December 31, 2008

Frankenstein in 2008: A Year End Review

A ticket to see Frankenstein was an important clue to the origins of Hancock, the obstreperous superhero played by Will Smith, just one of many Frankenstein connections in movies released this year. The problem with the prop ticket from the movie is the date: For starters, June 21, 1931 was a Sunday and, anyway, Frankenstein began shooting on August 24.

The X-Files: I Want To Believe featured cloning, body parts, two-headed transplants and a Russian scientist referred to as Dr. Frankenstein. Igor was an animated feature about a mad scientist’s hunchbacked assistant who wants to build his own monster. As the year came to a close, an independent feature, Frankenstein Rising, had yet to find a distributor.

Guillermo del Toro was the focus of once and future Frankensteins. In Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, scenes from the classic Bride of Frankenstein appeared on TV screens in our hero’s pad as counterpoint to his amorous relations. Director Del Toro was quoted extensively in the press about his plans to shoot a new Frankenstein, even identifying Doug Jones as his choice to play The Monster. As Del Toro will be busy for a while making The Hobbit for producer Peter Jackson, his Frankenstein is tentatively listed on the IMDB as a project for 2012.

In France, the 1931 Frankenstein and the 1935 Bride of Frankenstein were re-released to theaters and then on to DVD. The re-issue posters were superb. The same two classics were conflated for what is perhaps the most unusual Frankenstein film of 2008, The Spawn of Frankenstein, a fanedit by “Jorge”. Scenes were trimmed and rearranged, comedy relief and arguably superfluous material was jettisoned, a musical score and tinting added. The whole exercise was meant to make the story scarier and The Monster appear “bad to the bone”. The (unauthorized) remix can be found online on torrent sites.

In England, the Royal Mail honored Hammer Films with a set of stamps that included one for The Curse of Frankenstein of 1956.

On stage, Frankenstein continues to be endlessly reprised, rethought and refashioned in some way, whether straight drama, experimental, comedic or musical. Halloween alone sparks countless amateur productions. Of note: First introduced in 2007, an acclaimed, multiple award-winning Frankenstein by Edmonton’s Catalyst Theater toured in 2008 and will continue into the new year. A dramatic musical called Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein, by Shirley R. Barasch, premiered in Pittsburgh.

Out of New York, a cast recording of the serious-minded Frankenstein, A New Musical was released in September. The play had earlier been steamrollered by the megabudget musical retooling of Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein which, in turn, will close on January 4, a victim of hubris, bad marketing and ever diminishing returns as the economic downturn bites Broadway. It remains to be seen if a proposed touring company gets off the ground.

In books, a number of important titles appeared. Using Mary Shelley’s actual manuscript, Charles E. Robinson, a professor of English at Delaware University and an expert on the Shelleys, edited out some 5,000 notes and corrections in Percy Shelley’s hand resulting in The Original Frankenstein, Mary’s story in first draft, as it were.

The novel as illustrated by Bernie Wrightson, long out of print, was given a luxurious 25th Anniversary reissue by Dark Horse.

For young readers, “Doctor” Frankenstein himself guided us through a wonderful, heavily illustrated anatomy book called Frankenstein’s Human Body Book.

Frankenstein’s role in American culture, as a metaphor, and its racial resonance in the United States was the subject of Black Frankenstein: The Making of an American Metaphor by Elizabeth Young.

In comics, the Monster finally met the monster superhero he inspired, The Hulk, in a Halloween issue published by Marvel Comics. Writer Warren Ellis turned the story inside out, as expected, in a one-shot comic called Frankenstein’s Womb. Skot Olsen illustrated an adaptation of the novel by Rod Lott for Fantasy Classics, Volume 15. Marion Mousse’s excellent comics adaptation, published as three books in France, was translated and collected as one long graphic novel by Classics Illustrated.

The Hammer film magazine, Little Shop of Horrors, devoted it’s 21st issue to Hammer’s Curse of Frankenstein, and Video Watchdog #142 carried never-before-seen color photographs from the set of Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing, the legendary 1962 episode of TV’s Route 66 where Boris Karloff dressed as the Frankenstein Monster for the last time.

As usual, variations on The Monster, often with garish green skin and oversized neck bolts, popped up on toy shelves in plush and plastic. For serious collectors, Moebius Models released a perfect copy of the famous Gigantic Frankenstein model kit. Amok Time released a 12-inch figure of The Monster from I Was a Teenage Frankenstein.

Sadly, we must mark the passing in 2008 of Stan Winston, the special effects genius who, among an astounding list of credits, perfected The Monster’s makeup for Tom Noonan in The Monster Squad (1987). Also lost to us was the wonderful Hazel Court, horror film royalty and Elizabeth to Peter Cushing’s Victor in The Curse of Frankenstein (1956). And Forrest J Ackerman died on January 4. In February, we had celebrated the 50th anniversary of FJA’s Famous Monsters of Filmland.

Right here on Frankensteinia: The Frankenstein Blog, a little detective work revealed a fun secret from the cover painting of Marvel’s Monsters of the Movies issue number 2. We also tracked down a very rare graphic adaptation of Universal’s Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman (1942) made in Spain in 1946.

Some of our most popular posts, based on hits and linkage, included the one about the Frankenstein View-Master reels, and guest blogger Geof Smith’s reminiscence of Nelson Bridwell’s 1970 children’s book How To Care For Your Monster. Also popular was the Alex Velazquez illustration of Frankenstein contemplating liposuction, and posts about The Munsters, namely a look at the ‘lost” Munsters color pilot. A cover of Monster World #2 featuring The Munsters and their Munster Koach was widely reblogged, as well.

Hitwise, by far the most popular post ever on Frankensteinia was The Bride Unwrapped featuring the lovely retro (and NSFW) photography of Aleksey Galushkov. The post was referenced on io9, Nerdcore, the AMC blog and numerous other high-profile sites. Sex sells, who knew?

A point of pride: This blog was singled out by Intute, a consortium of UK Universities, as “a useful research aid for those seeking to survey the uses to which the Frankenstein monster is still being put in popular culture, and the contemporary neo-gothic / neo-Victorian imagination in general.

And finally, Frankensteinia turned one year old in August, and we celebrated by launching a sister site, the picture blog called MONSTER CRAZY!

Onwards to 2009.

The preceding was my personal overview of the 190th year in the ongoing career of Frankenstein. It was not meant to be exhaustive. If there is any Frankenstein reference from 2008 that you think should be mentioned, please post a comment and share it with us.

Have a great New Year!


mordicai said...

I came for the Bride Unwrapped but stayed for the rest!


Happy New Year!
stay true to what you do~

Michael May said...

Did FRANKENSTEIN'S WOMB come out already? I missed it!

Thanks for such a cool, informative blog. Looking forward to more in 2009.

rob! said...

Sex sells

What?!? I am shocked--shocked!--to learn that there is gambling going on in this establishment!

The Vicar of VHS said...

Congratulations on the well-deserved recognition for all your amazing work, Pierre! I look forward to enjoying many more fascinating and informative posts in 2009. Hopefully with an even higher percentage of posts about naked ladies. ;)

Your winnings, sir!