Scientific hubris. A reanimated corpse turned monster. Tragedy and death.
In addition to being a nearly 200-year-old literary masterpiece, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a popular template for horror films.
IMDB.com, for example, lists 60-plus movies with “Frankenstein” in the title. While many of those efforts are lame knockoffs of Shelley’s classic work — cheap studio productions with schlocky titles like The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein and Frankenstein Island — there are some notable exceptions.
1931: Frankenstein. Universal Studio’s version wasn’t the novel’s first adaptation to the big screen, but it remains the standard. Boris Karloff’s lumbering green and box-headed creature with bolts in his neck is more than a frightening and powerful beast, but a misunderstood and tragic figure aching for acceptance. The film’s theme of fear and intolerance is thought by some to be deliberate social commentary by director James Whale and his struggles for acceptance as an openly gay man, including the wonderful 1998 biopic Gods and Monsters starring Ian McKellen as Whale.
1935: Bride of Frankenstein. Whale also directs this superior sequel to Universal’s horror hit, with the Monster (Karloff) fond of a reanimated woman (Elsa Lanchester), itself a significant expansion from a story element in Shelley’s novel.
1948: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Universal’s horror line-up became the subject of satire, as Abbott and Costello tangle with Dracula (Béla Lugosi), the Wolfman (Lon Chaney, Jr.), and Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange) in one of the comedy team’s best and most popular films.
1957: The Curse of Frankenstein. Legendary London horror studio Hammer Films released several Frankenstein movies with Peter Cushing as the monster’s misguided creator playing God and reanimating the dead. The Curse of Frankenstein gets the nod because it also features Christopher Lee in heavy makeup as the creature.
1974: Young Frankenstein. Mel Brooks’ loving parody tribute to the classic Universal films is itself a classic comedy, with Gene Wilder as the descendant of Frankenstein and Peter Boyle as the Monster, with a talented comedic supporting cast that includes Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Madeline Kahn, and Teri Garr. The American Film Institute voted this as the 13th funniest comedy.
1994: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Kenneth Branagh directs and stars as Victor Frankenstein in this fairly faithful adaptation of the novel that nevertheless underwhelmed critics and audiences alike. It’s noteworthy if nothing else to see Robert De Niro play the Creature.
2012: Frankenweenie. The story of a beloved dead pooch brought back to life by his clever young owner, Tim Burton’s animated film is, like Young Frankenstein, both parody and tribute to Whale’s films. Even better is Burton’s original live-action short of the same name.
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