Monday, October 31, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein: Wolverine and the Missing Campfire

Campfire's Frankenstein (2010)

Campfire's adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles wasn't particularly inspired and I feel the same way about their Frankenstein. But though there's nothing new here for hardcore fans of the Monster or comics in general, it wouldn't be a bad adaptation to hand someone who's curious about Frankenstein, but intimidated by the prospect of reading the novel. It's longer (and so, fuller in detail) than Steve Niles Little Books of Horror version and the art is closer than Fantasy Classics to what new readers might expect from the story. I certainly wouldn't recommend it over those books to people who are familiar with Shelley's tale and/or comics art, but for a novice audience, Campfire's version gets the job done.

Days Missing #2 (2010)

Based on an unproduced Gene Roddenberry concept, Days Missing is about an alien who watches over humanity and intervenes when necessary to make historical course-corrections and ensure our species' survival. In the second issue, the Steward visits the nineteenth century and prevents the creation of a real-life Frankenstein Monster. Mary Shelley's around to witness it and though the Steward erases her memory of it, she carries the experience in her subconscious until that night at Villa Diodati. Days Missing is a great series that represents the best of what Roddenberry was about.

Wolverine and the X-Men (2012)

This is cheating in a couple of ways. Not only is it not out yet, it's about a version we've already covered. I just think it's cool that as I'm wrapping up this series, Marvel's announcing the return of their version of the Monster to one of their major books. Not only that, but the book is an heir to the one in which the Monster (or a version of him) first appeared in the Marvel Universe. I don't know if the Monster's joining the team or just showing up for one story, but I'm excited to find out which.

And that finishes off this series. There were a ton of versions I left out, from the other version of Dracula vs Frankenstein (thanks to Mike DeStasio for emailing me about that one) and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter to Bikini Frankenstein and Blackenstein. We could easily do another 31 Days of Frankenstein next year if we wanted, but this year's list gave me plenty of material to add to my reading list and viewing queue. Hopefully it did the same for you.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein: Do Not Build an Unwritten Graphic Treehouse

My schedule got away from me the last couple of days of October, mostly because of Halloween. I'm very sorry about that. I'm backdating these last two Frankenstein posts to keep myself organized. Hope everyone had a Happy Halloween!

Graphic Classics, Volume 15: Fantasy Classics (2008)

If you've never read one of the Graphic Classics volumes, you're missing out. Most of them are themed around a single author; many of them horror-related like Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Recently though, they've produced some genre-themed volumes like Adventure Classics, Science Fiction Classics, and Gothic Classics. Each volume features one or two popular stories as well as adaptations of lesser-known works, so reading them is always an educational experience. And since editor Tom Pomplun always chooses fantastic, stylish artists, they're as fun as they are informative.

There are two Frankenstein-related stories in Fantasy Classics, both written by my pal Rod Lott from Bookgasm and Flick Attack. The first is a short prologue in which Rod and artists Mark A Nelson tell the story of that night at Lake Geneva when Byron issued his famous challenge that inspired Mary Shelley to create her masterpiece. The second - illustrated by Skot Olsen - adapts the novel itself.

Nelson's style is literal and gothic, but Olsen has a humorous cartoonish look that's surprising for such a dark story. As someone who's seen a lot of adaptations of Frankenstein, I found it refreshing, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as someone's first exposure to the story. It's meant to be a new take on the familiar tale, leading the reader to discover Fantasy Classics' more obscure stories like L Frank Baum's "The Glass Dog" or Rappaccini's Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The Unwritten #3 (2009)

The Unwritten is a comic book series about a man named Tom Taylor whose father wrote a series of Harry Potter-like books about his son, sort of the way AA Milne based Christopher Robin on his own boy. As an adult, Taylor makes a living doing convention appearances until events transpire to make him (and the world) question just how made up his dad's novels were.

By the third issue, Taylor is trying to learn more about his father's work and visits Villa Diodati, that Lake Geneva mansion where Mary Shelley dreamed up Frankenstein and - not coincidentally - Taylor's dad wrote his novels. It was also the last place Wilson Taylor had been seen before mysteriously disappearing at the height of his popularity. The Monster doesn't make an appearance in the story itself, but according to Chris Murphy at Comics Alliance, there's a short, illustrated scene from Frankenstein and Unwritten uses the Monster as an analogy for creations that slip out of their creators' control, much like Wilson Taylor's books appear to have done. I've been wanting to read The Unwritten since it was first announced and Murphy's article has revitalized that interest.

Do Not Build a Frankenstein (2009)

An important book. You wouldn't think that this is a message people still need to hear, but mad scientists are pretty dense. Hope it finally sinks in.

The Simpsons: "Treehouse of Horror" (2003-2010)

I think the first time The Simpsons directly spoofed Frankenstein was Treehouse of Horror XIV when Dr. Frink revived his dead father to disastrous consequences. That wasn't the only time the Monster's appeared on the show though.

In the opening for Treehouse of Horror XX, he tries to terrorize Springfield with some monster buddies and gets made fun of for being too old-fashioned. He, Dracula, the Wolf Man, and the Mummy get new, hipper costumes (the Monster dresses up like Spongebob) and head to the Simpsons house for a costume party before getting busted by their wives. He showed up again in last year's Treehouse of Horror XXI, again in the opening sequence, during a spoof of The Office that featured various monsters working at Monster Mifflin.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein: Big Book of Narcissa Malfoy vs the Wolfman

Big Book of Horror (2006)

In 2005, Steve Niles teamed up with three different artists to create a series of children's books based on classic horror literature. He and Ted McKeever did War of the Worlds, he worked with Richard Sala to adapt Dracula, and his partner on Frankenstein was Scott Morse. They called the series Little Books of Horror and collected them the following year in a Big Book of Horror volume.

The Frankenstein adaptation is very faithful and from a writing standpoint, it’s my favorite in the series. There’s not enough room to include everything – the blind hermit’s gone, for example – but some of Niles' cuts make the story easier on kids. For example, I certainly appreciated for my son’s sake that the book doesn't mention that Frankenstein’s murdered brother was just a young boy. That doesn't change the focus of the story, it just tones it down a little for younger readers. It’s a great adaptation for kids and Morse's artwork is stylishly gorgeous.

Frankenstein (2007)

This British TV movie is another updating of the story to modern times. This time around, it's Dr. Victoria Frankenstein (played by Draco's mom from Harry Potter) who's performing the experiments, trying to clone seriously sick, eight-year-old William (her son, not brother, in this version) in order to create a ready organ donor for him. The experiments go wrong and the clone develops into a monster.

What's interesting about this version is that the gender swap isn't arbitrary. Lady Frankenstein did the same thing, but the point seemed to be the sort of feminist message that women could be mad scientists too. In this version, Victoria Frankenstein is neither as mad nor as irresponsible as her literary counterpart. She's unethical in the way she conducts her research, but with her son's life at stake, her moral lapse is something audiences can sympathize with if not endorse. And once she realizes the consequences of her actions - that she's accidentally brought to life a new creation - she takes responsibility for it and tries to nurture it.

Whether or not it's something that can be nurtured is another question. One that the film apparently (I haven't seen it) leaves unanswered. That's disappointing, because making a decision about that could have been a fascinating commentary on Shelley's novel. Frankensteinia has a round-up of reviews about it, none of which are promising.

(This version sounds close enough to Splice that I'm sort of sorry I didn't include that movie on my list, but instead of adding it, I'll just point you to my review of it. It's not a Frankenstein adaptation, but it's very much a Frankenstein movie. I ultimately didn't care for it, but it does some things very very well in the first two acts.)

Frankenstein vs the Wolf Man in 3D (2008)

This 20-minute film was created entirely on home computers and the animation reflects the limitations of that equipment, but it's very much worth watching. The Monster's look is all Universal, but his heart and intelligence are Mary Shelley's. That's a fascinating juxtaposition since the Universal version has almost always been portrayed as slow and stupid. The almost-exception to that was in Bride of Frankenstein when the Monster was beginning to learn speech, but that development was discarded when James Whale left the series. It's cool to see what might have been had they continued on that path.

The story in Frankenstein vs the Wolfman is very good too. It has the Monster teaming up with some other orphans to fight the werewolf who's menacing the town. It's a simple idea, but there's a lot of heart in it.

Friday, October 28, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein: Seven Soldiers Forever Make a Sandwich

Frankenstein Now and Forever (2005)

I've mentioned before my favorite line in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: "I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine; a rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other." There are a lot of themes in the book, but that's the one that speaks to me most, because it expresses a kind of profound loneliness that I suspect most people have felt at one time or another. I know I have.

Swiss cartoonist Baladi's Frankenstein Now and Forever is the story of a couple of lonely girls - roommates, but not friends - who live in modern-day Geneva, Victor Frankenstein's hometown. While struggling with their own feelings of monstrousness, the girls discover a discarded box with an old copy of Frankenstein in it. Though the Monster begins to haunt one of the girls' dreams and the other thinks it holds clues about a missing boyfriend, this isn't a supernatural story. It is however a horror tale. The horror is completely mundane and ordinary, but all the more frightening because of it. Highly recommended.

Seven Soldiers (2006)

There were several cool things about Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers project, starting with the unique format of being a self-contained crossover that wasn't meant to drive up sales on existing titles or launch any new ones. It was a crossover event for people who were tired of the commercial cynicism of crossover events. And then there were the titles themselves.

All were enjoyable, but my favorite (you'll be shocked to hear) was Frankenstein. It wasn't the first time the Monster had appeared in a DC comic. That would be Detective Comics #145, in which Batman and Robin are transported to the past to help a time-traveling professor get out of the mess he's gotten into while trying to verify the truth of Mary Shelley's story. The Monster was resurrected in the '70s as Spawn of Frankenstein, a back-up series in The Phantom Stranger that eventually led to team-ups in the main part of the book and even a battle with Superman.

Morrison ignored all that though to create a new, pulp-inspired, monster-hunting version of the character who eventually joined SHADE (Super Human Advanced Defense Executive), a US government organization that assesses and contains supernatural threats. After Seven Soliders, the Monster made brief appearances in Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis, and Blackest Night before landing his own Flashpoint series, Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown. That in turn led into the current, New 52 series, Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE by Jeff Lemire and Alberto Ponticelli. I also highly recommend that one, but for completely different reasons than Now and Forever.

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich (2006)

Actually a book of illustrated poems about the everyday troubles of being a monster (Dracula goes to the dentist, the Wolf Man cleans house, the Phantom of the Opera gets a song stuck in his head, etc.), but you see who gets the title and cover.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein: Reborn Creature from Blood Cove

Frankenstein Reborn (2005)

You know you've arrived when The Asylum decides you're worth ripping off. And though you can't really "rip off" a public domain story like Frankenstein, SyFy's favorite studio decided it was worth adapting the year after Van Helsing, Hallmark, and Dean Koontz all did versions. Probably not a coincidence.

Like Wake the Dead, Frankenstein Reborn places the story in a modern setting. It makes some different choices from Steve Niles' version though, making Victor Frank older and using nanotechnology in the creation of the Monster. It's also got a heavy (and reportedly intentional) Hammer vibe going on.

Frankenstein vs. the Creature from Blood Cove (2005)

Frankenstein vs the Creature from Blood Cove is a deliberate, black-and-white homage to the horror movies of the '50s. In it, crazy Dr Lazaroff first makes a Creature from the Black Lagoon-like gill man. When it escapes, the doctor figures that the only rational thing to do is to find and revive the body of Frankenstein's Monster, bend it to his will, and have the Monster attack the Creature. I haven't even seen this movie and I'm already sort of in love with Dr Lazaroff.

There also seems to be a werewolf, but I've got no idea how he fits into all this.

The creature designs are all pretty cool. I mean, they're all rubber masks and suits, but the designs are great, including the extremely Shelley-ready Frankenstein's Monster. I've got to see this one.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein: Wake the Fables of Doc Adams

Fables #29 (2004)

One of the great things about Bill Willingham's Fables series is its ability to jump genres whenever it wants, like in this horror/war flashback tale. In it, the Big Bad "Bigby" Wolf leads a squad of WWII soldiers in a mission to take out some Nazis in Frankenstein's Castle. Turns out, the evil scientists are studying the Creature in hopes of making some monsters of their own. Bigby tries to stop them and Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man all over again.

Doc Frankenstein (2004)

In this series written by the Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix), the Monster lives through the end of Mary Shelley's novel, takes his creator's name, earns a degree, and moves through history as a fundamentalist-fighting liberal. Though the Wachowskis wrote it, Doc Frankenstein was actually created by Steve Skroce (who draws the comic) and Geoff Darrow (Hard Boiled, Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot; also conceptual designs on The Matrix).

The series promoted itself as being about "the Messiah of Science who has returned to save our world from the Monsters currently running it." It's an interesting and valid take, if strident and on-the-nose.

Neal Adams' Monsters (2004)

Essentially Neal Adams' take on the Universal House movies, Monsters has Dracula coercing Frankenstein's nephew into building a new Monster by holding the man's fiance hostage. There's also a werewolf, but I don't want to spoil that part as it's one of the cooler bits in the story. It's not a perfect comic, but Adams' creature designs are cool and there's also a lengthy sketchbook section with examples of Adams' work on various horror films like From Beyond and The Funhouse.

Wake the Dead (2004)

Wake the Dead is Steve Niles' modern-day retelling of the Frankenstein story with extremely gruesome artwork by Chee. It's an interesting experiment in that it puts the story in a contemporary setting. My favorite part is that it keeps Victor as a college student. I usually forget how young he was supposed to be, instead thinking of him mostly as the Baron. The comic's set to be adapted into a film starring Haley Joel Osment.

Though it's bold, Wake the Dead isn't my favorite of Niles' adaptations of Shelley's novel. We'll get to that one this weekend.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein: Koontz's Van Gossing

Van Helsing (2004)

Ten years after Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, 2004 was the Year of the Monster. There are seven items from that year in this list (three movies and four comics) and I've got no recollection what the catalyst was.

Van Helsing should have been an awesome movie. It's got Hugh Jackman being all Hugh Jackmany, Kate Beckinsale kicking ass, and the Unholy Trinity of Movie Monsters all in the same film. But never underestimate the power of a lame story (Van Helsing is really an angel!) or director Stephen Sommers' willingness to use cheap CGI in inappropriate ways.

Its version of the Monster is a simple, raging brute, but actor Shuler Hensley went on to play a much more fun version of the character in the Broadway adaptation of Mel Brook's Young Frankenstein.

Frankenstein (2004)

I've mentioned some other, reportedly faithful adaptations this month, but Hallmark's version is the most faithful I've actually seen for myself. It's an excellent adaptation with only two flaws: William Hurt (Professor Waldman) doing a German accent and Luke Goss' Monster isn't hideous enough. He's very faithful to Shelley's description, but (cool scowl notwithstanding) the makeup department didn't create a believable reason for the other characters to be frightened by him. As I wrote when I first saw it, "he looked and sounded like a nice young man with a skin condition."

Dean Koontz's Frankenstein (2004)

When Dean Koontz helped create and then disassociated himself from USA's Frankenstein (with Martin Scorsese as an executive producer), I assumed it must be pretty terrible. Surprisingly, I liked it quite a bit.

Like Hallmark's version, the Monster's too pretty, but the concept is cool. Doctor Frankenstein - or rather, Shelley's inspiration for creating the character - is continuing his quest to create the perfect human and discarding any flawed creations along the way. When one of those creations goes on a killing spree, detectives Parker Posey and Adam Goldberg investigate, as does the mad doctor's original Creature (Vincent Perez).

When Koontz left the project, he teamed up instead with various writers to create a book series more in line with his vision (there's also a comics adaptation of that series). I still need to read those, because I'm curious to see what he thinks the flaws are in the filmed version and how he fixes them.

Monday, October 24, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein: The Superman Mobster's Food Fight

The Superman Monster (1999)

Pop culture's late '90s interest in Frankenstein collided with DC Comics' late '90s fascination with alternate universe stories in a cool way. In 1994, the year of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, DC published a Batman "Elseworlds" comic called Batman: The Castle of the Bat. I didn't include it on the list because I couldn't find a picture of the Monster from it, but it features a mad Bruce Wayne who - instead of becoming a creature of the night himself - resurrects his murdered father and makes him do it. It ends as happily as you'd expect.

[I also just remembered a mini-series called Frank from '94 from some of the guys behind Milestone. DG Chichester (Hardware) wrote it, Denys Cowan (Hardware) drew it, JJ Birch (Xombi) inked it, and Dwayne McDuffie (Static, Icon) edited it. I really need to dig those issues out.]

Castle of the Bat was quite successful (thanks in no small part to great-looking, painted art by Bo Hampton), so a few years later, DC did the same thing with Superman. The Superman Monster is actually the sequel to another Batman/horror-lit mash-up called Batman: Two Faces that uses the Jekyll/Hyde dynamic to make statements about Two-Face, Bruce Wayne/Batman, and even Batman/Joker. In that story, Perry White appears and briefly mentions a horror story he heard that took place in Bavaria. In The Superman Monster, he sits down with his pal Commissioner Gordon and - Capt. Walton-like - tells him the story he got from Viktor Frankenstein Luthor himself.

In this version, Luthor discovers the crashed ship from Krypton. Unfortunately, baby Kal-El didn't survive the trip, but Luthor resurrects him in an adult body (science!). Things go wrong of course and the Monster flees into the forest where - instead of a kindly, blind hermit - he meets a kindly, old couple named the Kants. Lois Lane also figures into the story as Elizabeth and the fun is watching writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning play out both the Superman and Frankenstein stories in a way that remains faithful to the major beats of both.

Frankenstein Mobster (2003)

I haven't read Frankenstein Mobster, but I've always admired the goofy wordplay of the title if not the character's hairstyle. Apparently it's about several ghosts (including a dead detective and some shady spirits who were chasing him) who get trapped in the body of a creature that a mafia scientist is creating to be the perfect hit man.

Frankenstein Doesn't Start Food Fights (2003)

The Bailey School Kids is a chapter-book series about a group of children who tend to see mythical creatures (vampires, Martians, mermaids, etc.) in the people they encounter at school. Though it's never explicitly revealed whether the kids are right or not, adults have found lessons in the series about letting your imagination run away with you and the dangers of stereotypes. In this volume, the kids imagine a large cafeteria worker with a green complexion to be Frankenstein's Monster.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein: Mary Shelley's Quaid in the House

Frankenstein (1992)

I don't know if it's coincidental that TNT released
a "faithful" adaptation of Frankenstein the same year that Francis Ford Coppola introduced his version of Bram Stoker's Dracula. I kind of think not, but I've got no evidence to support that. Either way, Coppola's Dracula did a lot to renew interest in classic monsters, especially the literary versions. Even if the adaptations weren't as close to the original literature as audiences were led to believe.

Take TNT's Frankenstein, for instance. In it, according to the Stop the Planet of the Apes blog, Victor Frankenstein (Patrick Bergen) uses a process to create his Monster (Randy Quaid) that's not so much about stitching bodies together as it is cloning himself. This apparently causes a psychic link between the two characters that allows Frankenstein to feel the Monster's pain at the same time that it guides the Monster and helps him learn. Weird.

The Monster's look in the film isn't entirely faithful to Shelley's description either, but I do appreciate how he looks human enough that I want to root for him, but monstrous enough that I understand why people react badly to him.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994)

It's taken me a while to appreciate Bram Stoker's Dracula, and even now it's far from my favorite adaptation of that story. Though I'd never read the novel when I saw Coppola's version, the Dracula-Mina romance felt all wrong; far more intense and real than any version I'd seen before. It was upsetting that Dracula was portrayed as a somewhat sympathetic character and that Mina seemed to be genuinely in love with him instead of just under his power. I didn't know if that was true to the novel or not, but even if it was, I didn't like it. Of course, I eventually read the book and realized that, story-wise, Coppola was full of crap. I like aspects of the movie now, but not that part.

When Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was announced though, I was prepared to forgive. Frankenstein is my favorite monster story, Kenneth Branagh was one of my favorite actors and directors, and I'd had a crush on Helena Bonham Carter since A Room With a View. And I liked that they were getting as respected an actor as Robert De Niro to play the Creature. I don't think I'd figured out just how unfaithful Coppola's Dracula was yet, so my hope was that Branagh's film would be as faithful to Shelley as I thought Dracula was to Stoker.

There are things that I love about Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Branagh strikes just the right balance between reprehensibly irresponsible and relatably pathetic. Bonham Carter's Elizabeth is rightly a far better woman than Victor deserves. Ian Holm is brilliant is Victor's dad, Tom Hulce is a charismatic Clerval, and Aidan Quinn makes Capt. Walton vital and interesting. I don't care for the Monster's bald look and De Niro's performance makes me pity the Monster more than relate to him (and relating to the Monster is one of my favorite things to do in a good Frankenstein movie), but he does deliver a chilling interpretation of my favorite line from the novel: "I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other."

Sadly, De Niro's performance and the inexplicable changes made to the story - especially around Elizabeth's fate - spoiled an otherwise beautiful film for me. In fact, it's only in the last year or two that I've learned to forgive Branagh and Bonham Carter for being part of such a disappointing project. 

House of Frankenstein(1997)

For all the faults of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, it did create an audience for other Frankenstein adaptations over the next decade, so I'm grateful for that. I remember being particularly excited that Universal was getting back in the monster game with a new version of House of Frankenstein.

Not so much a remake as a re-imagining, the new House kept the concept of the Monster's sharing the screen with a vampire and a werewolf, but didn't hold on to much else. I wasn't surprised that the werewolf wasn't Lon Chaney's Larry Talbot Wolf Man, but I still don't understand why they created an entirely new vampire character instead of the more recognizable Dracula.

The mini-series shares its title with an actual location in the story, a nightclub called the House of Frankenstein that's owned by the vampire Crispian Grimes. To make the name more appropriate, Grimes is displaying the newly discovered Frankenstein's Monster in the club, frozen in a block of ice. When the Monster inevitably escapes, he causes trouble for Grimes, who's already being investigated by the police for a series of bloody murders. Grimes happens to have a werewolf on staff in order to round off the concept, but he doesn't figure heavily into the story.

All in all, House of Frankenstein was a bitter disappointment. If we couldn't have a faithful adaptation of Shelley's story, it would've been nice to at least have Universal's bringing back the fun version, but this dark, overly serious take wasn't it. And the Monster - while square-headed and slightly reminiscent of the classic take - looked old and worn down, more Jack Elam than Boris Karloff.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein:Saturday Night Unbound

Saturday Night Live (1987)

I'm not completely sure, but I think the first time Phil Hartman played the Frankenstein Monster on Saturday Night Live was in December of 1987. In the skit, the Monster, Tarzan (Kevin Nealon), and Tonto (John Lovitz) appeared on a talk-show called Succinctly Speaking. Nora Dunn played the host and offered a variety of topics for her guests to comment on as briefly as possible. Not a problem for these guys.

Nora Dunn: All right, Tarzan, let's start with you: Fire.
Tarzan: Fire good.
Nora Dunn: Mm-hmm. Tonto?
Tonto: Fire good.
Nora Dunn: All right. Frankenstein?
Frankenstein: Fire bad!

She moves on to bread and then the INF Treaty, which turned it into one of the only times (if not the only time) Phil Hartman ever cracked up and broke character on the show. Man, I miss that guy.

Anyway, the Tarzan, Tonto, and Frankenstein bit was so popular that they became recurring characters.

Frankenstein Unbound (1990)

I've never read the Brian Aldiss novel and it's been a few years since I've seen Roger Corman's adaptation of it, but the concept behind Frankenstein Unbound is pretty cool. In it, a not-quite-mad-yet-but-getting-there scientist from the future (John Hurt) is accidentally sent back to the nineteenth century as a side effect of a superweapon he's been working on. There he meets not only Victor Frankenstein (Raúl Juliá), but also Mary Shelley (Bridget Fonda) who's become interested in the Baron's work. Lord Byron (Jason Patric) and Percy Shelley (Michael Hutchence from INXS) also figure into the story.

Unfortunately, the movie is extremely unsubtle in dealing with the theme of setting limits on the pursuit of knowledge. The literary Baron is too obsessed to consider whether or not he should be trying to create life. He's a selfish jerk, but he's not the sinister, mustache-twirling villain of Unbound who very much knows that he's playing God and is going for it with gusto. Likewise, the literary Monster is a tortured, emotionally fragile creature, not the stupid, homicidal brute in Corman's film. Everything is over-simplified, including having Hurt's character on hand to internalize the moral lesson on the audience's behalf.

Makeup artist Guiliana DeCarli came up with an interesting, truly monstrous look for the Creature. It's not one of my favorites, but it gets points for uniqueness.

Friday, October 21, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein: Monster Squad Hospital

The Monster Squad (1987)

By the late '80s I was older than the audience for funny takes on the classic monsters, but I have a lot of slightly-younger friends with fond memories of this movie. I was the perfect age to have enjoyed the 1976 Saturday-morning TV series of almost the same name (it was just Monster Squad; no "the"), but it was on against The Shazam/Isis Hour and my brothers and I were watching that instead.

The TV show was about Gopher from Love Boat fighting crime from his night job in a wax museum. He built a device to bring to life the statues of Dracula, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein and sent the trio out in a black van to fight supervillains.

The movie is unrelated to that. In it, the Squad is a group of kids who love the Universal monsters until they find out that they're real. Led by Dracula, the monsters are trying to find and destroy an amulet that can get rid of them permanently. It's up to the Squad to find the amulet first and save the world.

Tom Noonan plays the Monster (a Stan Winston take on the Universal design) as a creature who at first agrees to Dracula's scheme, but - thanks to being befriended by a little girl - switches allegiances and joins the Squad himself. I may have been too old for it when it came out, but with a nine-year-old in the house and the second-childhood that brings with it, this sounds awesome.

Frankenstein General Hospital (1988)

Another comedy, Frankenstein General Hospital is about Bob Frankenstein, the great-great-grandson of the original Baron, who's trying to perfect his ancestor's experiment in the basement of the LA hospital where he works. Thanks to the bungling of his hunchbacked assistant Iggy, he accidentally puts in the brain of a sex- and food-crazed teenager. "Hilarity" ensues.

One thing that does sound kind of clever about this is that it's all in color except for the lab scenes, which are in black-and-white. There's a pitiful in-story explanation for that, but it's still a fun touch. Otherwise, the film sounds uninspired, including the look of the Monster, which borrows heavily from Young Frankenstein.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein: The Bride of Sarandon

The Bride (1985)

The Bride is sort of a What If sequel to James Whale's The Bride of Frankenstein, the What If part being that there's no Elizabeth. That turns out to be a major difference.

The Bride of Frankenstein has always been a provocative title. Technically, Elizabeth is the title character, being the Baron's wife, but of course no one really thinks of it that way, not even the movie itself. The Bride is the creation that Frankenstein and Pretorius make (supposedly) for the Monster; Pretorius even explicitly calls her "The Bride of Frankenstein." Though audiences often mistake the name of the Monster for his creator, in the world of the film, there's no confusing the two. Pretorius isn't referring to the Bride as the spouse of the Monster; he's associating her with Baron Frankenstein himself.

The mundane explanation is that she's Frankenstein's Bride in the same way that the novel Frankenstein is Mary Shelley's book. She created it, so it belongs to her. That doesn't prevent my buying a copy though so that it also belongs to me. Creation doesn't mean eternal ownership. If that's what Pretorius means, then the Bride of Frankenstein can quickly become the Bride of the Monster.

But Pretorius is anything but mundane. He's perverse and I believe he said exactly what he meant about the new creature being Frankenstein's wife, even though the Baron already had one in Elizabeth. This is confirmed when the Bride chooses Frankenstein over the Monster, a move Frankenstein endorses by holding out his arms to her and drawing her closer. The whole thing is mercifully brought to a premature end by the Monster's blowing up the lab, but what if he hadn't? Would Frankenstein have chosen the Bride over Elizabeth?

That's a fascinating idea for a story and I wished The Bride would have gone for it. Instead, it takes Elizabeth out of the picture and allows Frankenstein (Charles, not Henry or Victor; played by Sting) to develop his relationship with the Bride (Jennifer Beals) without the mess of a preexisting wife in the mix. It's still messy though because of course the Monster (Clancy Brown) is still running around the countryside.

The Monster is your Victor (or, actually, Viktor) in this version and Brown does a great job with him. Head of makeup Sarah Monzani and her crew went with the bald look for him, a choice I understand (what with the brain transplant and all) even if I much prefer the long-haired look (for aesthetic as much as literary reasons). Viktor tries to get over his rejection by the Bride and succeeds for a while in the company of a circus-dwarf he meets named Rinaldo (named after the black-listed screenwriter of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and played by Time Bandits' David Rappaport). But when something happens to that relationship, Viktor decides he wants to give the Bride another shot after all. Meanwhile, Baron Frankenstein's natural selfishness has been getting in the way of his forming a meaningful relationship with the Bride.

It's not a flawless movie (Beals isn't particularly endearing, which she kind of needs to be as the romantic interest for both Frankenstein and Viktor), but I love the way it puts the romance back into Gothic romance, Brown and Rappaport have great chemistry, and Sting is a perfectly loathsome Frankenstein, as he should be. There are also appearances by Timothy Spall and a pre-Princess Bride Cary Elwes.

Frankenstein (1987)

I haven't been able to dig up much on this other than a thread on a classic horror film message board, but it appears to have been a televised version of the story for kids and may have even been filmed in front of a live audience. It's worth mentioning for a couple of reasons though. First, that's the most faithful-to-Shelley look for the Monster I've ever seen, but also: that's Chris Sarandon under the mask.

Which reminds me that I left The Rocky Horror Picture Show off my list, but you know...I'm okay with that.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein: Wrightson and Warner

Bernie Wrightson's Frankenstein (1983)

Bernie Wrightson drew the definitive, visual interpretation of Frankenstein's Monster as a spec project that he sold to Marvel Comics in 1984. He used only Shelley's descriptions and his own research for inspiration and worked on it over a three-year period in between other assignments. Despite its initial (and also it's most recent) publisher, it's not a comic, but an illustrated version of Shelley's novel with introductions by both Wrightson himself and Stephen King.

It was reprinted by Underwood-Miller (a scifi/fantasy small press that dissolved in 1994) as one of their final projects and again as a hardcover by Dark Horse in 2008. It's an essential part of any Frankenstein fan's library.

Frankenstein (1984)

This British made-for-TV movie is most notable for starring David Warner as the Creature, Carrie Fisher as Elizabeth, and John Geilgud as the old, blind man. It was shot on an extremely low budget, but it does well in spite of that. Warner is a sympathetic Monster who's horrible appearance is explained by his being burned by the electricity that brought him to life. You can watch the entire thing below.

By the way, this was my 3000th post. Yikes.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein: Muppet Halloween

The Halloween That Almost Wasn't (1979)

By the late '70s and early '80s, no one was taking the classic monsters seriously anymore. They'd been replaced by demons and serial killers and banished to children's programming and comedy bits. The Halloween That Almost Wasn't represents the former group, although according to the indispensable Frankensteinia, it's a very entertaining example.

Judd Hirsch plays Dracula and rounds up a bunch of other spooks - including Universal's version of the Frankenstein Monster - to convince Mariette Hartley's witch character to fly across the moon and kick off Halloween. There's slapstick, adorable moppets (not muppets; be patient), and disco. John Schuck, who played the Monster, went on to play bit parts in various Star Trek TV shows and movies (he's probably best known as the Klingon ambassador in Star Trek IV and VI) as well as Herman Munster in the reboot series, The Munsters Today.

The Muppets Go to the Movies (1981)

As part of the promotion for The Great Muppet Caper, ABC aired a one-hour TV special called The Muppets Go to the Movies in which Lily Tomlin and Dudley Moore helped the Muppets honor classic films like The Three Musketeers, The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, Tarzan movies, and of course Frankenstein. The "Nephew of Frankenstein" bit featured Fozzie as the title character who interrupts his uncle (Dr. Strangepork from "Pigs in Space") in the creation of his Monster (played by Mulch, who's probably most famous for playing the Hunchback Notre Dame and chasing Debbie Harry around as she sings "One Way or Another" on her episode of The Muppet Show.)

It wasn't the only time the Muppets and Frankenstein hooked up. Miss Piggy and Kermit reenacted a scene from Bride of Frankenstein for the 1982 Miss Piggy calendar, the Monster's shown up in a couple of episodes of Muppet Babies, and IMDB mentions an appearance in next month's The Muppets.

Monday, October 17, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein: Terror of the Electric Company

The Terror of Frankenstein (1977)

I couldn't find much on this film; only a couple of things really. First, it was originally called Victor Frankenstein, but renamed Terror of Frankenstein for distribution on North American TV. I'm not even sure where it was made; it's an English language film, but IMDB lists both Sweden and Ireland as its countries of origin.

The other thing I learned is that it was extremely faithful to Shelley's novel. You can kind of tell that from the picture of the Monster above with his yellow skin, black lips, and long hair. He's almost too handsome a la the Creatures in Flesh for Frankenstein and Frankenstein: The True Story, but I appreciate the effort to adhere closely to Shelley's description. I was only able to find a handful of brief reviews, including this tribute on Frankensteinia, but they're all consistent in both their praise for the film's faithfulness and their acknowledgment that being so faithful causes the movie to drag in places (because so does the book). They also love Per Oscarsson's emotional and frightening portrayal of the Monster. Sounds like a must-see.

The Electric Company (1971-77)

I'm including this one mostly because it was such a huge part of my childhood. The Electric Company adopted lots of pop culture icons in its quest to help kids learn to read. They're perhaps most famous for their very cool Spider-Man skits, but they also made good use of a jungle girl named Jennifer and Universal monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula, and some sort of Wolf Man. (I should save this for next year, but I can't let it go without mentioning that in a cool bit of color-blind casting, Dracula was played by Morgan Freeman.) I'm sure that a great deal of my fondness for the Universal monsters (and jungle girls, and maybe even superheroes) came out of this show.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein: Young Monster from Hell

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

Any chemistry you sense between Grand Moff Tarkin and Vader in Star Wars was formed on the set of Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. It was Peter Cushing's sixth portrayal of Victor Frankenstein and David Prowse's third as the Monster, but their first together. It was also their last times in these roles as Hammer was already on its way out when Monster from Hell was released.

Frankensteina explains that Hammer's glossy, Gothic style of Horror was killed by not only the grittiness of independent films like Night of the Living Dead, but also equally stylish, but contemporary Satanic horror films like Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen. Horror was evolving in the late '60s/early '70s and Hammer couldn't keep up. Monster from Hell was finished in 1972, but took two years to release due to lack of confidence by the money folks.

In Monster from Hell, Baron Frankenstein is hiding out in an insane asylum where he's experimenting on the inmates with the help of the mute daughter of the asylum's director. Before the film's over though, they're joined by a new inmate, a mad, young doctor who's been locked away for performing Frankenstein-inspired experiments. I'm not sure why Hammer abandoned their rebooted, younger version of the series except that perhaps they thought that bringing Cushing back would renew audiences' interest in it. Though Prowse was still the Monster, he was clearly a different one than in Horror of Frankenstein. Not only does he look different with his hulking, ape-like appearance, but the movie explicitly reveals that this is an entirely new creation, put together from pieces of inmates by the Baron and his two helpers.

In addition to the Star Wars connection, there's also a heavy James Bond tie to Monster from Hell. Prowse of course had played the Frankenstein Monster briefly in the Casino Royale spoof, but also Bernard Lee (M) plays one of Monster from Hell's inmates (and the hand donor for the new Creature). Frankenstein's mute assistant is played by Madeline Smith, who was Miss Caruso, the "missing" Italian agent that Bond's got hidden away in his apartment when M shows up there at the beginning of Live and Let Die.

Young Frankenstein (1974)

Since it's one of the most familiar Frankenstein films of all time (and one of the best, even though it's a spoof), there's not a whole lot to say about Young Frankenstein that people don't already know. But here are a couple of things from an interview Mel Brooks gave the Los Angeles Times that were new to me:
I was in the middle of shooting the last few weeks of Blazing Saddles ... and Gene Wilder and I were having a cup of coffee and he said, "I have this idea that there could be another Frankenstein." I said, "Not another – we've had the son of, the cousin of, the brother-in-law, we don't need another Frankenstein." His idea was very simple: 'What if the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein wanted nothing to do with the family whatsoever? He was ashamed of those wackos." I said, "That's funny."

The biggest fight we had, honestly, shame on me, was he said to prove the monster was more than mechanically able to walk or move, he wanted the monster to do Irving Berlin's "Putting on the Ritz." I said, "Having the monster sing and dance is just going to be silly." He said maybe you're right, but can we try it? So we shot it and I said, "This is the best thing in the movie." It turned out to be hysterically funny.
And regarding why it's his best film:
Because of Mary Shelley. I wrote The Producers, and the bones of The Producers are very good, but I don't know how enduring The Producers is and I know how enduring Mary Shelley's characters are. What Gene and I tried to do in the writing of that basic script ... was to stay somehow emotionally true to the characters and the events and not just have things reduced to nonsense. The other shoe that we drop in Young Frankenstein is emotion, great emotion. You can call it father and son, the creator and his creation, that's the real love story that Mary Shelley devised.
I'm not sure what Brooks is trying to say about Frankenstein's relationship with his Creature, but "love story" isn't what I'd call an accurate description of the way Shelley wrote them. The Monster of course longs for the love of his "father," but it's not at all reciprocated, which is really the whole point of the story. One of the things I like best about Young Frankenstein is how it fantasizes that part of it and allows the two to have the relationship I always wanted them to in the novel and other movies. Maybe that's all that Brooks is saying: that Shelley set up the relationship and he's just playing with it.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein: The Monster of True Flesh

The Monster of Frankenstein (1973)

We've already talked about how the Monster's first appearance in the Marvel Universe wasn't really him at all thanks to the Comics Code. But in 1971, Marvel published an issue of Amazing Spider-Man that - at the request of the US Department of Health - dealt with the dangers of drug use. That was against the Code and the Comics Code Authority refused to approve it, but Marvel chose to publish it anyway without Code approval. And the Code flinched.

That same year, the Code relaxed its standards and by October Marvel had introduced Morbius the Living Vampire into Amazing Spider-Man. That was followed by the first appearance of Werewolf by Night and Tomb of Dracula the following year, and the real version of Frankenstein's Monster debuted the year after that.

The history of Marvel's Monster of Frankenstein (eventually re-titled The Frankenstein Monster) is a long one and you should read Panelology's excellent article about it if you're interested in knowing more. It began with a faithful adaptation of Shelley's story, but with a different framing sequence in which a nineteenth century descendant of the novel's Sir Robert Walton rediscovers the Monster frozen in ice near the Arctic Circle. From there, the Monster goes into the world to seek out the last descendant of Frankenstein. Meanwhile, modern day adventures of the Monster also appeared in Marvel's black-and-white magazine, Monsters Unleashed.

Artist Mike Ploog created the look for Marvel's Monster, using Son of Frankenstein's fur vest, but little else from the Universal version. In fact, Ploog's Monster was the most faithful one to date with it's pale complexion, gaunt face, and long, black hair.

Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)

Originally known as Andy Warhol's Frankenstein (Warhol produced it), Flesh for Frankenstein is a spoof, but an extremely odd one. I've not seen it, but my understanding is that it's more interested in poking fun at sexual repression than horror tropes. In the film, that repression is apparently released in graphically violent ways, resulting in a mixture of sex and violence that's as horrific as any film writer/director Paul Morrissey is parodying.

The plot has to do with Frankenstein's attempt to build a perfect race and he gets closer than any screen Frankenstein before him. His creations, one male and one female, are beautiful except for a few stitch marks. Instead of going homicidal because people are afraid of his ugliness, Flesh's Monster kills out of rebellion against the horror of his megalomaniacal master. It's an interesting twist because it highlights that the Monster's problem (in all of his iterations) has never been about his appearance, but about the selfishness of his creator.

Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)

Warhol's version wasn't the last time the Monster would be portrayed as beautiful. In fact, later that same year, NBC ran this two-part mini-series in which the Monster came out looking great at first, but decayed as the story progressed (the image above is from an in-between phase). In spite of its title, it's no more faithful to Shelley than any other version. In addition to the Monster's degeneration (which I suppose was to make it more heart-breaking when he's ultimately rejected by Frankenstein and society after initially being praised by them), there are strong elements from Bride of Frankenstein (a Dr. Praetorius-like character; Elizabeth survives her wedding night) and several of the Hammer films (controlling the Monster with hypnosis; the Monster's Bride getting her own character arc).

But standing as its own thing, it gets a great review from Frankensteinia and features an excellent cast including Leonard Whiting (Zeffirelli’s Romeo) as Victor Frankenstein, James Mason as Dr. Polidori, David McCallum as Clerval, and Jane Seymour as the Bride. There are even small parts for Agnes Moorhead (Victor's landlady), John Gielgud (the chief constable of the police), and Tom Baker (a sea captain who's connected to Frankenstein's being in the Arctic, but isn't Walton).

Friday, October 14, 2011

31 Days of Frankenstein: Dracula vs Frankenberry

Dracula Vs. Frankenstein (1971)

Producers Samuel Sherman and Al Adamson really didn't know what kind of movie they wanted to make. The Blood Seekers (or Blood Freaks, they couldn't even really make up their mind about that) was originally just going to be a schlocky exploitation flick about a mad scientist (J Carrol Naish) and his mute henchman (Lon Chaney Jr) who liked to chop off girls' heads and staple them to new bodies. The only Frankenstein element was that its two actors had both been in House of Frankenstein together (Chaney as the Wolf Man of course; Naish played his hunchbacked rival for the affection of Ilonka the gypsy girl).

After they shot it though, Sherman and Adamson kept tinkering. Frankensteinia has the whole story, but basically they didn't like the movie they'd finished making in 1969 and shelved it until they came up with the idea of adding Frankenstein's Monster and Dracula to it. Adamson cast his accountant and stock broker in the two new roles and box office gold was made. Or not.

They brought Naish back in to shoot some new scenes with Dracula revealing that the scientist was a descendant of Frankenstein and that he and Dracula are plotting to murder the last of the scientists who laughed him out of the academy or whatever. The head-swapping plot became some kind of necessary preamble to creating a new Monster to assist Dracula in the murder. The film ends with Dracula's turning on the Monster for some reason before getting impaled himself.

But Sherman and Adamson still weren't done. Wanting a bigger battle, they hastily shot one and tacked it onto the end, but this time using a guy named Shelly Weiss for the Monster. Oddly, when it came time to credit the actors they listed them as two separate characters: Adamson's accountant John Bloom as the Monster and Weiss as the Creature.

The makeup for the Monster/Creature kept Universal's flat head and modified the head-staples into a giant band, but differs in the skin texture, which resembles something made out of bread dough. As bad as it all sounds (or actually, because it sounds so bad), I need to see this movie. Not only is it a disastrous mess, it also has some historical significance. Sadly, it was both Naish and Chaney's last film.

Frankenberry (1971)

With the monster-nostalgia craze still going into the early '70s, it was inevitable that cereal makers would want to get in on the action. General Mills came out with two monster-themed cereals in '71: Count Chocula and Franken Berry (often written as Frankenberry, because it's cooler that way). Boo Berry didn't come along until 1973 and Fruit Brute followed in '74. Fruit Brute was cancelled in '83 and replaced with the short-lived Yummy Mummy. One of my favorite things about Halloween is seeing Count Chocula, Franken Berry, and Boo Berry boxes on the shelves at Target.

I love this bit of trivia about Franken Berry from Wikipedia. I don't know if it's accurate, but the way it's worded is awesome: "Franken Berry was very popular when first introduced possibly because the initial batches of the cereal used a dye that didn't break down in the body, causing many children's feces to be bright pink..." I always wanted it because it turned my milk pink, not my poop, but whatever makes you happy...

FallCon this weekend!

Frankenstein's been dominating this blog all month, but I should have said something about FallCon much earlier. I'll be there with the last copies of the Kill All Monsters! Chapter One ashcan as well as some Cownt Tales. I might even sketch some giant monster/robot battles, so you can laugh at those too if you stop by. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

White Shark Africa looking for cage-diving interns

I got a very cool email this morning from White Shark Africa. I doubt I can add any information that isn't in the brochure above (click to Great White size it), but man if I was in a different stage of life I'd be all over this. Visit the website or email Zerilda Lodewyk in Recruitment for more details.

31 Days of Frankenstein: Destroyed Horror and the Lady

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

There are three entries today because I somehow left out Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed in my original list. My lack of familiarity with Hammer is showing. I also skipped Frankenstein Created Woman, but that was more intentional since it's really more a Bride of Frankenstein story.

In the fourth Hammer Frankenstein film, Peter Cushing again plays the Baron. He's what ties the series together, not the Monster. It's a fascinating concept for a horror series, especially since Victor Frankenstein has always been the true monster of Mary Shelley's story. Having him chased across Europe from film to film as he continues his insane experiments is pretty brilliant.

This time around, he doesn't piece together a new monster so much as perform a brain transplant, but the results are about the same as most Frankenstein movies. Because of the change though, the Creature looked much less horrific than usual; really just a guy with a scar around the top of his head. The Dictionary of Hammer Horror has an excellent review of the film if you want to know more.

The Horror of Frankenstein (1970)

After Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Hammer decided to reboot the series with a new Victor (Ralph Bates instead of Peter Cushing). There was also a new Monster, but that was usual.

Well, I say it was a new Monster, but David Prowse had briefly played the Creature before in the James Bond spoof, Casino Royale. In fact, according to Wikipedia, he'd been lobbying to play a Hammer monster for years and finally got his break with this part. What's cool is that he would get to reprise the role in the next (and final) Hammer Frankenstein film, not only outlasting Horror of Frankenstein's new Victor (Cushing would take back the part of the Baron from Bates), but becoming the only actor to play the Monster twice in a Hammer film. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Lady Frankenstein (1971)

Lady Frankenstein is the English-release title for Italy's La Figlia di Frankenstein (The Daughter of Frankenstein), a sort of What If version of the story in which the Baron is immediately killed by his Creature as soon as it comes to life. The Baron's daughter then takes over his work and sets to putting her elderly lover's brain into the younger, handsomer body of a mentally disabled fellow. Those Frankensteins are all bastards.

Which is why The Bad Movie Report interprets Lady Frankenstein as a sort of feminist work: "[I]n a bit of cinematic shorthand, even the most inexperienced of movie goers can say upon sight, 'Aha! Mad Scientist! Nothing good will come of this!' It is harder to leap to that conclusion when the character is female; a couple thousand years of cultural pressure informs us on a near-DNA level that women are to be protected (even, or perhaps especially, from themselves), and that they are more sensitive and in tune to life and nature's patterns and vibrations. Overcoming that stereotype would require some actual effort on the part of the filmmakers." Though it's an extremely flawed film, that effort alone - argues the Report - makes it feminist. I'm going to need to see it before I can agree or disagree; fortunately, I have a VHS copy lying around here somewhere.

As to the Monster's look, bald was sure popular between '69 and '71, with the Monster's head getting bigger every year. That was about to change, though I guess we could argue for a brief revival a few years later in Young Frankenstein.


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