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.

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