You are currently browsing the archives for the “Horror Drafts” tag.

One Night in Geneva:
The Birth of a Prosperous Progeny

August 30th, 2022

In 1831, her first novel having achieved pop-culture status thanks to a string of adaptations in England, Europe, and America (see last week’s post), Mary Shelley introduced the second edition of Frankenstein by writing: “Once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper.”

Little could she have foreseen just how prosperous it would become, going forth to spawn countless stage, screen, and print adaptations.

All this month, and concluding with this special installment in honor of Mary Shelley’s 225th birthday, I have been posting about some of the Frankenstein adaptations discussed on the August 2 installment of the podcast Horror Drafts.

So, to celebrate the mother of that prosperous progeny, I’d like to recommend a few films set entirely or in part during that fateful night when Lord Byron told his guests: “We will each write a ghost story.”

First up is the prologue to Bride of Frankenstein (1935), directed by James Whale and starring Elsa Lanchester as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Gavin Gordon as Lord Byron, and Douglas Walton as Percy Bysshe Shelley. Heavily romanticized, the prologue shows Mary doing needlepoint as Percy writes and Lord Byron gazes out a window at a powerful thunderstorm. “I should like to think that an irate Jehovah was pointing those arrows of lightning directly at my head,” he announces, then turns to prod Mary into telling them a tale suitable for such a night.

That little four-minute vignette (which you can view in its entirety here) is only one of over a half dozen cinematic dramatizations of that fateful night in Geneva.

In the 1980s, no fewer than three versions appeared, the first being Gothic (1986), directed by the always fascinating Ken Russell and starring Natasha Richardson as Mary, Julian Sands as Percy, Gabriel Byrne as Byron, and Myriam Cyr as Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont. Written by Stephen Volk, this depiction of that dark and stormy night is the flip side of Whale’s romanticized version.

You can see it for yourself on Tubi or on Amazon’s BFI player.

Just two years after the release of Gothic, two more Geneva films appeared within months of each other.

The first, Rowing with the Wind, appeared in October 1988. Filmed in Spain under the title Remando al Viento, it is directed by Gonzalo Suárez and stars Hugh Grant as Byron, Lizzy McInnerny as Mary, Valentine Pelka as Percy, and Elizabeth Hurley as Claire Clairmont. It is a beautiful yet uneven film, with a haunting score and a performance by Hugh Grant that actually seems to work at times.

Another bit of odd casting occurs in Ivan Passer’s Haunted Summer, which features a supporting performance by Alex Winter (Bill of the Bill and Ted movies) as Dr. John Polidori.  Other cast members include Eric Stoltz as Percy, Philip Anglim as Byron, Laura Dern as Claire, and Alice Krige in a strong performance as Mary. Although released in December 1988, the adaptation had been in development for years, with John Huston originally attached to direct. Like Rowing with the Wind, it is a frustratingly uneven film.

Rowing with the Wind is available on Blu-Ray; Haunted Summer, on DVD and (for the true 80’s experience) on VHS tape. As far as I know, neither is available to stream.

Perhaps the most authentic entry into this subgenre of Frankenstein films is the AMC biopic Mary Shelley (2017). Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour and featuring Elle Fanning in the title role (pictured at the top of this post), it provides a thoroughly watchable introduction to the author’s life, opening shortly before she meets Percy and continuing through that faithful night in Geneva.

And for a sci-fi spin on Mary and her monster, you’ll want to check out Season 12, Episode 8 of the long-running Doctor Who series. Titled The Haunting of Villa Diodati (2020) it is directed by Emma Sullivan, written by Maxine Alderton, and stars Jodi Whittaker as the 13th incarnation of the titular time traveler. This one depicts Mary (played by Lili Miller) being inspired by a confrontation with a time-traveling cyborg. Stream it on HBO.

For more about these and other Frankenstein-related films, plays, comics, and cartoons be sure to check out the August installment of the Horror Drafts podcast. In addition, get ready for this November when Prime Stage Theatre will premiere my own adaptation of Frankenstein, presented live at The New Hazlett Theatre and via VOD. More details coming soon.

No doubt about it. Shelley’s progeny continues to prosper.

T. P. Cooke’s Demon:
The First Pop-Culture “Frankenstein”

August 26th, 2022

An explosion. Fire and smoke. Laboratory doors shatter. The Demon appears in a blast of red flame!

That’s how the Frankenstein monster made its entrance in the first dramatic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel.

Loosely adapted by Richard Brinsley Peake and starring actor T. P. Cooke as the monster (referred to as “The Demon” in the stage notes), Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein (1823) became an instant sensation that transformed Shelley’s book (which until then had only been available in a printing of 500 copies) into a cultural phenomenon.

Mary Shelley was in Europe when the play opened at the London Opera House. Widowed and struggling financially, she was on her way back to England with her young son when she received word about the premiere. It was news to her. Back then, print copyrights did not extend to stage adaptations, and the play had been written and staged without her approval. Nevertheless, although she never received a cent from its initial run (nor from any of the numerous revivals and adaptations that followed), she still benefitted from its success. “Lo and behold!” she wrote, reflecting upon her sudden notoriety. “I was famous!”

Attending a performance of Presumption that summer, she reported being “much amused” by Cooke’s portrayal of the creature, as “it appeared to excite a breathless eagerness in the audience.” However, she went on to lament that the adaptation “was not well managed.”

That criticism notwithstanding, Shelley was no doubt pleased that the play’s success led to a second printing of her novel, this time with a larger press run and her name on the title page. (The first printing, released five years earlier, had been published anonymously).

Indeed, it’s possible that Presumption has more to do with Shelley’s notoriety than the novel itself.

Consider, not only did the play bring about a second printing of the book, but it also introduced story elements that went on to become part of the Frankenstein universe. For example, it is the play that gives us lab assistant Fritz (later played by Dwight Frye in James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) and the image of the monster buried in snow and ice (where it would be discovered by Larry Talbot in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943).

But the one place where Presumption remains relatively true to Shelley’s book is in the physical appearance of the creature. Rather than a patchwork of dead bodies (see “The Grave Misconception”), Cooke’s monster is an organic whole. Displaying neither stitches, bolts, nor scars—it is apparently the product of organic chemistry. Moreover, Cooke’s make-up recalls the novel’s description of the monster’s long black hair, “shriveled complexion, and straight black lips.”

By contrast, although the creature’s skin is yellow in the novel, Cooke’s performance employed a shade of bluish green that made quite an impression on 19th-century audiences. That was particularly true in Paris, where fashion designers cashed in on the play’s popularity by marketing gloves and dresses in a color known alternately as “monster bleu” and “vert de monster.”

In all, it’s difficult to overestimate the play’s influence on the Frankenstein legacy. Indeed, according to the blog Frankensteinia:

Within a month of Presumption’s release, copycat productions “were hitting London stages [… and], by year’s end, five different versions–including burlesque parodies–had been fielded. Over the next three years, no less than fourteen versions were staged in England, France and America.

Not surprisingly, when film emerged to compete with live theatre, the Frankenstein monster easily made the jump from stage to screen.

In 1910, the Edison Company produced the first film adaptation of Frankenstein, featuring Charles Ogle as a monster that has more in common with Cooke’s interpretation than the patch-work design that would appear in the Universal movies two decades later.

You can learn more about T. P. Cooke and the ways that Presumption made Frankenstein a pop-cultural phenomenon by reading Miranda Seymour’s biography Mary Shelley and the aforementioned blog Frankensteinia, where you’ll find a number of well-researched posts on T.P. Cooke and Presumption. And should you want to experience the play itself, you’ll find the text widely available online. (You might even find one or two amateur productions on YouTube.)

This post is part of a series offering closer looks at some of the Frankenstein adaptations discussed in this month’s episode of the podcast Horror Drafts. Previous installments deal with Warner Brothers Cartoons, Hammer Films, Creepy Magazine, and a strangely confounding arthouse film from Spain titled The Spirit of the Beehive.

The images of T. P. Cooke featured in this post are from his performance in Le Monster et le Magicien (1826), the French adaptation in which the actor reprised his role in Presumption. You can find a picture of his Presumption performance in the earlier post “The Grave Misconception.

Finally, if you haven’t already done so, you might enjoy listening to Prime Stage Mystery Theatre’s “A Trap Full of Monsters,” a who-done-it that takes place during a regional theatre’s rehearsal of Presumption. The five-part mystery describes the operation of a trap door similar to one T. P. Cooke employed in some of his 19th-century performances.

Click the player below to hear the first installment. I’ll meet you there.

A Monster of a Mix Up:
The Strange Case of Creepy No. 10

August 10th, 2022

Today we continue unpacking some of the titles mentioned during my conversation with Brentley Palmer and Nicholas Schwartz in the Frankenstein installment of their Horror Drafts podcast. if you haven’t listened to that discussion, you can find it here.

As for the previous blog posts in this series, you can find them here and here

“Monster” isn’t your typical Frankenstein story.

Written by Archie Goodwin and featuring pen-and-ink artwork by Rocco Mastroserio, the tale first appeared in Creepy Magazine, a large format, black-and-white horror comic published by Warren Publishing, the same people who brought us the invaluable Famous Monsters of Filmland.

Fashioned after EC’s Tales from the Crypt, it featured Uncle Creepy, a skeletal old geezer who introduced and concluded each story with an occasional Hee Hee Hee! and plenty of groanworthy puns.

Here’s Uncle Creepy’s introduction to the Frankenstein-inspired “Monster”:


What makes the story atypical? For starters, it’s narrated in the second person, present tense: “You are sick of the darkness, tired of the moss and slime-coated walls…. You can take no more of the dark murky water and musty chill…. You must move, act….”

It also begins in the middle of the story, opening with a hulking form lumbering through a dark sewer and stepping into the light of a manhole. Then, gripping a metal ladder, it climbs to emerge in the center of a village street.

As it climbs, we see that its face is crosshatched with surgical scars, and if that weren’t enough to indicate we are in the Frankenstein universe, in the next panel (right) we see the monster stomping down a misty street, arms outstretched in the classic Frankenstein walk.

Soon it arrives at a cemetery where it finds a man and a woman standing beside a fresh grave. They are talking about a monster and how the men of the village are even now attempting to track it down. And here we encounter another one of the story’s atypical qualities in the form of a nonlinear timeline that sifts to the story’s beginning.

It’s an ambitious format for such a short piece, and yet it goes through no fewer than three timeline changes before arriving at its surprising conclusion. I won’t reveal that ending here. It’s too good to give away. Instead, I encourage you to seek it out at Amazon’s ComiXology (where you can read it for free in Creepy Archives Volume 2) or by tracking down a copy of the August 1966 issue of Creepy Magazine, Number 10.

However, should you choose to read that original edition, you will encounter an additional surprise in the form of a jarring jump cut between pages five and six–one that takes you from the steps of a laboratory to the middle of a swamp. It’s an abrupt transition, but not as jarring as it might be in a story with a more conventional timeline. And so, as a kid reading it in 1966, I took it in stride and stayed with it to what I thought was the end.

I remember being impressed with the surprising conclusion. And although the story seemed a bit shorter than the usual Creepy installment, I knew I had reached the end because there, at the bottom of the page, was good old Uncle Creepy:

So, Imagine my surprise when I turned the page to find not Uncle Creepy’s “next offering” but a continuation of “Monster.” The story wasn’t over because a printing error had placed the ending in the middle, thus making Creepy’s foray into nonlinear storytelling a full-on avant-garde experience. Yes, “How ’bout that, Kiddies” indeed!

If you’d like to hear more about “Monster” and the many Frankenstein adaptations covered in my free-ranging conversation with Brantley Palmer and Nicholas Schwartz, you can do so by visiting the Horror Drafts podcast page, where you’ll also find a complete directory of past episodes. They’re all strongly recommended.

In our Frankenstein episode–along with a discussion of movie, comic, and television adaptations–you’ll also learn a bit about the upcoming production of Frankenstein  scheduled to kick off Prime Stage Theatre’s 26th Season in November. It looks like they have an exciting lineup of shows.

Click the player below to find out more.

Not Your Universal Monster:
The Hammer Frankenstein Series

August 4th, 2022

It’s alive! Out of the lab and in your earbuds, the latest episode of the Horror Drafts podcast featuring a two-hour discussion of all things Frankenstein is available now. Here’s the description from the podcast site:

This week we are joined by author, screenwriter, playwright, podcaster, and all-around Frankenstein expert Lawrence C. Connolly to draft Frankenstein adaptations!  Lawrence also tells us about his experience working on Nightmare Cinema and his own upcoming Frankenstein adaptation [coming this fall from Prime Stage Theatre]. This draft has it all from films to plays to comics and stage adaptations, we hope you enjoy!

And so … as promised in my previous post, I’d like to offer some images, links, and supplementary information for anyone interested in additional information on the Frankenstein adaptations mentioned in the free-ranging discussion with podcast hosts Nicholas Schwartz and Brantley Palmer.

In “Discovering Frankenstein,” I talked about the Warner Brothers cartoons that introduced me to the Frankenstein monster. Thanks to them, I was familiar with the iconic Universal design before I saw my first Frankenstein movie. Unfortunately, that movie was Hammer’s The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), and the monster looked nothing like the one I saw in the cartoons.

First revealed suspended in a glass vivarium (right), the creature in Revenge is understated in ways that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate until years later. A brief exchange between Dr. Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) and fellow physician Hans Kleve (Francis Matthews) says it all.

Who is he?

Nobody. He isn’t born yet, but this time it is perfect. Except for a few scars, he’s perfect!

Well, I didn’t think so, though today I appreciate screenwriter Jimmy Sangster’s attempt to echo the words of Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein when he says that the creature’s “limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!”

Today, I like the Hammer films much more than I did then, although as a kid I did get a kick out of a pair of disembodied eyes that Peter Cushing’s Frankenstein keeps in a fluid-filled vivarium (below). With their optic nerves swaying behind them like tails on a pair of goldfish, the eyes are one of the few things I remember from that initial viewing.

Two other Hammer installments mentioned in the podcast are Nick’s selection The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and my pick Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969). The latter benefits from a strong performance by Freddy Jones, who plays a man whose brain has been transplanted into a stranger’s body.

But movies and cartoons weren’t my only introductions to the various manifestations of Frankenstein and his creation.

In my next post, we’ll consider Archie Goodwin’s “The Monster,” which appeared in Creepy Magazine in 1966. It impressed me then, and it’s still a personal favorite.

You can watch The Revenge of Frankenstein for free at the Internet Archive and the Roku Channel. You can also purchase a digital or Blu-ray copy at Amazon. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed has recently been released on Blu-ray from Warner Home Video. It’s also available from Amazon. You can hear more about them and tons of other Frankenstein stuff by clicking the Horror Drafts player below.

I’ll meet you there!