From ‘Frankenstein’ to ‘Frankenhooker,’ Monstrous Movies That Mary Shelley Inspired
The "Frankenstein" novelist is taking on Hollywood again with a new biopic.
Mary Shelley is having a comeback, with a biopic of the Frankenstein novelist getting the Elle-Fanning-pretty-men-and-monsters treatment in a movie out this Friday and a haunted-yet-sexy supporting role in Sean Bean’s grim-dark TV series The Frankenstein Chronicles.
Like George Lucas and his Star Wars creations, Shelley’s monster has eclipsed the romantic 19th-century author – and has become a symbol of the tormented soul that God created in Adam, a syndrome reflecting the risks of scientific noodling with human subjects– and a cartoon character! Let’s walk through a few of the greats:
The straight-n0-chaser pre-code black-and-white Frankenstein (1931) comes out of the Universal Pictures archives with the first sound adaptation from Director James Whale. With the great Boris Karloff as the monster, it follows the central story: a scientist and his challenged assistant string together a man made of body parts and animated by electricity. But, oopsy, the assistant cut corners and supplied the brain of a killer. It’s alive!!! Villagers, bring your torches and pitchforks.
The Curse of Frankenstein (1954)
Are Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee the Fred and Ginger of Hammer Horror? The actors – both eventually knighted — put in their time as Dr. Baron Victor Frankenstein and his creature, respectively beginning with the studio’s first foray into color for The Curse of Frankenstein. Preceding Dracula and The Mummy, this film established Hammer Horror, that divine mix of high- and low-brow, great acting and endless day-for-night sequences, makes these among my favorite scary movies. Watching now, I can’t believe they frightened me, but back in the day …
Dr. Devil and Mr. Hare (1964)
The Merrie Melodies Bugs Bunny short Dr. Devil and Mr. Hare introduces a Frankenstein robot while pitting the rascally rabbit against the Tasmanian Devil., all voiced by the late, great Mel Blanc. The robot “Frankie” beats the drawing out of Taz and turns on his lab-coat wearing creator Bugs, too. What a maroon!
Not to be left out of the trope, Blaxploitation picked up the story with William A. Levey’s Blackenstein. When a Viet Nam vet (Joe DeSue) who’s lost his arms and legs to a landmine returns home, he becomes the object of a hideous science experiment performed by a Dr. Stein (John Hart) that transforms him from soldier to flat-out killer.
Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)
The legend goes underground in Paul Morrisey’s X-Rated Flesh For Frankenstein. The campy film pairs Andy Warhol superstar and gay sex icon Joe Dallesandro as Nicholas the stableboy with infamous German actor Udo Kier as Baron Frankenstein. Literally a skin flick – even if the skin has some rude scars. Hammer horror for those that like to get hammered.
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Among the funniest and possibly the most soulful Mel Brooks comedy, Young Frankenstein exposes the logistical nightmare of being a reanimated patchwork flesh quilt in a hilarious portrayal by the late Peter Boyle with Gene Wilder as his creator. Whether one’s favorite scene is the roll in the hay between the monster and Madeline Kahn’s Elizabeth, or Marty Feldman’s hunchback’s endless hump jokes born in an era before political correctness, this comedy really brings the monster to life.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
It’s just a turn to the left to get to the all groovy sex-and-drugs-and-rock-n-roll The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Tim Curry drags on as the transsexual Dr. Frank-N-Furter who creates the hunky Rocky and seduces Susan Sarandon’s Janet into the ways of the weird. It’s the original legend with a pelvic thrust.
As much as we try, we can’t forget Frankenhooker. The black comedy from horrormeister Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case) casts 1988 Penthouse Pet of the Year Patty Mullen in the title role, a patchwork of prostitutes sewn together by a mad med student from Jersey grieving for his dead fiancée. She, by the way, was killed by a lawnmower, which is more common than you think; the garden tool slays more Americans annually than are eliminated by Jihadi terrorists. Lust! Revenge! Times Square!
Forget cloning that favorite pooch that’s gone to doggie heaven – do the monster mash and reanimate the dog. That’s Tim Burton’s premise in the black-and-white stop-motion boy-and-his-dead-dog story Frankenweenie. It’s a homage to Whale’s 1931 classic – and an expansion of Burton’s 1984 short that resulted in Disney firing Burton and shelving the film.
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