Thursday, November 16, 2006


My house has been the site of a little Frankenstein festival over the last week or so. It sort of happened by accident. My Year 8 class is studying Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands and when I said, 'Oh, and of course this film is referring to the story of Frankenstein,' a lot of them looked back at me blankly. I was horrified. Surely Frankenstein is a cultural icon!

Then I realised that I hadn't read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein myself, or seen any of the classic James Whale/ Boris Karloff films. In fact the story hadn't interested me in the way that, say, vampire mythology does. Vampires have the advantage of being much sexier, darker and more complex than Frankenstein's monster. But, after watching Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and, of course, Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein, I've come to love the big fella.

Firstly, I just love Boris Karloff's performance. Despite the dodgy sets and some hammy acting from other cast members, he is believable. The makeup is fantastic and Karloff portrays such a powerful sense of yearning and loneliness. I have to confess that in Bride of Frankenstein I shed a tear after the monster was hunted out of the blind man's hut and lost his only friend (Ok, I cry in everything, but I was not expecting to cry in a Frankenstein film).

Also, the whole concept is quite radical. The idea of man as God, creating new life, is fascinating. As is the role of the monster as outsider and the violent reactions of people to this 'abomination'.

James Whale's stark sets, particularly for the outdoor scenes in forests or graveyards are artworks. The black shapes of crosses and the surreal forest of denuded trees make full use of the studio location and create a powerfully eerie atmosphere.

I still haven't read Mary Shelley's novel, a terrible oversight for many reasons, not least of which is that I find her very interesting as a historical figure. I'm definitely putting Frankenstein top of my 'to read' list now. In an era of increasing violence and intolerance, as well as of scientific advances in cloning and genetic engineering, this story is probably more relevant than ever.

1 comment:

Brandon said...

I'm the opposite of you: I've never seen the Boris Karloff/"Bride of Frankenstein" movies, but I read the book a few months ago. It's one of my favorite books. Sure, it's slowly paced, as were most books written in the early ninteenth-century, but it's very thought-provoking.