Genesis of the Creature
In May 1816, Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Shelley, their young son, and close friend Claire Clairmont traveled to Lake Geneva. They planned to spend the summer with the scandalous and ecentric poet, Lord Byron. They spent their time writing, boating, and talking late into the dark and stormy summer nights.
In the evenings, the Shelleys and Lord Byron would share old German ghost stories to entertain one another. One night, Byron proposed writing their own ghost stories. A discussion upon the principle of life lit a spark in Mary Shelley in particular. She encountered a "waking dream," or night terror, in which a corpse was reanimated.
She quotes in her 1831 edition of Frankenstein: "I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world." Thus, she began writing what she thought would be a short story.
Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus was published anonymously in London in 1818. Shelley’s name first appeared on the novel when it was reprinted in 1831. Heavily influenced by the Gothic and Romantic literary movements of the 19th century, the original Frankenstein novel is very different thematically from later versions of the story. The characterization of the creature himself constitutes one of the main differences. Rather than a nonspeaking simpleton, the original creature's characterization is that of a sensitive, intelligent being who becomes bitter, vindictive, and ultimately murderous because he was spurned by human society and his father-figure, Dr. Frankenstein.
Instead of killing simply because he was evil, Shelley’s version of the Creature performs his most horrifying acts as a vengeance against Dr. Frankenstein for not creating a bride for him. Also interestingly, the iconic creation sequence, which takes place typically in an elaborate lab filled with chemicals, machines and Tesla coils in most film adaptations, does not take place in the novel. The creation sequence merely takes place in a darkened room and is given far less space in the novel than the mental attitudes of both the doctor and the Creature to the act of creation. Frankenstein is considered one of the first true science fiction novels and one of the earliest critiques of both the doctrine of scientific progress and 19th-century attitudes to parenthood.
Karloff and the Universal Classics, Frankenstein & Bride of Frankenstein
Universal’s Frankenstein film, which starred Boris Karloff as the creature and Colin Clive as Doctor Frankenstein, was a huge theatrical success and established many of the clichés now associated with the Frankenstein story: hunchbacked assistants, elaborate laboratories in castles, a creature who is an unthinking killing machine, and the “defective brain” plot point. The film inspired a rare achievement, a sequel called Bride of Frankenstein which not only equaled but surpassed the first film in quality. Bride is actually much closer to the original novel than the earlier Frankenstein film. The previously savage Creature becomes capable of forming friendships, speech, and sexual desire, which transforms him from a simple killing machine into a brilliantly realized character. Considered by many to be the best of all the Universal horror films, Bride of Frankenstein is perhaps best remembered today for the creature’s somber final line, “We belong dead.”
In May 2017, Universal announced that Bride of Frankenstein will be the next classic monster reboot (the first one being The Mummy starring Tom Cruise, which was released on June 9, 2017.) Bill Condon, director of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, will running the project, and it's projected to be released on February 14th, 2019.
“Not Recommended for People of Nervous Disposition”
Hammer’s Frankenstein series began in 1957 with The Curse of Frankenstein, one of the earliest films in its series of horror releases, and established many of the characteristics that would distinguish Hammer’s filmmaking style: excellent set design to conceal a low budget, solid performances by Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (as Frankenstein and his Creature, respectively), color cinematography, and an extreme level of violence for late 1950s cinema.
The film was a huge financial success for Hammer studios and resulted in the creation of six sequels: The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), The Horror of Frankenstein (1970), and Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (1974). Unlike Hammer’s Dracula films, its Frankenstein series was centered around Cushing’s Dr. Frankenstein rather than the Creature itself, who was reassembled and played by actors other than Lee in the sequel films. This distinct focus means these films are better remembered for Cushing’s progressively more insane Doctor (the final film is set entirely in an asylum) than the various Creatures he creates.
After Hammer: The Creature’s Fate in Modern Cinema
- Frankenstein's Monster Boris Karloff by Universal Studios (Dr. Macro) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- Richard Rothwell [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
- Photo from Universal, page 10 San Bernardino County Sun [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- Christopher Lee, Curse of Frankenstein: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/121949102379881814/