Halloween Horror Celebration--Part 10...Frankenstein
Karloff as the Monster
THE FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER
This is the 10th in a series of Halloween horror hubs. And this is one of my favorites. What other cinema monster better sums up movie monsters (Or literary monsters, for that matter) or the horror film industry than that iconic creature put together from dead bodies by mad Doctor Frankenstein?
Yes, its the Frankenstein Monster! Whether in books, films, animation or even comic books, Frankenstein's Monster is the most iconic of monsters.
The Frankenstein Monster:
The Frankenstein Monster was the invention of 18 year old Mary Shelly (wife of poet Percy Shelly) who was vacationing in Switzerland with her husband, their close friend Lord Byron and John Polidori. Incessant rain left them housebound and reading ghost stories to each other. This led to a challenge by Byron, daring them all to create the scariest story ever told. Mary Shelly seemed outclassed by her literary companions until she heard legends of a mad scientist named Conrad Dipple who performed illegal experiments using parts of dead bodies and electricity. Ideas began to click in her head and soon she fleshed out the idea for a horror story that so impressed the others that they encouraged her to expand it to book length. This was the genesis for her legendary 1818 novel "Frankenstein: the Modern Prometheus".
Important point...Its a common error that people call the monster Frankenstein, but thats not accurate. Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster. The monster itself really has no name but is mostly referred to as the Frankenstein Monster.
Films about the Frankenstein Monster...
The first time the Monster haunted filmland was in a 12 minute long 1910 short film produced by Thomas Edison studios starring Charles Ogle as the first screen Monster. (The irony of inventor Edison making a film that warned about the dangers of science was likely lost on audiences of the time.)
The first sound version of the story is far and away the most popular version of the story and has achieved a legendary status among horror films. Universal Studio's classic "Frankenstein" (1931) recreated the Frankenstein story, becoming the most familiar retelling of Shelly's tale. When Bela Lugosi made the error of passing on the role (He didn't want to play a role where he was covered in make-up and had no dialogue) the career making role was handed to then unknown British actor Henry Pratt, better known as Boris Karloff. This was the beginning of Karloff's reign as the king of horror.
Make-up artist Jack Pierce designed the distinctive appearance of the monster which has since become his trademark look, and James Whale directed. Colin Clive played Doctor Frankenstein. Karloff gave a wonderfully emotional pantomime performance as the confused but not evil monster.
The film was a colossal hit for Universal Studios and it turned Boris karloff into an overnight superstar. Although very mild by today's standards, it was controversial back then for its violence (particularly the scene where the Monster tosses a little girl into a lake to drown.)
The immense success of 'Frankenstein' ensured that a sequel would inevitably follow. "The Bride of Frankenstein" (1935) picked up where the first film ended. Again directed by James Whale, the combine films tell a complete story which is basically faithful to the Shelly novel. Many people see 'the Bride of Frankenstein' as superior to the original, with its dark humor, although most fans look at both as one complete two part tale. Karloff got to speak this time around, and the world was introduced to the monster's bride (Played by Elsa Lanchester.) The Monster is seemingly killed at the end, but we all know better than that. A good monster never stays dead.
Karloff played the monster for the third and final time in "the Son of Frankenstein" (1939), where Doctor Frankenstein's son Wolf (Basil Rathbone) is manipulated by evil hunchback Igor (Wonderfully played by Bela Lugosi) into re-powering the weak monster. Once its strength is returned to it, the Monster becomes Igor's assassin and begins killing Igor's enemies. Wolf realizes his mistake too late.
Karloff was unhappy with the script of 'Son of Frankenstein" because the Monster didn't talk and had little motivation except to obey Igor. He felt that the monster had become a prop in its own franchise. Thus, Karloff refused to ever play the role again and he stuck to his word.
But the loss of Karloff didn't stop Universal from continuing the Franchise. They simply recast the role in the fourth installment, "the Ghost of Frankenstein" (1942). This time another big horror star took on the role. Lon Chaney Jr. (Best known for playing the Wolfman) wore the monster make up, making Chaney the only actor to ever have the honor of playing Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula, the Wolfman and the Mummy. Cedric Hardwicke played yet another son of Doctor Frankenstein, again manipulated by Igor (Lugosi) into treating the Monster. Lovely Scream Queen Evelyn Ankers plays Hardwick's daughter Elsa, and grand daughter of the orginal Doctor Frankenstein. At the end, Igor's brain is put into the Monster's body but he goes blind.
A weaker than expected performance for 'Ghost of Frankenstein' (the Horror genre was weakening during World War two when people weren't looking for more horror) led Universal to begin a series of Monster-Mash franchise cross-overs, teaming up all their most popular monsters.
The first monster-mash cross-over was "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman" (1943). Since Lon Chaney was needed to play the Wolfman, the Monster was recast. Bela Lugosi, having realized the error of his ways, decided to take on the role he had once turned down.
Many people criticize Lugosi's stiff-limbed, lumbering interpretation of the monster which would, sadly, become the standard for the Monster in future films. However, what most viewers don't know is that the film was heavily edited and deleted all references to the blindness that had afflicted the monster in the previous film. Lugosi played the monster as being blind and thus clumsy, feeling his way around. But when all references to that blindness were, bizarrely, cut from the final version, the result made Lugosi's version of the Monster look ridiculous.
The film was a hit, and fans enjoyed seeing the Monster grapple with the Wolfman. Patrick Knowles plays the requisite scientist and Ilona Massey took up the role of Elsa.
The next monster mash was "The House of Frankenstein" (1945) which not only brought back Chaney as the Wolfman, but also Dracula played by John Carradine. Boris Karloff returned to the Franchise but not as the Monster, rather as Mad scientist Doctor Neiman. The role of the Monster was taken up by Glen Strange who would be Universal's go-to guy for the Monster from now on.
"The House of Dracula" (1945) was the next cross-over, again featuring Chaney as the Wolfman, Carradine as Dracula and Strange as the Monster. It was rushed out the same year as 'House of Frankenstein' but was poorer in quality.
The Frankenstein Monster had very little to do in either of the previous monster-mashes, spending most of its time inert and awaiting a charge. Karloff's prediction that the monster would be reduced to a mere prop had finally been realized, sadly.
The final monster-mash cross-over was the hilarious horror parody "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein"(1947) which featured not only the popular comedy duo, but also Chaney and Strange as the Wolfman and the Frankenstein Monster. Bela Lugosi appeared in his most famous role as Dracula, the second and last time he would ever play his trademark role.
This was the end of the Universal Studios reign as the sole makers of Frankenstein movies but the door was now opened for others to give the Monster a retelling.
Hammer Film Studios in England, known as much as Universal was for making horror films, took their turn at adapting Shelly's story. "The Curse of Frankenstein" (1957) featured their popular duo of horror stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Cushing and Lee frequently worked together in many successful horror films. Lee played the Monster and Cushing was a more evil version of Doctor Frankenstein than we'd ever seen before.
The success of 'Curse of Frankenstein' inspired Hammer to do a franchise with a unique twist. The subsequent films would be about the insane Doctor Frankenstein (malevolently played by Cushing in each) creating a different monster in each installment. The sequels were "The Revenge of Frankenstein" (1958); "The Evil of Frankenstein" (1964); "Frankenstein Created Woman" (1966); "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" (1969); "The Horror of Frankenstein" (1970), with Dave Prowse (Soon to play Darth Vader in the "Star Wars" films) as the Monster. And finally "Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell"(1973). Cushing was excellent throughout the whole series.
Several films unrelated to Frankenstein or his Monster came out, utilizing the name and nothing else. For instance, "I Was A Teenage Frankenstein" (1957) and "Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster" (1965), had no connection to Shelly's characters.
The terrible "Frankensteins Daughter" (1959), and the even worse "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter" (1966) and the campy, silly Japanese Kaiju Eiga film "Frankenstein Conquers the World" (1966) had only vague, contrived connections to the Frankenstein legend.
Boris Karloff made two last forays into the realm of Frankenstein. First in "Frankenstein-1970" (1958) as another mad scientist and lastly in the cute puppet film "the Mad Monster Party" (1967) with Karloff doing the voice of Doctor Frankenstein as he hosts a monster party for Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, the Creature of the Black Lagoon, the Invisible Man, the Hunchback, Jekyll & Hyde, the Frankenstein Monster and his Bride and even King Kong. If you like puppetry, this is harmless family fun.
The ultra low budget "Dracula vs. Frankenstein" (1971) filmed in Sweden, was a laughable attempt to recreate the monster cross-overs of the past. Sadly, this mess was Lon Chaney Jrs. last film.
Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder made the hilarious horror parody "Young Frankenstein" (1974) which brilliantly skewered the old Universal Frankenstein films. Peter Boyle played the Monster and Wilder was Doctor Frankenstein's nephew Frederick Frankenstein (Which he pronounced Fronk-In-Steen). Marty Feldman is terrific as Igor (Pronounced Eye-gore.)
A reworking of 'The Bride of Frankenstein' was "The Bride" (1986) starring Clancy Brown as the Monster, Sting as an evil Doctor Frankenstein and Jennifer Beals as the beautiful Bride he creates for the monster but then wants to keep for himself.
Another cute family oriented monster-mash,in the vain of 'Mad Monster Party' was "The Monster Squad" (1987) which not only gave us the Frankenstein Monster, but also Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
"Frankenstein Unbound" (1990) was an ambitious but ultimately forgettable attempt by Roger Corman (A top horror director of the 50s and 60s) to retell the Frankenstein story. John Hurt plays a scientist from the future who is accidentally thrust back to the past where he meets Dr. Frankenstein (Raul Julia), has a romance with Mary Shelly (Bridget Fonda) and ultimately finds himself battling the Frankenstein Monster.
Shakespearean star Kenneth Branagh tried his hand at the Frankenstein legend with "Mary Shelly's Frankenstein"(1994) a very faithful adaptation of the original Shelly novel. Branagh plays the well intentioned but ill-fated Doctor Frankenstein, and Robert DeNiro portrayed the Monster.
"Van Helsing" (2004) was a lively monster-mash featuring not only the Frankenstein Monster, but also Dracula and the Wolfman. Hugh Jackman plays the monster hunting hero Van Helsing.
And thats all folks. More later on my next hub.
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