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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.

Kleve:
Who is he?

Frankenstein:
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!

 

First Impressions:
Discovering Frankenstein

August 1st, 2022

A recent episode of Prime Stage Mystery Theatre features responses to the question “Where did you first encounter Frankenstein?” The responses are varied, with listeners referencing Mel Brooks, Boris Karloff, and (appropriately) Mary Shelley. But a response closest to my own experience is from a Facebook friend who reports that she had been aware of Frankenstein long before finally seeing any of the movies or reading the book. That’s understandable, considering how the monster is part of pop culture in such a way that it’s hard to believe anyone actually makes its acquaintance for the first time in either Mary Shelley’s novel the Universal films.

In my case, growing up in Philadelphia in the 1950’s, the first sighting of the iconic monster came in the Warner Brothers cartoons that were the staple of children’s programming in the early days of television. One example is 1935’s “Hollywood Capers” [above], which features some of the early work of Chuck Jones. The story stars Beans the Cat who happens upon the Frankenstein monster lying on an operating slab in a Hollywood studio. Beans removed its shroud, then runs for his life. Mayhem ensues.

And then there’s “Porky’s Road Race” (1937), in which Porky Pig enters a race only to find himself competing against a ruthless driver named Borax Karloff. Working in his auto lab (at right) Borax creates a monstrous racer emblazed with lucky-number 13 and then proceeds to give Porky a real run for his money. The entire cartoon, in glorious black-and-white, is available on Vimeo.

I remember seeing both cartoons as a kid, watching them on a rabbit-eared RCA that was just a step up from radio (a point covered in the previous post “Primordial Score“).

In Danse Macabre, Stephen King talks about how old-time radio encouraged listeners to use their imagination to create mental images more frightening than any provided by visual media. Old-time television did much the same, presenting viewers with grainy, staticky, Rorschach-test visuals that required them to fill in the missing visual information on their own. I’m sure that’s part of the reason these cartoons made such an impression. They were partly of my own making.

One of my most vivid recollections is of the cartoon “Porky’s Movie Mystery” (1939), in which the Frankenstein monster is interrogated by a shadowy police officer.

“Come on now!” the cop says. “Start talking, small fry! Quit beating around the mulberry bush. Let’s have it or I’ll beat your ears out.” At which point the monster begins biting his nails in terror (left) to the clicking sound of a manual typewriter.

Classic stuff!

But maybe the most memorable monster sighting came in “Hollywood Steps Out” (1941). Directed by Tex Avery, this one features a bevy of caricatures of well-known movie stars. That is, they were well-known to Tex Avery. I had no idea who they were–with one exception. In the middle of the cartoon, when the Frankenstein monster dances the conga (below) I was back in familiar territory.

All these cartoons were made for a generation of moviegoers familiar with the Universal Frankenstein films. Starting with Frankenstein (1931) and ending with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), those moves were out of circulation for most of the 1950s, not showing up again until the end of the decade when Universal began licensing them for broadcast television.

I’m sure I caught up with Karloff’s portrayal sometime after that. Strangely, I don’t remember the first time I saw it.

Perhaps I was unimpressed. It wasn’t a cartoon.

This past weekend, I got the chance to talk about all these things and more when I joined podcast hosts Nicholas Schwartz and Brantley Palmer on their show Horror Drafts. The interview should air later this week, and I’ll be sure to post a link when it does.

In the meantime, starting today, I’ll be posting supplemental information on the many Frankenstein-related works Brantley, Nick, and I discussed on the show. That way, anyone interested in seeking out some of those titles can have access to links and photos like the ones above. In the meantime, here’s a link to all past Horror Drafts episodes. If you love the genre, you really need to give this podcast a listen.

Also in the days ahead, I hope to post recaps of the weekend’s Confluence panels The Pandemic’s Impact on Horror Fiction and Where To Next? Trends in Science Fiction.

So come back soon, and if you have any memories to share about where you first encountered Mary Shelley or her monster, please post a comment below or reach out via the social media buttons at the top of this page. Let’s keep the conversation going.