A look at how movies have shaped Frankenstein


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"I, Frankenstein" take thee, for granted, as my lawfully wedded audience -- from 1931 to the present.

And that's just in the movies. We must go back to 1818 for the beloved monster's genesis in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's "Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus." That nightmare novel about a mad scientist's Faustian ambitions literally came to her in a bad dream, she said. (So, BTW, did Bram Stoker's "Dracula," following a late-night supper of crabmeat.)

Watch what you eat before bedtime.

Aaron Eckhart ate only apples with peanut butter -- and worked out five hours a day on his washboard abs -- to prepare for his title-role appearance in "I, Frankenstein," the creature's latest resurrection, which opens nationwide today. It's set in a dark-blue dystopia where he gets caught in a ferocious war for Ultimate Power between two mega-rival clans -- not Jets and Sharks, but Gargoyles and Demons.

As if there weren't enough other existential and psychological issues on his plate.

Mr. Eckhart's monster is no lumbering, tottery Boris Karloff type but a mean, lean, buffed machine, highly skilled at Filipino kali-stick fighting (don't ask how) and at slicing and dicing his opponents -- kamikaze pterodactyls, mostly -- accompanied by Promethian pyrotechnics.

Bill Nighy plays the main villain. Miranda Otto plays the token representative of her sex. Stuart Beattie plays the token director-screenwriter, basing his script on the graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux (of "Underworld" fame).

"This was the way to have another franchise," Mr. Grevioux, a former Marvel and DC Comics illustrator, said in an interview for www.blackfilm.com in July. "You really try to milk that same cow as much as you can to create these franchises because they're worth a lot of money."

Gotta admire his refreshingly crass honesty, if nothing else. Talk about franchises! Frank's Freudian fascination is forever: Hubristic science runs amok, creating "life" that has an easily wounded psyche but no soul, and gets quickly out of control. He's not evil, just doomed -- and more than a little melancholy about it:

"I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel ... Satan has his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and detested."

The Franken-franchise in film began with a 1908 nickelodeon version and peaked with Universal's two smash hits, directed by James Whale, in the early 1930s. An incredible 200 or more have followed, on screen and television, to date. Want a selected rundown of the most notable ones?

Walk this way ...

 "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935): Four years after Whale's original "Frankenstein," this remains by far the greatest, with everything a horror tale needs: dynamic, creepy story (based more closely on Shelley's novel -- its second half -- than the 1931 original), impeccably sympathetic performance by King-of-the-role Karloff, terrific makeup and special effects, and that ultimate Goth-girl, Elsa Lanchester, in the title role.

• Not least of "Bride's" virtues is that almost everything so brilliantly spoofed four decades later in Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" (1974) came from it -- e.g., the hilarious scene in which Mel's monster (Peter Boyle) meets the blind hermit (Gene Hackman). Remember police inspector Kenneth Mars, who sports an eye patch and a monocle over the same eye? The "Puttin on the Ritz" duet? (Note to aficionados: A psychiatric follow-up called "Jung Frankenstein" appeared on TV in 2003.)

"I Was a Teenage Frankenstein" (1957): Prof. Frankenstein (played by the long-suffering underrated B-film actor Whit Bissell) steals body parts of dead athletes from the wreckage of a plane crash, builds a hunky monster out of them, and disposes of its victims in an alligator pit conveniently located under his house.

"House of Frankenstein" (1944): After escaping from an asylum, a mad scientist (Boris Karloff) and his hunchback assistant (J. Carroll Naish) -- posing as horror-show operators -- revive Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's monster in order to extract revenge on their enemies.

"Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter" (1966): Almost as good as "Billy the Kid vs. Dracula."

"Frankenstein's Army" (2013): Russian soldiers in Germany stumble across a secret Nazi lab using Dr. Frankenstein's theories to create an army of uber-soldiers stitched together from the body parts of dead Nazis -- Hitler's last ghastly gasp!

"Frankenstein: Day of the Beast" (2011): "An island. A bride. A monster." Says it all.

"My Friend Frankenstein" (1975): Flicka was evidently unavailable.

"Frankenstein: The College Years" (1991): A student gets the key to his late professor's lab, where he finds and revives the body of Frankenstein. The monster is dumb as a stone but makes it onto the football team and becomes a popular BMOC.

"Frankenstein General Hospital" (1988): Dr. Bob Frankenstein, great-great-grandson of Victor, interns at a Los Angeles hospital under the name of Dr. Robert Frankenheimer (no relation to the director), borrowing spare body parts for his nefarious after-hours lab work at home.

"Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein" (1999): But, sadly, he fails to kill them.

"Splice" (2010): Canadian director Vincenzo Natali gives us two geneticists (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley), who screw around with the laws of science and animal DNA to produce a creature named Dren (the very hot Delphine Chaneac), who gets it on with her creators! Fine F/X and very thought-provoking -- if uncomfortable.

"Frankenstein Created Woman" (1967): Peter Cushing puts the soul of a wrongly executed man into his lover -- with less than ideal results.

"Flesh for Frankenstein" (1973): Warhol factory director Paul Morrissey presents Baron Frankenstein (Udo Kier), living the dream of a Serbian super-race, spawned by Joe Dallesandro and Monique van Vooren.

"Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man" (1943): Larry Talbot chips Frankenstein's monster out of a block of ice, then changes into the Wolf Man, and the two do battle -- with Bela Lugosi and Maria Ouspenskaya as onlookers.

"Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948): Freight handlers Bud & Lou handle the remains of Frankenstein's monster and Dracula, freshly arrived from Europe for a house of horrors. Lou is abducted for his brain -- a fool's errand, to be sure -- and when the full moon rises, all hell breaks loose. Considered A&B's best feature!

"Frankenhooker" (1990): A splatter-genre entry in which 42nd Street prostitutes on supercrack explode, providing body parts for a better set of hookers.

"Frankenstein vs. the Creature From Blood Cove" (2005): On an isolated California beach, a sinister plan is underway. Renegade scientists have resurrected the Frankenstein monster and biogenetically engineered a half-man, half-fish abomination to use as a secret weapon against terrorists worldwide. Talk about Axis of Evil ....

"Dr. Frankenstein's Wax Museum of the Hungry Dead" (2013): The title should suffice.

"The Making of The Diary of Anne Frankenstein" (2011): Nobody seems to have seen or to know anything about this film, but the title alone makes it worthy of inclusion.

I've run out of space -- and your patience. No time to list all the video games and countless other subsidiary spinoff products with the Frankenstein brand -- from lunch boxes and cocktail napkins to deckwear and shoe trees -- for which the poor penniless monster never gets a dime in royalties.

He has a lousy agent but eternal appeal.


Post-Gazette film critic emeritus Barry Paris: parispg48@aol.com.

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