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Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Look Back at Frankenstein

Before delving into the sci-fi films of the 70s, it seemed like a good idea to backtrack a bit to set the stage. The first sci-fi film of 1970 was Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. It is actually one of the last of a long series of films which make up a sort of Frankenstein franchise. To help give this first film of 1970 some context, it seemed prudent to go back and have a FrankeFEST to run through the prior installments. Frankenstein is often associated with the horror genre. Certainly some of its permutations wallowed in the horror/gore aspect. Yet, at its roots, Frankenstein is actually a sci-fi tale.

Mary Shelley's Novel
Of course, it all started with Shelley's 1818 novel, "Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus". She penned one of the first modern science fiction novels. Modern, in that it was "science" (medical) which created the situation that the plot plays out. It wasn't magic, or fantasy, or all-a-dream, etc. The original story did not dwell on the science as much as later readers/viewers tended to crave. Her scenario just presumed such things were possible and moved on. The crux of the story was more about creation and obligation, and a metaphor for the costs of meddling outside one's realm. In this, her story is a more earthly (science-bound) recasting of the old Faust legend. Certainly the trope of the misguided (mad?) scientist being tormented by his own creation, would get played out in scores of other sci-fi stories for decades -- even if they had little resemblance to the Frankenstein story.

First FrankenFilm
FrankenFEST will start with the 1910 Edison silent film as a benchmark. It predates the famous Universal version by 20 years. Edison's version isn't as well remembered. Yet, is a useful bridge between the novel and Universal's iconic series. Most of the later iterations would maintain at least a nominal tie to sci-fi via the "mad scientist" trope.

Universal Saga
Universal Studios created an enduring legacy with its Frankenstein quadrilogy. Starting in 1931 was the primary tale and a monster that almost everyone recognizes. In 1935, they released Bride of Frankenstein, picking up the story from where the first film left off. In 1938, they released Son of Frankenstein. Not son of the monster, but son of the original Dr. Frankenstein. 1942 saw Ghost of Frankenstein pick up the story from where "Son of…" left off.

Cameo Monster
Three later Universal films would feature Frankenstein's monster (often called Frankenstein, as if it were his name), but had little or nothing to do with the saga story line of the quadrilogy. In 1943, Universal released Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman and in 1944 House of Frankenstein -- a sort of monsters All Star Game. 1948 had the comedy farce, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The title pretty much says it all.

Hammer Carries The Torch
Britain's Hammer Studios would pick up where Universal left off. They kicked off their half of the franchise with The Curse of Frankenstein and would go on to produce seven other Frankenfilms, the next to last one being 1970's Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed that opens up the sci-fi of the 70s.

A Note About Faux Franks
Several films sought to capitalize on the ticket-selling power of the name "Frankenstein", though their stories had nothing to do with Victor, Henry, any of their descendants or their creations. A couple of examples include, Toho's 1965 Frankenstein Conquers the World which has the thinnest of claims to the franchase, but is more honestly just another kaiju (giant rubber-suit monster) film. Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (also 1965) had nothing to do with the franchise. The main character is a largish android who becomes disfigured (hence the franken-reference) and then does battle with a space monster.

 With all that said as introduction, the next post will start off FrankenFEST with Edison's 1910 silent film rendition. Enjoy!


hurricane51 said...

Apropos of your Frankenstein theme, I found this clip that will be familiar to all those oldsters (like me) that remember the drive-ins from the 50s and 60s. I believe this footage was used at every drive-in theater in my state (Ohio) and as far as I know in the U.S. As I recall, the color was just as washed out then.

But there is a preview for Frankenstein vs. The Space Monster in there. And I'm pretty sure this is public domain -- I have a hard time believing anyone EVER copyrighted it.


Nightowl said...

Thanks for the link, Hurricane. Fun bit of nostalgia. I recall, fondly, those snack bar ads before the drive-in movies. I don't recall those ads exactly, from my drive-in days in the early and later 60s in Kansas, but they were quite similar in style.

The trailer for Frankenstein vs. The Space Monster, was fun too. Almost told you the whole movie -- that's how light on content that movie was. :-)