hero trope also drives the DC Comics' Frankenstein, as he fights to save the world in Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory. Later he re-appeared as part of a team of movie-inspired monsters called the Creature Commandos, and in 2011, as Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. – the Super-Human Advanced Defense Executive. When that series was cancelled he joined the Justice League Dark team, fighting supernatural evil wherever it arises.