The Horror Movie Magazine You Can
Really Sink Your Teeth Into
Issue #3

Your Mother was the Lightning: The Frankenstein Legacy in Film and Literature Buy now from Movies Unlimited! 

Eric M. Heideman

In Greek mythology Prometheus, a Titan, stole fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to humanity, for which presumption he was eternally punished by Zeus, king of the gods. In Roman legend Prometheus also created mankind out of clay. In Hebrew legend the golem was a clay man, animated through cabalistic magic to perform certain tasks; but if the person animating the golem had selfish motivations, the golem turned on its creator. For many centuries people have built and been fascinated by automatons—human or animal figures that perform repetitive motions through some clockwork mechanism.

The 18th century became known as the Age of Reason. The belief developed that humanity could grasp its destiny and build a better world—perhaps a nearly perfect one. The idealistic American and French revolutions broke out. The Industrial Revolution led to mass production and faster travel, at the same time that it darkened the urban atmosphere and forced millions to work under harsh conditions. In reaction to the forward-looking Age of Reason, the gothic novel developed, set in medieval castles and featuring seemingly supernatural plotlines.

In the early 19th century a teenaged Englishwoman, in a supreme flash of insight, fused ancient legends with current scientific aspirations and a seemingly clairvoyant reflection on moral consequences. Through careful craftsmanship she imbedded these things in a ripping good yarn that formed the bridge from the gothic novel to the modern horror tale even as that same yarn gave birth to the science fiction genre. She was Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851), and her first novel, Frankenstein: Or The Modern Prometheus (1818) has never gone out of print.

“It’s moving. It’s alive!”

She was born August 30, 1797 to Mary Wollstonecraft, novelist and author of the founding document of feminism, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), and William Godwin, novelist and liberal political philosopher. Mary Wollstonecraft died from childbirth complications, and William Godwin and his second wife made distant parents. But Mary’s father spoke to her as an intelligent person, home-tutored her at a college seminar level, and gave her the run of his vast library, where she read widely in literature and history. The Godwin household, too, was one of the premiere intellectual salons of Europe, to which poets, painters, actors, and inventors came calling.

In July 1814, a month short of Mary’s 17th birthday, Mary ran away with the unhappily married Percy Bysche Shelley (1792-1822), atheist, radical thinker, aspiring poet, devotee of cutting-edge science, and frequent visitor to the Godwin household. They would marry in December 1816, after his first wife’s suicide. Together, Mary and Percy would have five children, only one of whom would survive early childhood.

In 1816 Percy, Mary, their second baby, William, and Mary’s step-sister summered by Lake Geneva, Switzerland, where Lord Byron—famous for fascinating poetry and delicious scandals—was also staying, with his physician and traveling companion, John Polidori. Byron and Shelley hit it off and they ended up renting nearby lakeside villas. They wrote, read extensively, sailed on the lake, and gathered at Byron’s Villa Diodati in the evenings, where they read each other German ghost stories. In June Byron suggested that they have a ghost-story writing contest. Shelley began something but was soon distracted; Byron wrote a fragment about a dying man—a fragment which Polidori would expand into a classic novelette, “The Vampyre” (1819). Mary thought and thought, but was stumped for an idea.

One night Byron and Shelley had a long talk about the possibility of giving life to inanimate matter. Past midnight Mary retired to her room, closed her eyes, and had a waking vision of a scientist giving life to a body he’d created, then recoiling from the creature in horror. In her vision the scientist flees to his bedchamber, hoping the thing would simply die: “He sleeps, but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold, the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes.”

The next day she began work on her “ghost story,” planning to write a short tale (she began with the creation scene she’d envisioned). But Shelley encouraged her to make it a novel. Over the next year, the 18 to 19-year-old Mary made sophisticated use of the then-common expository novel (told through letters) to tell a tale within a tale within a tale. Walton, an explorer, writes letters to his sister (whose initials are M.W.S.), in which he mentions finding a haunted-looking man in the Arctic Circle, north of Russia. The man’s name is Victor Frankenstein.

Frankenstein tells Walton the story of his life, centering around his scientific creation, as a young medical student, of a hideous artificial man, unnamed though referred to as “daemon,” “wretch,” “monster,” “vampire,” and other appellations. At the center of the novel is the Monster’s own autobiography, as this highly articulate being reveals the loneliness and persecution he’s suffered as a consequence of Victor creating him only to abandon him at birth. The Monster then promises to retreat permanently to the wilderness if Frankenstein will build him an equally hideous mate. Frankenstein agrees, but then has second thoughts about spawning a species of fiends, and destroys his female creation, after which Monster and creator become irrevocably caught up in mutual destruction.

The novel makes recurring references to John Milton’s 17th century epic poem, Paradise Lost. But in the story’s world, where God’s will and presence are never made manifest, which character stands for God, who for Satan, and who for Adam? And which character is more in the right, Frankenstein or his Monster? The author lets both present their cases with feeling, but she herself draws no verdict.

“I bid my hideous progeny go forth....”

In 1823 the novel’s first stage adaptation, Presumption; Or, The Fate of Frankenstein by Richard Brinksley Peake premiered. The action was much compressed, the creature—his face yellow and green, his limbs blue—was speechless; the novel’s complex moral explorations were reduced to a single moral: Frankenstein got punished for treading in God’s domain. Exciting scenes with the Monster alternated with sentimental set pieces among the other characters, several of whom kept breaking into song. Frankenstein was given a comical servant, named Fritz, who wasn’t privy to his master’s experiments.

Mary Shelley saw the play, and wrote that she enjoyed it, particularly Thomas Potter Cooke as Frankenstein’s creation, called “_____” in the playbill: “The story is not well managed, but Cooke played _____’s part extremely well; his seeking, as it were, for support, his trying to grasp at the sounds he heard.... I was much amused and it appeared to excite a breathless eagerness in the audience.”

Through the 19th century there were several more Frankenstein stage melodramas in England and the U.S., Paris and Vienna, as well as Frankenstein parodies, including Frankenstich, Frank-in-Steam, and The Model Man. Cooke, and later O. Smith, became closely identified with the Monster, playing him in multiple productions. The Monster and vampires began to appear together in plays. As early as the 1820s, the name “Frankenstein” started to be used interchangeably for the Monster and the Monster’s maker.

Meanwhile, the unnamed science fiction and horror fiction genres developed. Tracing Frankenstein’s influence on these forms is like tracing water’s influence on fish. Ambrose Bierce’s story, “Moxon’s Master” (1893), features a malevolent chess-playing automaton. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1887) seems pretty clearly in the Frankenstein tradition, as do H.G. Wells’ scientific romances, The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896) and The Invisible Man (1897). The latter three would each receive their definitive film versions during horror’s Golden Age, as, respectively, director Ruben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932), Earle C. Kenton’s Island of Lost Souls (1932), and James Whale’s The Invisible Man (1933).

In 1910 the Edison Studios released a 14-minute Frankenstein, starring Charles Ogle as a patchwork monster, hunchbacked, hairy, clawed. It took shape in a cauldron of blazing chemicals, an effect achieved by setting fire to a dummy, then running the results backward. Long thought a lost film, it has recently turned up. In the second official adaptation, Life Without Soul (1915), Percy Darrell Standing played the “Brute Man” without monster makeup. It remains a lost film, as does Italy’s The Monster of Frakestein [sic] (1920).

While filming The Student of Prague (1913) on location, German actor/director Paul Wegener became fascinated with the legend of the Golem of Prague, supposedly animated by 16th-century Rabbi Lowe to protect the Jewish community from a pogrom. Wegener filmed versions of the legend three times. The Golem (1914) and The Golem and the Dancing Girl (1917) are lost, but The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920) survives. The film is notable for the village of ghetto buildings designed by architect Hans Poelzig, which would influence the look of Universal Studios villages in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Wegener played his bewigged clay man with a lumbering dignity suggesting great weight and strength.

Other German films that would contribute to horror cinema in general and the Frankenstein tradition in particular were the serial Homunculus (1916), about an artificially created man who became a dictator; Alraune, filmed three times from Hans Heinz Ewers’ novel, about an evil woman created by artificial insemination; and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), the ground-breaking film about an evil magician who sends a somnambulist (sleepwalker) out to commit crimes, Conrad Veidt’s performance as the non-supernatural somnambulist suggesting both the Monster and a vampire.

In 1920 Czech writer Karel Capek’s play R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots coined the term “robot” (from the Czech robotnik, worker) for mechanical man. In the play emotionless artificial persons wipe out humanity, only to develop emotions of their own.

In Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), a grandly mad scientist (Rudolph Klein-Rogge) creates an evil robot, then, through a spectacular display of electrical equipment, transforms the robot into the duplicate of a virtuous labor leader (Brigitte Helm).

“That body is not dead. It has never lived!”

Frankenstein (1931), the central film in the horror canon, had a complicated birth.

Carl Laemmle Jr., Universal Studios production chief, had a particular fondness for horror, and saw to it that the John L. Balderston/Hamilton Deane play Dracula was adapted to film with director Tod Browning and featuring new star Bela Lugosi. Dracula premiered on Valentine’s Day, 1931, and resulted in Universal making a profit in that depth-of-the-Depression year.

That spring Universal acquired the rights to a companion piece, Peggy Webling’s 1927 British play, Frankenstein: An Experiment in the Macabre, adapted for the American stage in 1931 by Hamilton Deane. Robert Florey was to be the director: with Garrett Fort he wrote a screenplay adaptation, changing the Monster from a semi-articulate person to a cruel and inarticulate brute. Florey added the idea of having Frankenstein’s assistant (again named Fritz) stealing a “criminal brain” for the Monster. The Florey/ Fort script (and the final film) kept Webling’s name substitution: Victor Frankenstein became Henry, and his Henri Clerval from the novel became Victor Moritz.

They did a screen test for Lugosi as the Monster, for which Universal’s chief makeup man, Jack Pierce, devised a makeup similar to Wegener’s Golem. Lugosi, with his handsome face and compelling voice, didn’t like being buried under makeup in a part where he couldn’t talk.

Meanwhile, British stage director James Whale (1889-1957) was Junior’s hot new director after Whale’s success with the WW I film Waterloo Bridge (1931), starring Colin Clive (who Whale had discovered on the London stage) and Mae Clarke. In June 1931, Junior offered Whale his choice of some 30 Universal properties. Whale picked Frankenstein. Florey was transferred to The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), and Lugosi went along.

Francis Edwards Faragoh and John Russell set to work re-adapting the Florey/Fort screenplay in consultation with Whale. Two Dracula alumnae remained in the cast: Edward Van Sloan as Henry Frankenstein’s professor, Dr. Waldman, and Dwight Frye as Frankenstein’s hunchbacked assistant, Fritz. Whale insisted on the intense Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein. Mae Clarke was eventually cast as Frankenstein.s fiancée, Elizabeth.

Casting the Monster was a challenge. In the developing screenplay he would remain mute, but he would be a complex person. They needed an actor of subtlety and range. Whale’s romantic partner, David Lewis (a film producer), suggested that Whale test an obscure but experienced character actor named William Henry Pratt, who went by the stage name Boris Karloff.

On meeting the 43-year-old actor, Whale was fascinated by his face and “penetrating personality.” Inspired partly by a sketch by Florey, Whale sketched a Monster grounded in Karloff’s unique features. Meanwhile, Jack Pierce carefully studied anatomy and past burial customs to deduce what a man made of parts of dead people might look like. As Karloff sat through long makeup sessions in which Pierce tried various experiments on the patiently sitting Karloff, Boris suggested weighting his eyelids down with putty to give his eyes a dull, dead look.

The key to Whale and Karloff’s shared vision is that the Monster is a oversized newborn child, his lurching, loose-armed walk that of a toddler struggling to keep his balance. The film keeps Florey’s “criminal brain,” but makes it a meaningless label that the officious Dr. Waldman and the demented Fritz use to justify treating him as something subhuman. Then when he defends himself, they call him a monster.

Frankenstein was a run-away success, bigger than Dracula. Karloff became a superstar, and horror films grew from an occasional oddity to a full-fledged film genre, particularly at Universal. As the studio released such other horror/gothic classics as The Mummy (1932), The Black Cat (1934), and Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932) and The Invisible Man, demand naturally grew for a sequel to their biggest shocker.

Whale finally agreed to helm what became Bride of Frankenstein (1935) when he realized that he could parody the form at the same time that he respected his characters and let them grow. William Hurlbut wrote a literate script, including a prologue in which Byron, Shelley, and Mary discuss her novel. Franz Waxman served up a magnificent fully-orchestrated score that would be reused often by Universal. Whale and Strickfadden surpassed the original apparatus to create the definitive mad lab scene. Whale and photographer John Mescall gave the cinematography a quirky, unique look, full of “Whale angles.”

The uniformly good cast included Colin Clive and Una O’Connor (one of the oddball actors who so delighted Whale). Ernest Thesiger steals several scenes as prissy Dr. Pretorius, the maddest scientist, as does Elsa Lanchester in her dual role of Mary Shelley and the Monster’s Bride, whose outlandish look Jack Pierce modelled on Egyptian Queen Nefertiti. Standing above these many virtues is Karloff’s greatest performance, as a now somewhat articulate Monster, vengeful, frightened, joyful, yearning, noble.

“Here’s to a son to the house of Frankenstein!”

The Laemmle family lost control of Universal in 1936 and horror went into eclipse, but the successful re-release of the 1931 Dracula and Frankenstein led the new management to launch Son of Frankenstein (1939). Director Rowland V. Lee lacked Whale’s genius but he was a solid storyteller, and Son has several virtues, including the impressionistic look of Castle Frankenstein, Lugosi’s triumphant performance as the sly, broken-necked Ygor, and Lionel Atwill’s memorable performance as wooden-armed Inspector Krogh. Basil Rathbone as Dr. Wolf von Frankenstein is also memorable, though over the top. But the original “son of Frankenstein,” Karloff’s Monster, only gets a chance to show his stuff in three scenes. Sensing a downhill trend for the character, Karloff declined the part in subsequent Universal films.

Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), too, has it virtues, including a reprise of Lugosi as Ygor and Sir Cedrick Hardwicke’s dignified performance as Wolf’s brother, Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein. But Lon Chaney, Jr., who brought so much sincere emotion to Lawrence (Wolf Man) Talbot, makes a curiously flat Frankenstein’s Monster.

At the end of Ghost, Ygor tricks Dr. Frankenstein into putting his (Ygor’s) brain into the Monster’s head. But the fiendish Ygor Monster’s reign of terror is cut short when a mismatched blood type makes him blind. In Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) Universal logically cast Lugosi as the Monster since Ygor’s brain was now doing the driving. As originally shot, the film showed the Monster as blind and speaking in Ygor’s voice—a genuine development in the Monster’s character! But Lugosi’s dialogue got edited out, along with references to the Monster’s blindness, making the character motiveless.

House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945), and Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein (1948) each have their charms, but those charms are supplied by the Wolf Man (Chaney), Count Dracula (John Carradine and Lugosi), Bud and Lou, and assorted mad scientists and (mostly hunchbacked) assistants. The Monster (played by Glenn Strange, through no fault of his own) has become, simply, the boogeyman, comatose until the final reel, when he’s revived by electricity, only to get killed again.

Meanwhile, in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s, Columbia Studios made a series of films starring Karloff, about scientists who venture into new territory with tragic results, while Monogram did poverty-row treatments of similar subjects starring Lugosi. In science fiction magazines, Eando Binder’s “Adam Link” and Isaac Asimov’s robot stories sympathetically portrayed artificial beings trying to win human status.

“My evil self is at the door and I have no power to stop it!”

In 1945 Manhattan Project scientist Robert Oppenheimer watched the first atomic bomb test and suddenly recalled words from the Bhagvad Gita: “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Gothic horror films receded, and science fiction horror came to the fore, featuring either giant monsters created by radioactivity or sinister space aliens. (Among the latter, it should be noted that James Arness’ growl and lurching walk in The Thing from Another World, 1951, are a good imitation of Karloff’s Monster.)

The best science fiction/horror film from this period is the most Frankensteinian: Forbidden Planet (1956), with its idealistic but arrogant scientist, Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and its mystery of a wise and advanced alien race, the Krell, who vanished in a single night.

In 1957 Universal sold its classic horror films to television as a package entitled Shock Theater. Monster Culture was born, and a new burst of Frankenstein energy generated I was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957), Frankenstein 1970 (1958; with Karloff as a then-future descendant of Victor Frankenstein) and Frankenstein’s Daughter (1958). And England’s minor Hammer Studio, like Universal before it, reached for the big time with classic horror.

Hammer had waded in Frankenstein waters with director Terence Fisher’s Four-Sided Triangle (1952), a thoughtful look at creating life through matter duplication, and The Quatermass X-Periment (1955), whose Dr. Quatermass responds to an experiment that almost wipes out humanity not by moaning, “I meddled in things that man was meant to leave alone,” but by getting back to work. Since Universal had their Frankenstein Monster makeup and story-lines copyrighted, Hammer went back to Mary Shelley’s novel (sort of) for a whole new approach.

In Curse of Frankenstein (1957) Christopher Lee plays “The Creature” as a patchwork, brain-damaged man who moves like a broken puppet. The original Creature was pretty thoroughly destroyed in that first film; subsequently the focus of the Hammer series would be on Victor Frankenstein, superbly played by Peter Cushing. As such, Hammer’s series make a fascinating study in a scientist who is “neither wicked nor insane,” but so totally caught up in his work that all other considerations take a back seat. The Hammer Frankensteins differ from the Universals in their lush color, their convincing 19th century costumes, and their fascination with body parts, living (female) and dead (male). But but both series offer good stories, well made. Terence Fisher directed Curse, as well as The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), Frankenstein Created Woman(1966), Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969), and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1973). Other hands directed The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) and Horror of Frankenstein (1970; the only one not featuring Cushing, and, not coincidentally, the least of the series).

The Monster occasionally appeared in Mexico’s monster-rally-with- masked-wrestlers films of the ‘60s. Japan offered a cute, gigantic young Monster grown from the heart of the original in Frankenstein Conquers the World (1964).

Other Venues

There were several radio dramatizations of Frankenstein in the ‘40s. Comic books have often used the story, including a 1945 Classics Illustrated adaptation and Marvel Comics’ ambitious ‘70s series, The Monster of Frankenstein, which started with a several-part adaptation of the novel then chronicled the eloquent Monster’s later adventures. Marvel’s Incredible Hulk was also a cross between Frankenstein’s Monster and Mr. Hyde.

Televison offered a 1952 Tales of Tomorrow adaptation of Frankenstein starring Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Monster. Hammer made a 1958 Tales of Frankenstein pilot for a series that didn’t materialize. The “Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing” episode of Route 66 involved Karloff and Chaney, as themselves, scaring people in the makeups of the Monster and the Wolf Man (in company with the naturally creepy Peter Lorre). Several episodes of The Outer Limits and Star Trek explored Frankensteinian themes (a notable example being 1963’s Outer Limits episode, “The Sixth Finger,” starring David McCallum). In 1964, at the height of Monster Culture, Universal’s The Munsters entered American homes, starring Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster, wearing the classic makeup and apparently portraying either a mellowed older Frankenstein’s Monster or a brother thereof.

In 1973 two ambitious mini-series, Dan Curtis Productions’s Frankenstein and Universal’s Frankenstein: The True Story both joined Bride of Frankenstein in pretending to be faithful recreations of Mary Shelley’s novel. In fact, both teleplays featured good acting and production, with Monsters who could talk, and brought in elements of the novel not previously used. All of the above also applies to TNT’s 1993 Frankenstein, starring Randy Quaid as the Monster. The best that can be said of Universal’s lame mini-series, House of Frankenstein (1997), is that Peter Crombie makes a decent talking Monster.

New Frankenstein-related stageplays came out every few years, including The Rocky Horror Show (1974; filmed in 1975 as The Rocky Horror Picture Show), and composer Libby Larsen’s 1990 opera, Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus.

“Oh, sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found you....”

Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder’s masterpiece, Young Frankenstein (1974), is a loving parody of the first three Universal Frankensteins, basically a remake of Son of Frankenstein with large helpings of Frankenstein and Bride worked in. Some fans of this best loved of recent Frankensteins—and some current directors who don’t understand how storytelling works—may not realize that it is so good because it is very close to the spirit of the originals. Gene Wilder as Frederick Frankenstein finally buries the curse of the house of Frankenstein by accepting responsibility for his creation (the marvelous Peter Boyle). Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars, Cloris Leachman, and Marty (“Eye-Gor”) Feldman round out the sterling cast. A less cuddly parody of Hammer’s horrors was Paul Morrissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein (1974).

Other significant films in the Frankenstein tradition were the Hal sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); Colossus: The Forbin Project(1969); Altered States (1980); and Blade Runner (1982; in which Rutger Hauer earned the silver in the portrayal of an artificial person, to Karloff’s gold); and Re-Animator (1985).

The Bride (1985), a sequel to Bride of Frankenstein, falls short of its considerable ambitions, but Clancy Brown makes a sympathetic Monster. Two ‘80s films claimed to tell the story of the Villa Diodati circle: Ken Russell’s overheated Gothic (1986) and Ivan Passer’s subtler Haunted Summer (1988), the latter featuring a fine portrayal of Mary by Alice Krige. Alas, neither film is much interested in the actual circumstances leading to Mary’s creation of Frankenstein.

Brian Aldiss’ 1974 novel, Frankenstein Unbound, in which Mary and her creations are characters, was filmed, apparently confusingly, as Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound (1990). Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) is beautifully photographed, and probably comes the closest of any adaptation to the details of the novel (though still not that close). But while Branagh has many of the story’s lyrics, he doesn’t have the tune, and the result feels phoney, with the exceptions of John Cleese’s low-key performance as Dr. Waldman and Robert DeNiro’s sincere rendering of the Monster.

Mention should be made of Michael Bishop’a 1994 novel, Brittle Innings, set in the American South in 1943 and featuring a baseball team, one of whose members happens to be Frankenstein’s Monster.

Since 1931 kids have understood and loved Karloff’s Monster. Three unusual films have looked at the Monster’s place in childish imaginations. In Spanish director Victor Erice’s film Spirit of the Beehive (1973), a lonely little girl (Ana Torrent) sees the Whale Frankenstein and seeks the Monster as an imaginary companion. Tim Burton’s 27-minute Frankenweenie (1984) is a clever parody of the first Whale film, in which young Victor Frankenstein (Barret Oliver) reanimates his dog with household appliances only to find that the neighbors hate and fear the reanimated Sparky. In Frankenstein and Me (1996), set in the Mojave Desert in 1970, adolescent Earl Williams (Jamieson Boulanger), a lonely devotee of Monster Culture, comes upon a carnival figure purporting to be the Frankenstein Monster, and longs to re-animate it.

These are touching films that explore the Frankenstein mythos’ hold on all of us, as is Gods and Monsters (1998), based on Christopher Bram’s 1995 novel, Father of Frankenstein, about the latter days of James Whale. Among this rich film’s many delights are scenes in which Whale recalls directing Bride of Frankenstein, and in which people view and react to it on television a generation later. Writer/director Bill Condon won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Sir Ian McKellan received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his portayal of Whale. Brendan Fraser and Lynn Redgrave also give strong performances.

“To a New World of Gods and Monsters!”

This Frankenstein survey, like others before it, comes to a pause in the road; but there is no end in sight. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley created the primary myth of the 19th, the 20th, and, perhaps, the 21st centuries; and the Whale/Karloff/Pierce films enabled that already durable myth to leap all cultural bounds.

In the novel, Victor Frankenstein’s last words are, “Farewell, Walton! Seek happiness in tranquillity, and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries. Yet why do I say this? I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed.” Frankenstein’s conflicted ambition is with us always. And the Monster stands at our window, reminding us to take care of our creations. We make him a joke, a thing of fun, but he does not go away.

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Sources: Ivan Butler, The Horror Film, 1967; Samuel Rosenberg, “Happy Sesquicentennial, Dear Frankenstein,” Life, March 15, 1968; Donald F. Glut, The Frankenstein Legend: A Tribute to Mary Shelley and Boris Karloff, 1973; Brian W. Aldiss, Billion Year Spree: The True History of Science Fiction, 1973; Radu Florescu, In Search of Frankenstein, 1976; Martin Tropp, Mary Shelley’s Monster: The Story of Frankenstein, 1976; George Levine & U.C. Knoepflmacher, eds., The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley’s Novel, 1979; Gregory William Mank, It’s Alive! The Classic Cinema Saga of Frankenstein, 1981; Ted Newsom, dir., Frankenstein: A Cinematic Scrapbook (documentary; 1991); Emily W. Sunstein, Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality, 1991; Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Penguin edition, Maurice Hindle, ed., 1992; Richard Brinksley Peake, Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein in Jeffrey N. Cox, ed., Seven Gothic Dramas, 1789-1825, 1992; Leonard Wolf, ed., The Essential Frankenstein (1993); Ted Newsom, dir., Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror (1994); David J. Skal, The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror, 1994; Paul M. Jensen, The Men Who Made the Monsters, 1996; Bernard F. Dick, City of Dreams: The Making and Remaking of Universal Pictures, 1997; Gary J. & Susan Svehla, eds., We Belong Dead: Frankenstein on Film, 1997; Kevin Brownlow, dir., Universal Horror (documentary; 1998); The Internet Movie DataBase.

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Eric M. Heideman began collecting Aurora monster models (starting with the Mummy) in the fall of 1963, when he was ten, and became an official recruit to Monster Culture in January 1964 when he discovered Famous Monsters of Filmland #27, “The New Year’s New Fears.” He runs a college-neighborhood Minneapolis public library. In his spare time he edits the annual speculative fiction magazine, Tales of the Unanticipated, works on the multicultural speculative fiction convention, Diversicon, and the dark-fantastic convention, Arcana, and moderates an SF book-discussion group, Second Foundation. Each fall he hosts a classic horror films party, surveying the history of the form. He lives with his 16-year-old holstein cat-familiar, Benjamin Disraeli II, and Ben’s two-year old black tabby sidekick, Boris Karloff, in a building overlooking a park with a lake. His writing has appeared in every issue of Monsterzine.

Copyright © 2001 by the author. All rights reserved.