The Monster Of Fame: Frankenstein

Updated: Dec 12, 2019

The Monster Of Fame: Frankenstein

Ghouls, Goblins and Werewolves. . . Creatures of the night. . . Howling winds and cold misty graveyards echo in even more terrifying nightmares hitherto unexplored by mortal man. The very name FRANKENSTEIN has become a symbol for all that is horror, all that is unknown. . . that is horror, all that is unknown... that untouchable realm just outside of mortal reasoning.

Portrait Of A Mary Shelley

FRANKENSTEIN is a nightmare of horror that has managed to sustain itself and become even more popular generations pass. The reason for this is almost unexplainable. The first and most possible reason would be that just enjoy being scared out of their wits. Probably the most incredible part of this whole story is that it began in the mind of a teenage girl, Marry Wollstoncraft Shelley.

Creating Frankentein Monster Process with Mary Shelley

Mary W. Shelley was the daughter of William Godwin and and Mary Wollstoncraft. As a young girl, Mary was much aware of the fact that she was homely and bore more a resemblance to a boy than a girl. This ever present fact caused her considerable heartbreak, and indeed troubled her young mind. She more or less retreated into herself, and with her brilliant and imaginative mind would tell to her few friends, the ''Ghost'' stories she had created. It was the custom of the times for families to gather together and tell stories and at times like this Mary outshined them all.

Mary Shelley Shadow Of The Monster

In 1814, Mary eloped with the poet Shelley, and while traveling through Switzerland composed her famous novel THE ROMANCE OF FRANKENSTEIN, which we now know as FRANKENSTEIN.

''Private preview of Lord Byron’s copy of Frankenstein''


There are many theories as to what prompted Mary W. Shelley to write such a frightening story. One of them is that she hated her father, and envisioned the monster in his image. Another theory is that, since her mind was so advance, she was trying to warn mankind of the impending machine would rule man. Interesting today, when we know for a fact, that automation is slowly replacing people. Indeed, Mary W. Shelley may have been prophet, and we may live to see just such a time.

Dark Good Bye Mary Shelley

There are countless theories like the two mentioned but regardless of the motive FRANKENSTEIN was written, and it will continue to shock each new generation.

The book itself is written on a mighty scale, and really does not resemble any of motion pictures using its name. In the novel, the monster was not depicted as a dumb creature left alone to die after his artificial birth who, because of his ugliness, was rejected by society. Here we can see a bit of Mary Shelley's personal struggle, for in her homeliness, she too must have felt somewhat rejected.

FRANKENSTEIN is definitely a Man vs God story, which in that respect alone could only have tragic undertones throughout.

What gives way to the ''machine age'' theory is as clear as glass. Once the monster had learned of the kind of world he had been born into, he made great strides in an attempt to meet that world on its own terms. As the story progresses, we find that not only could he match wits with man, but he soon learned to outsmart and outthink his human counterparts. That little item about the monster supreme intelligence is somehow always left out of any motion picture version. In truth, The Monster Of Motion picture fame and the Monster of Shelley's novel are two different beings, each having merit of their own.

Frankenstein Experience In The Lab

It's unfair to compare the two as have so many, and slam the motion pictures. Movie makers are always forced to translate what may be beautifully written words into commercial motion picture properties. FRANKENSTEIN is a perfect example of this in every sense of the word. The novel ''reads'' beautifully. As one delves into the story, you can almost feel the hand of Shelley the poet in the way the lines are constructed. Unfortunately those same lines, if transposed to the screen in their exact form would appear and sound more ''corny'' than beautiful. In many cases sensitivity on paper comes up like ''corn'' on the screen.

First Frankenstein Film Was Release By Edison Kinetogram

Thomas Edison’s 1910 FRANKENSTEIN will play on the big screen at Schlafly Bottleworks (7260 Southwest Avenue Maplewood, MO 63143)  after the 1931 version of FRANKENSTEIN which begins at 7pm on February 6th. The 1910 version should start around 8:30.

FRANKENSTEIN, starring Boris Karloff and directed by James Whale in 1931, is usually referred to as the ‘original’ movie version of Mary Shelly’s 1818 novel. It will be screened in its restored Blu-ray format on February 6th at Schlafly Bottleworks in St. Louis so movie buffs will have the chance to see this classic again on the big screen. But, as any real horror movie buff knows, the Karloff/Whale version of FRANKENSTEIN was not the first time Shelly’s story was filmed. Inventor Thomas Edison filmed his own take 21 years earlier. Edison’s 1910 FRANKENSTEIN only runs 14 minutes and it will be screened after the Karloff version at Schlafly on February 6th.


It took Universal Pictures 3 full length features to even begin to dramatize full story of FRANKENSTEIN. Each picture took just a bit from the novel, and even with the 210 minutes of film only scratched the surface.

A Scene from Edison's Frankenstein 1910

In 1931, the year of the first feature length FRANKENSTEIN, BORIS KARLOFF, the unknown chosen for the part of the monster, portrayed the creature with a tremendous amount of sincere pity. His characterization was a tribute to the novel, in as much as it came to close to following Shelley's blueprint. There were scenes of imprisonment in the castle's dungeons, and whippings at the hands of depraved Fritz (The hunchback played so brilliantly by Dwight Frye), that almost brought tears to onlookers of the 1930's. It is safe to assume that the character Fritz was director James Whale's symbolic figure of society in general as to his treatment of the monster. Fritz would torture the monster, spit on him, tease him, and generally do all he could to infuriate him. The monster's revenge is then killing of Fritz. It stands to reason that if one is stepped on long enough, one is bound to fight back. FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER was no exception.

Frankenstein: Monster Heart Has No Brain

There was one scene cut from the original film that would have explained the character of the monster more clearly. Why it was cut is anyone's guess. The scene in point is the one by the water's edge.

Even The Monsters Know How To Play With The Children

The monster in his wanderings comes upon a little girl playing by a lake. The little girl is throwing flowers into the lake and, when seeing the monster, shows no sign of fear. The monster begins to play her game with her. In the next scene of the picture, the little girl is being carried through the town by a villager. She has been murdered and we know by whom, but we really don't know why. If Universal would have left the cut scene in, we's have known why and would not have felt quite so bitter toward the monster. Perhaps that is very reason why they cut it out.

Here is what would have happened, and what did happen in the cut scene. The monster, being so taken back by the little girl, and observing her joy at throwing the flowers into the water, simply picked her up and threw her in after them. It sounds silly, but in the infantile mind of the monster, he thought he was adding to her fun. Obviously he wasn't. In closing, it is safe to assume that the monsters' act was not one of violence, but rather of stupidity. One can readily see how this would have vindicated the monster rather than condemned him, and thereby extend the picture another hour or so. We can therefore understand Universal's motive for dropping the scene.

Spectacular Scene from James Whale (Frankenstein 1931)

As we study the progression of films we can note that the original novel FRANKENSTEIN was used as the basis in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. The scene in which the blind man educates the monster was directly from the book. The BRIDE herself was actually mentioned in the book. Again the motion picture carried the theme to extremes, but successfully. The third film SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, incorporated a little boy as the central character of WILLIAM in the novel.

One outstanding mixup in characters names, for no apparent reason was the reversing of the names HENRY & VICTOR. In the novel, Victor Frankenstein was the young doctor who caused all the problems and Henry Clerval was his best friend. Just a small point, but never the less unnecessary.

The fourth film in the series was titled THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, and starred LON CHANEY JR. in the role vacant by Boris Karloff as the monster. In this version which also starred Bela Lugosi Lionel Atwill and Sir Cedric Hardwick, the monster was suffering from brain damage. By this time, the story had left the main track and was beginning its new direction. A character introduced in the preceding film SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, Igor played by Bela Lugosi, became the second central character. With a relatively evil disposition, Igor could make the monster do what he wanted him to do at a given command. Igor, who wasn't exactly the most liked individual in the small town, sought revenge on his former associates, and with the monster as a tool, could attain that revenge. With the appearance of a ''dirty'' Gabby Hayes, and the mind of an Adolf Hitler, Igor was, in reality, the true MONSTER of the story.

The first FRANKENSTEIN films had the monster in pretty good shape. The rest of the basic plots were mainly centered around reviving him, and never for scientific reasons. Usually just for power and fame. In the GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, both Igor and Doctor Frankenstein the third had their reasons. Igor, for revenge, and the doctor to prove that even though his grandfathers' creation had killed over 25 people in the proceeding films, he wasn't all bad.

The fifth film of this series had Bela Lugosi in the role of the monster. Lon Chaney Jr. had now built up a name for himself as THE WOLF MAN, and thus Universal combining both weird characters came up with the first ''Meet'' picture. FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN.

For all their ability in the horror field, both Bela Lugosi and Universal Pictures goofed in this one. Here was the miscasting job of all time, and no one feels sorrier than Lugosi's millions of fans. As the monster, Lugosi did not exactly win the Academy Award. And illness at the time of filming prevented him from giving his ''all'' to the film, and consequently most all the action shots were done by his ''stand in'', and most of the close-ups had him looking pretty bad. He staggered, latterly staggered through this movie. Lugosi had already received tremendous acclaim as the swave, debonair COUNT DRACULA. In roles like this he shined like a bright star. His eyes were sensitive and piercing, and his mannerisms were that of a gentlemen's gentlemen. Under pounds of makeup, and reduced to making grunts instead of long, almost poetic speeches, Bela Lugosi crumbled in the part of the monster. This film did not hurt his career, but it made clear, to the heads of the studios, that he would not play such a part again. That tall, swave individual with that far-away look in his eyes, would never be reduced to grunting before the cameras again.

House Of Frankenstein 1944 Movie Poster

Following closely on the heels of ''FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN'' came ''THE HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN''. This time, in the person of GLENN STRANGE, the monster came into full focus. Glenn, an ex-wrestler, had all the physical features of the monster, except for the face, that Shelley had described. Glenn was a big man, and could easily break down any door, trick or otherwise, with no effort. He was a strong man, with a sharply chiseled face. It is ironic that, even though it was Karloff who started the whole thing, the face of Glenn Strange is most often associated with FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER.

This is particularly interesting since HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was produced 13 years after the original FRANKENSTEIN. Odd but true. In this picture, the monster played a very small part as a result of Universal's attempt to incorporate all the monsters under the same roof. DRACULA, played by John Carridine, THE MAD DOCTOR, played by Boris Karloff, THE WOLF MAN played by Lon Chaney Jr., THE HUNCHBACK, played by J. Carrol Naish, and FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER, played by Glenn Strange made for a heck of an advertising campaign, but a very confused movie. There were some good moments, a beautiful character study by J. Carrol Naish, and some pretty good special effects. The monster, regretfully, spent most of the picture either on ice, or on the table, waiting for someone to pull the switch. When he finally did get up, all he did was make some nasty noises to some irate villagers, and walk Boris Karloff into the quicksand. Truly he was having less and less to do with the films that bore his name.

The film was a box office success however, and gave birth to HOUSE OF DRACULA the following year. Again all the monster, and again laid on that table until about 4 minute before the end of the picture. During those last 4 minutes, he got up, threw a small fit, and was hit on the head with a burning beam from the ceiling. With this happening so fast and furious in this production, it is safe to assume FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER wasn't needed at all.

HOUSE OF DRACULA could have been Universal's answer to our modern ''Medic'' shows on TV. The basic plot centered around DRACULA seeking a cure, THE WOLF MAN being cured and hint of a possible cure for THE HUNCHBACK in sight. Unfortunately everything went boom when the great doctor, Doctor Adleman (Played by Onslow Stevens) went slightly mad. One could easily imagine with DRACULA, THE WOLF MAN and FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER all living under one's roof, it wouldn't be hard to get a little ''edgy''.

Regardless of all that, FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER was taking a back seat to a number of other screen monsters. While there were hundreds of other monster movies being produced at this time, by Universal and other studios, this film more or less ended the continuing FRANKENSTEIN series for a time.

In 1948, all the bodies were dug up again for the very successful ABBOT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. In this satire on every monster film that ever was, Glenn Strange again played the monster, and incidentally had more to do than either of his first two pictures. Bela Lugosi re-created his portrayal of DRACULA and Lon Chaney Jr. did THE WOLF MAN. There was never a mention of what had happened before. No attempt to link this film with its predecessors. The monsters were there. Abbott and Costello were there. Together, they all had a real good time.

The film marked a high point in the careers of Abbott and Costello, long favorites at Universal, and with the perfect mixture of good story, good music, expert special effects, and a fine performance by all the cast, ''ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN'' proved that monsters and mayhem were here to stay.

It's interesting to question what would have happened if the film had been made as it was originally intended. The script was originally called ''BRAIN OF FRANKENSTEIN'', and was to be a serious horror entry. Would it have been successful? Would there have been more sequels? These are questions to which there are no answers. The famous Universal Alumni had graduated from the screen into memory. ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, was the last picture in the image of the classics. It was the last truly fine performance by Bela Lugosi as DRACULA. It was the last time THE WOLF MAN would plead to be saved. It was indeed the last time for nostalgia. Marry W. Shelley's great novel had run the gamut from the most frightening horror to the most uproarious comedy. ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, would close the door to an era. An era that will never really be forgotten.


Time passed, and for a while all seemed quiet on the horror front. In 1955, a company from England, Hammer Films, reopened the sealed vaults and began producing all the old classics anew. With ''THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN''.

Introducing a whole new school of actors, ''CURSE'' told, again a different story. Not having the rights to the established FRANKENSTEIN face, it also introduced a new ''looking'' monster. Peter Cushing played the doctor, and Christopher Lee, the monster. Both men were distinguished players of the British school and handled their parts brilliantly.

The monster, or ''creature'' as he was referred to in this picture, resembled a pathetic clown, and left a lot to be desired. The acting, as afore mentioned, was superb, the sets lavish, and the stories well written. With the addition of color, FRANKENSTEIN gained a new dimension. A dimension of Gore!

Blood splashed freely on the screen. No more was there the suggested horror of the earlier days, but rather, here was the real thing as it happened. A few of the scenes with the parts of different bodies, forced a lot of people to the lounge to recuperate. Proving again that people like to be scared like to be shocked, ''CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN'' was a tremendous success. Hammer films were in. Cushing and Lee were accepted by the fans as the new Karloff & Lugosi. Once again ''horror'' would enter motion picture scene.

Hammer Films in the next few years, produced two other FRANKENSTEIN films. THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN, which picked up directly where ''CURSE'' left off, and THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, which followed as closely as possible the main theme. My personal feeling is, even the ''worst'' Hammer Film, is still worth seeing. A tip of the hat to Hammer.

At the time of the revival, films were being turned out by independent producers, with smaller budgets. I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER, and FRANKENSTEIN 1970 were good examples of low budget films capitalizing on the name. Each of these films had some merit to them, though you might have had to look a bit closer to find it.

In the case of ''FRANKENSTEIN 1970'', produced by Allied Artist Pictures, and starring none else than Boris Karloff, it was a case of plot going haywire. The idea was good. It was again the old ''last living relative'' of the original doctor bit, but unfortunately for all concerned it came out more like a comedy than a serious film. The sets were ''hoaky'', and the lines were silly, and although the cast, for the most part, were competent players, you would have never known it listening to those lines. Karloff suffered the most, since it was his name, linked with the name FRANKENSTEIN, that obviously drew the fans.

I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN was a teenage mess. It was a wild idea, but frankly speaking it appealed to a different audience than proceeding films. It id, however, entertain but should not be compared with, or even mentioned in the same breath as a horror film. It was different and should be in a different class. There are several ways to view a horror film. Before you even set foof into a theatre that plays I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, get all thoughts of Lugosi and Karloff out of your head, and you'll enjoy it much more.

To make a long story short, the FRANKENSTEIN story is a simple one. From the mind of a teenage girl, to the minds of 20 million people, a nightmare was projected. Mary W. Shelley had never described the monster as well as Universal Pictures brought him to the screen. Her book, although a popular novel, was reborn in 1931. There have been countless versions of her novel produced on the stage, on TV, in motion pictures, on radio, and in magazines and books. The FRANKENSTEIN story is long story, and it is not over yet. It will probably never really be over.

As long as there are people who like to be scared. As long as there is film, and men of creative talent. As long as people have emotions, there will always be room for FRANKENSTEIN.

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