Mary Shelley would have been 219 this week if she'd had the abilities she is credited for creating in fiction, namely renewed life for the dead. In 1818 when Shelley wrote Frankenstein, she undoubtedly had no idea the inspiration she'd spark for generations to come. Her gothic novel, widely considered to be the first true sci-fi novel and the first example of the "mad scientist" subgenre, not only tapped into the universal fear of death humanity shares but introduced the world to a whole new terror to keep them up at night.
There are now so many iterations of the "undead" it's hard to imagine fantasy or horror without it. From zombies to artificial humanoids, Frankenstein is the original "walking dead." But no great idea has truly been tested as a great idea until it's been fully exploited in every possible way.
Here are a few weird and off-the-mark versions of Frankenstein that may not cause old Mary to roll in her grave (she's too dignified for so obvious a response), but she'd certainly roll her eyes.
1. I Was A Teenage Frankenstein
- Release Date: November 23, 1957
- Director: Herbert L. Strock
- The monster played by: Gary Conway
This 1957 B-movie capitalizes off of the success of James Whale's 1931 Frankenstein (the one that introduced his now-iconic look of green skin and neck bolts) and its many sequels. It also followed the popular I Was A Teenaged Werewolf. The story revolves around Professor Frankenstein who confiscates the body of an automobile accident victim for his experiments. Despite having a relatively smokin' bod, this monster wants a face to match and at one point he and the Professor kill a teenaged boy in a Lovers Lane ride to graft his face onto the monster's face. Guess all that effort didn't help the monster snag a date.
2. Frankenstein Conquers the World
- Release Date: July 9, 1966
- Director: Ishiro Honda
- The monster played by: Koji Furuhata
Leave it to the Japanese to find a way to turn Frankenstein into a kaiju monster. Though, to be honest, it's not a total stretch. Kaiju are, after all, enhanced creatures, usually by the unholy powers of radiation. This movie takes us from the fall of the Nazi regime where Frankenstein's heart has been stolen from the Nazis, is then lost, and then somehow eventually out the heart grows a new monster enhanced by radiation. When a big bad kaiju comes around, it's lucky we've got an abnormally large human on hand to fight them.
- Release Date: 1973
- Director: William A. Levey
- The monster played by: Whit Bissell
Leave it to blaxploitation to give us Frankenstein's monster with an afro. A 1973 low budget horror film, Blackenstein couldn't really measure up to Blacula, which came before it. Here we have a war vet in need of new limbs and treatment. He gets some experimental docs to help him out, but there's a small side effect in that he likes to go out each night brutalizing and murdering unsuspecting black people. There is plenty of psychological weirdness to unpack here, but Mary Shelley would likely tsk-tsk the filmmakers for not even making their monster truly dead to begin with.
4. The Bride
- Release Date: August 16, 1985
- Director: Franc Roddam
- The monster played by: Clancy Brown
There's so much weird goodness in this Frankenstein adaptation. Sting is the doctor, Jennifer Beals is Eva, his creation, and Clancy Brown is Viktor, the original monster who requested Eva be created. It's pretty close to a "Bride of Frankenstein" tale, except with '80s romance oozing everywhere. Eva rejects the monster, is pursued by Frankenstein himself, and over time forms a connection with Viktor for being more like herself. Basically think a love-triangle with Frankenstein, his monster, and his bride (which is something Penny Dreadful did quite a bit better). Jennifer Beals is by far the hottest undead monster you've ever seen.
5. Frankenstein In Comics
Okay, it's not so weird to consider Frankenstein popping up in comic books, he's a pretty obvious villain. In fact, Frankenstein has been popping up in many a publisher's comics since the '40s. Sometimes as a villain for heroes to fight, sometimes as the protagonist. He fights to this day as an essential part of DC's Justice League Dark.
6. Young Frankenstein
- Release Date: December 15, 1974
- Director: Mel Brooks
- The monster played by: Peter Boyle
It took Mel Brooks to fully capitalize on the inherent humor in a maniacal doctor with a god complex and his big, brute companion. This monster dances, lights himself on fire, and even finds a mate, all to hilarious effect. Truly one of the late Gene Wilder's best Mel Brooks collaborations. He's the real Frankenstein, ahem, FrAHnkenstein to watch in this movie as the clip below proves.
- Release Date: October 5, 2012
- Director: Tim Burton
- Victor Frankenstein voiced by: Charlie Tahan
Leave it to Tim Burton to make Frankenstein's monster not only kid-friendly, but a dog. Capitalizing on the lengths a kid will go to for a beloved dead pet to return to him, this film is pure Burton imagination. And quite possibly the most adorable undead monster put to film.
8. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
- Release Date: August 15, 1975
- Director: Jim Sharman
- The monster played by: Peter Hinwood
If Frankenweenie is the cutest undead Frankenstein-inspired monster we'll see, then Rocky of The Rocky Horror Picture Show is by far the most chiseled. The loosest of loose adaptations of Shelley's original science experiment, Rocky is the sex god creation of Dr. Frank N. Furter (played by Tim Curry in a legendary performance). At least here we have a real-life example of what most people might create if given the opportunity.
9. Roger Corman's Frankenstein Unbound
- Release Date: November 2, 1990
- Director: Roger Corman
- The monster played by: Nick Brimble
"The Pope of Pop Cinema," Roger Corman was invariably going to take a crack at one of the greatest horror figures and thus here we see Roger Corman's version of Shelley's monster. Combine some seriously talented actors in John Hurt and Raul Julia with Corman's low budget style and add a dash of time travel to the story and you have one of the oddest film adaptations of Frankenstein ever. I'll let the trailer below convince you further.
As Shelley herself would understand, we have only ourselves to blame for the monsters we've created from her inspiration. Her original work puts it best:
Here's hoping we can live with ourselves.
What's your favorite version of Shelley's monster?