Frankenstein's Monster


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Related to Frankenstein's Monster: Mary Shelley
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Poster art from the movie Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Frankenstein’s Monster

(pop culture)

Among the fictional creatures most associated with the vampire was the monster created by Victor Frankenstein. Movies featuring the creatures have been paired on double bills and, on occasion, both monsters have appeared in the same movie. The creatures share a history that goes back to 1816, when Frankenstein’s monster was originally created and the vampire underwent a profound alteration. Elizabeth Miller has noted a certain appropriateness to the pairing of the vampire and Frankenstein as “both deal with the issues of death and resurrection, creation and transgression, and the blurring of boundaries between life and death.” During the week of June 19, 1816, Lord Byron called together a group of friends at a villa outside of Geneva, Switzerland. Trapped by a storm, the group, consisting of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Byron’s physician John Polidori, and Shelley’s second wife-to-be writer Mary Wollstonecraft, agreed with Byron to create and entertain the group with a “ghost” story. It was Mary Shelley’s story that evolved into Frankenstein (first published anonymously in 1818). Byron wrote the core of a story that, several years later, Polidori expanded into the first vampire short story. It was published in 1819 as “The Vampyre” under Byron’s name.

Frankenstein was the story of a scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who assembled and brought to life a human body composed of the parts of several corpses. Frankenstein, although proud of having discovered a way to restore animation to lifeless matter, was unable to deal with the life he had created and rejected the creature. In return, the creature sought revenge and became the monster he is known as today. Frankenstein’s monster differed from the vampire in at least one important respect. Frankenstein was created wholly from Mary Shelley’s imagination and was not, like the vampire, based on popular folklore. Thus the expansion of the Frankenstein story originated with one novel, while vampire literature drew from a large body of preexisting folk material. There were, of course, sources Shelley drew from to create Frankenstein, such as the early material on robots and the legend of the Golem, a clay figure made by humans and brought to life. Nevertheless, like the literary vampire, Frankenstein’s monster provided an important insight into the human situation—and it proved immediately and perennially popular. Frankenstein was first brought to the stage in 1823 in England, three years after Polidori’s “The Vampyre” inspired several French plays. Soon afterward, several different dramatic versions of Frankenstein appeared. However, while there were a number of different vampire stories throughout the nineteenth century, there were no variations on the Frankenstein tale, although Shelley’s book went through many printings.

Frankenstein came to the screen in 1910 in a silent production by Thomas Edison’s film company, but unfortunately no copies have survived. Several other silent movie adaptations were made before the vampire—now in the form of Dracula—and Frankenstein were brought together again by Universal Pictures. Universal had been revived by the success of Dracula (1931). The studio decided that Frankenstein was to be the next logical picture and announced that the movie would star Bela Lugosi and Edward Van Sloan (Abraham Van Helsing in Dracula). Lugosi, once he understood the nature of his part in the movie refused to go through with it. His part was then given to a young unknown actor, Boris Karloff. The Frankenstein film equaled the success of the Dracula movie and made Karloff a star. In 1933, it was announced that Lugosi would star in The Return of Frankenstein, this time as the mad scientist. However, Lugosi decided against that part as well. The movie went into production with Karloff again playing the monster and was released as The Bride of Frankenstein. Several other sequels followed. By the 1940s, Universal had also produced horror films featuring werewolves. In the 1940s, they began to put several monsters together in different kinds of encounters. In 1944, Dracula (John Carradine), Frankenstein, and the Wolfman were united for the first time by Universal in the House of Frankenstein. The next year the three returned in the House of Dracula. Seeing the end of the monstrous possibilities in 1948, Universal put its three monsters together with its comedy stars Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Following the movie’s release, the trio did not appear together on screen for a decade.

Hammer’s Revival: The popularity of horror films was at a low ebb in the 1950s. Then Hammer Films bought the rights to the Universal monsters and began remaking the classic films in color. They chose Frankenstein as a first effort. The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) was so successful that they signed the actor who played the monster, Christopher Lee, to portray Dracula. Peter Cushing, who portrayed Frankenstein, was signed to play Abraham Van Helsing in the next production, released in the United States as the The Horror of Dracula. The two pictures were as successful for Hammer as the originals were for Universal, and over the next two decades Hammer became known for its distinctive horror motion pictures. Although Hammer never brought the characters of Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster together in the same motion picture, it was a theme with too much potential to neglect. The same year Hammer produced the Curse of Frankenstein, a Mexican studio developed its own Dracula/Frankenstein plot that emerged as El Castillo de los Monstruos (Castle of the Monsters). It was a comedy about a newlywed couple who met a number of monsters, including Frankenstein’s monster and a vampire. It was followed by a sequel, Frankenstein, el Vampiro y CIA (1961). Other meetings of Dracula (or another vampire) and Frankenstein’s monster (or a similar creature) occurred in Sexy Proibitissimo (1961), Love Me Quick! (1964), Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror (1967), Mad Monster Party? (1969), and La Venganza de las Mujeres Vampiro (1969). In the 1960s, the comic television series, The Munsters featured Frankenstein-like character Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne) as head of a family that included a vampiric wife, Lily (Yvonne de Carlo), and Grandpa (Al Lewis). Grandpa revealed, during the course of the series, that he was Count Dracula. In 1966, a movie developed from the show, Munster, Go Home! During the 1970s, Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula were pitted against each other again in Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1970), Capulina Contra los Monstruos (1972), Dracula Contra Frankenstein (1972), La Invasion de Los Muertos (1972), and Pepito y Chabelo vs. Los Monstruos (1973). By the early 1970s, however, the Frankenstein/Dracula connection had been largely exhausted, and in the succeeding years only two attempts to reunite them were made: Dracula tan Exarchia (1983) and Howl of the Devil (1988). The one vampire-Frankenstein connection that has remained was that forged by The Munsters television show. In the 1980s, it enjoyed a brief revival in a movie, The Munsters’ Revenge (1981), and in a new series that ran on television from 1988 to 1991. Then in the 1990s, several new Munster movies with a new cast were made, Here Come the Munsters (1995) and The Munsters Scary Little Christmas (1996), to be followed by several sentimental documentaries that reunited the cast.

Dracula and Frankenstein in Fiction: Among the more interesting works of fiction featuring Frankenstein’s monster during the past generation was a Marvel comic book that appeared during Marvel’s rediscovery of horror following the loosening of the restriction on horror titles. The plot of The Frankenstein Monster was linked by the monster’s search for his creator. In issue No. 8 (November 1973), the monster, now in Transylvania, saved a Gypsy girl from rape. He was befriended by the girl’s mother who promised to help him in his quest. Instead, she tricked Frankenstein into assisting her in freeing Dracula from his tomb. Frankenstein had a brief fight with Dracula, who escaped. Frankenstein then returned to the Gypsy camp only to find it destroyed by villagers who believed the Gypsies had brought the vampire back to them. Angry, Frankenstein challenged the villagers. They overpowered him and were about to burn him at the stake when Dracula attacked another village female. As the townspeople turned their attention to catching Dracula, Frankenstein escaped. He tracked the fleeing Dracula to his hiding place and, in a final fight, staked the vampire. Dracula was dead … at least for the moment.

Novelists who have played with the Frankenstein character in the twentieth century have rarely followed the lead offered by motion pictures and developed new fictional encounters with Dracula. One exception was Donald Glut who, in the 1970s, developed a series of new Frankenstein adventures. One, Frankenstein Meets Dracula (1977), was written as a sequel to Bram Stoker‘s Dracula. Resurrected after his death at the end of the novel, Dracula vowed to take revenge. He attempted to transplant the brain of a descendent of Abraham Van Helsing into the Frankenstein monster’s head. However, the monster rejected the idea of the transplant and turned on Dracula. A second novel in the series that included Dracula was never published. The most recent encounter of Frankenstein’s monster with Dracula occurred in a set of juvenile literature books, the “Fifth Grade Monsters” series by Mel Gilden. In the first volume, M Is for Monster (1987), Danny Keegan, a “normal” fifth grader, was introduced to the new kids in class. They include C. D. Bitesky (a vampire), Howie Wolfner (a werewolf), and Elisa and Frankie Stein (who bore more than a passing resemblance to Frankenstein and his bride). Gilden took Danny and the “monsters” through a series of adventures, most with plots that focused on the importance of young people’s acceptance of kids who are slightly different. The books also serve as examples for older readers who have problems with monsters and other things that go bump in the night. Dracula, Frankenstein, and the other monsters have been partially tamed in Gilden’s books and made a part of our culture as creatures of humor.

Sources:

Florescu, Radu. In Search of Frankenstein: Exploring the Myths Behind Mary Shelley’s Monster. London: Robson Books, 1997. 287 pp.
The Frankenstein Monster. Nos 7–9. New York: Marvel Comics, 1973–74.
Gilden, Mel. M Is for Monster. Fifth Grade Monsters No. 1. New York: Avon, 1987. 89 pp.
———. The Secret of Dinosaur Bog. Fifth Grade Monsters No. 15. New York: Avon, 1991. 90 pp.
Glut, Donald. The Frankenstein Catalog. Jefferson, NC: Mcfarland & Company, 1984. 525 pp.
———. The Frankenstein Legend: A Tribute to Mary Shelley and Boris Karloff. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1973. 372 pp.
———. Frankenstein Meets Dracula. London: New English Library, 1977. 140 pp.
Jones, Stephen. The Illustrated Vampire Movie Guide. London: Titan Books, 1993. 144 pp.
Miller, Elizabeth. “Dracula and Frankenstein: A Tale of Two Monsters.” In Elizabeth Miller. Reflections on Dracula: Ten Essays. White Rock, BC: Transylvania Press, 1997. pp. 139–56.

Frankenstein’s monster

living man created by a physiology student from body parts. [Br. Lit.: Mary Shelley Frankenstein]

Frankenstein’s monster

ugly monster. [Br. Lit.: Frankenstein, Payton, 254]
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