January 13, 2010

Frankenstein in 2009

Remember 2009? Let’s!

2009 marked the 70th Anniversary (on January 13!) of Son of Frankenstein (1939), and the 35th anniversary of the film spoof that closely referenced it, Young Frankenstein (1974). The live musical version of Young Frankenstein bookended the year. It closed in January after 14 tumultuous months on Broadway and reappeared as a touring show in the fall. It is currently booked into some 17 cities through September 2010.

Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl was the most creative and outrageous of the year’s Frankenstein films. I called it “a live action Itchy and Scratchy cartoon”. The bizarre trailer contains equally jarring blackface and arterial spray. Another alternative title was Matthew Saliba’s Frankenstein Unlimited, a collection of short films very loosely based on Frankenstein themes. It was released to DVD in September.

Bikini Frankenstein, starring Jayden Cole as a Bride called Eve, was an “erotic horror comedy” shot in ’09 for a January 2010 release.

For mainstream fare, Frankenhood was a comedy featuring king-sized athlete Bob Sapp as a king-size corpse reanimated and recruited as a street basketball player. House of The Wolfman was a fanfilm that channeled the classic Universal Monster Rallies, with Ron Chaney playing a lycanthropic scientist and Craig Dabbs as a nasty-tempered Frankenstein Monster.

Frankenstein films announced in 2009 included I, Frankenstein, a modern-day action/horror movie in development from writer/actor Kevin Grevioux. Dutch director Richard Raaphorst announced he was repurposing an abandoned WWII zombie film, Worst Case Scenario, as Army of Frankenstein. Here’s a good-looking trailer.

A proposed remake of Bride of Frankenstein, on and off the Universal schedule over the last decade was trotted out again, this time with writer-director Neil Burger attached and media hype attributing the title role to either Scarlett Johansson or Anne Hathaway. Meanwhile, Tim Burton is reportedly putting together a feature-length version of his wonderful short film Frankenweenie, and the unstoppable Guillermo del Toro, busy with the simultaneous shooting of two Hobbit films, has been downright eager to discuss his own planned version of Frankenstein, with Doug Jones locked in for The Monster’s part.

In books, Dead and Alive, the long-awaited third episode in Dean Koontz’ Frankenstein series arrived in July. A Monster’s Notes by poet Laurie Sheck, was described in The New Yorker as “an uncanny fable that portrays Frankenstein’s monster as an enigmatic but compassionate spirit”. Writer-artist Neil Numberman’s Do Not Build a Frankenstein was reviewed by the ALA Booklist as “a light, fun, and awfully cute intro to the famous horror icon”. You can preview the book here.

Books from the previous year released in North America in ’09 included The Original Frankenstein, a reconstruction of Mary Shelley’s original manuscript by Charles Robinson, and The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein: A Novel by Roger Akroyd, which conflates the life of Mary Shelley and her entourage with that of her fictional characters. Both titles were praised by critics.

In comics, R-13 from Blacklist studios was described by its writer, Thomas Hall, as “Frankenstein meeting Homer’s Odyssey”. The art is by Daniel Bradford. Over at IDW, John Byrne crafted a one-shot meeting between Joss Whedon’s Angel and the Frankenstein Monster, just in time for Halloween. There’s a five-page sample up on i09.

Theatrical adaptations of Frankenstein were, as usual, abundant. There seems to be a new version, pro or amateur, playing somewhere every week. I noted a few in passing, otherwise, it’s impossible to keep track.

In the news last year, Christopher Lee, whose career kicked off with his interpretation of The Monster in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) was knighted.

The year’s most intriguing Frankenstein story developed on The Classic Horror Message Board, where vintage horror movie experts and devoted fans explored the possibility that a brief bit of Bela Lugosi’s deleted dialog survives in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1942). The film (which I previously discussed here) was shot with Lugosi’s Frankenstein Monster spouting extensive dialog but, for reasons unclear — screenwriter Curt Siodmak claimed that Lugosi’s Hungarian accent sounded hilarious — The Monster was made mute again in post-production, his dialog either cut or erased from the soundtrack (Lugosi’s lips are seen to move in some remaining scenes).

The moment comes when The Monster leads Lon Chaney’s Larry Talbot to a hidden box said to contain the journal of Dr. Frankenstein. Many listeners hear Lugosi saying a line, albeit gnarled and buried under scraping noise and booming music. There’s debate over what is actually said — “It’s in here” or “Here it is” — or if anything is said at all. If you care to give it a try, the CHFB thread is a fun, if rambling read, and contains several soundclips isolating and amplifying the purported dialog. Here’s a YouTube clip of the whole scene, zoomed in on the characters, and here’s the “Eureka Moment” isolated, with sound enhanced. It’s your call.

Finally, this blog — if I may say so myself — contributed a few worthwhile Frankenstein-related events. Notably, screenwriter John Cox reported on his pilgrimage to the site where the infamous Little Maria drowning scene was shot, way back in 1931, for James Whale’s Frankenstein. John’s article, Return to Malibou Lake, complete with exclusive photographs, is a gem.

In November, I called on fellow bloggers to join me in celebrating the life and career of actor Boris Karloff. The result was, in a word, spectacular. An amazing 105 individual bloggers participated in the Boris Karloff Blogathon, creating a total of 292 posts. I don’t know, it could be some sort of record. What I’m sure of is that it was a rich, informative, entertaining and thoroughly overwhelming experience, and a powerful tribute to the abiding popularity of the great Karloff. Thanks again to all who participated. I’m very proud of our collective achievement.

Now, a new year is underway. I’m very excited about some of the posts I have lined up for the next few weeks and, come March, we’ll be celebrating the centennial of the first Frankenstein film.

2010 is looking good!


Holger Haase said...

Wow, Frankenstein sure is alive and well. Wasn't aware how much new Frankenstein related stuff got published in 2009 alone.

Pierre Fournier said...

Holger: My overview of '09 was not meant to be exhaustive. There are Frankenstein-related books and comics in other languages, there are Frankenstein references in comics and TV shows and, of course, there are numerous reprints of the Mary Shelley novels with new introductions. I'll get around to some of these eventually.

So much Frankenstein, so little time!

micha michelle said...

nice wrap up for the year in frankenstein. i look forward to frankensteinia 2010. thanks for all your hard work + dedication pierre.

rob! said...

Rarr! Blog good!