Mary Shelley famously wrote Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus which originated in 1816 when herself, her lover and future husband Percy Shelley and Lord Bryon had a competition to see who could write the best horror story. After a number of days, Mary Shelley was inspired to write this great novel after imagining a scientist who would create life and then became horrified as to what he had made.
It is one of my favourite novels and I view it more as a science fiction story rather than a horror story and the novel has had a considerable influence on literature and on popular culture where it has brought to life to a complete genre of horror films.
The first sound version of the story was Frankenstein released in 1931 which was directed by James Whale and starred Boris Karloff as the creature, and, along with Dracula also released in the same year, set off a series of horror films that would become a staple of the Universal studio.
The film was really a loose adaption of Mary Shelley’s novel but it established Karloff as a horror icon star and it provided the most famous portrayal/look of the creature as Karloff’s performance still resonates today, nearly 90 years later with his hissing venom.
A sequel followed in 1935, The Bride Of Frankenstein, which again was loosely based on the original. Again directed by Whale and starring Karloff, it’s a delicious black comedy horror movie that still manages to entertain today.
Another sequel followed in 1939, The Son Of Frankenstein, which was then followed by a number of B grade entries with The Ghost Of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, The House Of Frankenstein and House Of Dracula. The series was increasingly becoming silly which was capped off with Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein albeit this is still quite a good comedy horror flick.
It wasn’t until 1957, with the release of Hammer’s The Curse Of Frankenstein with Peter Cushing as the Dr. Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the creature did the story regain fresh impetus.
Again, like the Universal cycle, the Hammer films were only very loosely based on the original novel and Hammer produced another six films in the series – 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).
I find the Hammer films still quite enjoyable to watch but I was longing for a reasonably accurate interpretation of one of my favourite novels, and finally in 1994 with Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein an attempt was made.
Taking it’s cue from Francis Ford Coppola’s successful interpretation of the Dracula story with 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Branagh went back to the original novel with an attempted faithful adaptation, albeit still with a number of differences.
Here, at least was an attempt to bring Mary Shelley’s great novel to life, although it was more operatic in its depiction than the subtle nuances of the novel. I could admire the effort and intent but it didn’t quite reach the heights it aspired to.
So I’m still hoping for a faithful film version of one of the great novels although I’m not confident of seeing it anytime soon given the dross we are served up now.
And, of course I should not forget to include Mel Brooks marvelous comedy horror send-up Young Frankenstein released in 1974. But, of course, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder were referencing the classic 1930s films not the novel.
PS I will do a future post on that other great horror film staple – Dracula !