Saturday, October 01, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein: Edison and Karloff

It's October! That means it's time for Halloween-loving blogs everywhere to start the Countdown to Halloween. If you're not familiar with the concept, click the link (or the Countdown to Halloween logo at the top of my sidebar) to get all the details. The short of it though is for participating blogs to "post frequently about some aspect of the Halloween season during the month of October." It's as simple as that. The Countdown site lists all the participants, so if you love Halloween, there's a lot more there to look at and read.

I've participated for the last couple of years, first with "31 Monsters of Halloween" and then "31 Things I Love About Halloween." This year I'm going to expand on my Halloween Day entry for the 31 Monsters. Frankenstein's Creature is easily my favorite monster and as I created that post two years ago I was reminded about how many different versions of the character have appeared over the years. I knew I'd eventually want to do a whole month of Frankenstein.

My first plan was to follow the naming convention I'd already established over the last couple of years. The "31 Frankensteins of Halloween" or something like that. But the more I dug into it, the more I realized that I'd never be able to limit myself to just 31 versions. There are too many. So, you get "31 Days of Frankenstein" with each day presenting a couple of versions (except today, when we have three). In the last week before Halloween, we'll go back to three-a-day, just to fit them all in.

A couple of last bits of explanation before we get started: First, this certainly isn't a comprehensive list. There are many, many other versions from films, comics, and books that I either couldn't find good images for or just plain forgot or don't know about. For the most part, these are all interpretations of the real Frank, but there were also a few knock-offs that I couldn't help but include. Finally, I'm presenting the list in chronological order. That means that some of my favorites will be revealed early in the month (like today), but I think it's cool to see how the look of the Creature has evolved through history.

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley (1818)
"His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath: his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriences only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips."
The reason I'm starting with three versions today is because I want to include Shelley's original description. Since this series is mostly about the Creature's visual journey through history (as opposed to evaluating the quality of individual adaptations; though I may do some of that too), I want to have the benchmark handy for comparison.

Frankenstein (1910)



The world's first horror film was produced by Thomas Edison's studio and directed by J Searle Dawley. It's only fifteen minutes long and you can watch the entire thing online. Though the Monster has a comical face (the movie is more interested in the moral aspects of the story than it is in scares), I do love his hands, his wild hair, his hunched back, and the way his clothing all looks held together by ropes. He's not very accurate to Mary Shelley's version (they got the long hair right and the shriveled complexion), but he's iconic anyway. Though certainly not as iconic as our next Frank.



Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein



It's impossible to overemphasize the influence makeup artist Jack Pierce's design of the Monster for Universal had on future versions. It may not have been faithful to Shelley's version, but it was such a powerful depiction that it actually usurped her description as the definitive version for decades. In fact, though it's not used any more outside of Universal (because the studio holds the trademark for that look), it's still the version that most people think of when they imagine the Monster.

Since Boris Karloff was in the makeup for Universal's first three Frankenstein films, I'm including them all in one entry. Early next week we'll take a look at the other actors in Universal's series and compare their looks to Karloff's, but not right away. Pierce's version was already influencing other pop culture Franks (and a knock-off) long before Karloff gave up the platform boots to Lon Chaney Jr.

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