“I, Frankenstein” is the latest among a seemingly endless number of movies about Mary Shelley's monster and/or his creator (At least 70 films since 1910's “Frankenstein,” by most counts!).
Having seen the new film, I'm prepared to be a bit more generous than most of the more sophisticated critics.
Although it was somewhat dopey and formulaic, I found it entertaining in a big dumb fun sort of a way. I imagine that taking on this (extremely) active role was Aaron Eckhart's way of making up for the amount of time he spent chained to a railing as the President of the United States in last year's potboiler “Olympus Has Fallen.” Bill Nighy is almost always a treat, as is the lovely Yvonne Strahovsky (“Chuck,” “Dexter”).
Before I launch into my list of notable “Old Bolt-Neck” movies, I would just like to mention that my all-time favorite “Frankenstein” film title has to be “Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter” (1966). The infamous outlaw actually confronted Frankenstein's granddaughter in the movie, but really, who cares? “Frankenstein's Granddaughter” just doesn't have the same ring to it.
8. “Van Helsing” (2004)
Roundly panned by critics, this movie nevertheless grossed more than $300 million worldwide, making it one of the year's most popular films. The titular vampire-hunter is embroiled in a ridiculously convoluted plot to kill Count Dracula before he can use Frankenstein's monster to bring his vampire offspring to life. Three of the four basic monster groups are covered, as there are werewolves in the movie, too. (Don't recall any mummies, though!) Squarely falls into the “big dumb fun” category with “I, Frankenstein.” But with Hugh Jackman as a swashbuckling Van Helsing and Kate Beckinsale as the female lead, Anna Valerious -- and also a fair amount of snappy dialogue in the script -- it's considerably more entertaining.
7. “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948)
If you're a comedy fan with an appreciation of the stylings of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, or if you just can't pass up an opportunity to see Universal's “big three” movie monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein's monster and the Wolf Man) in action, there's something here for you.
The comedy duo bumbles into a plot hatched by Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) to relocate himself and Frankenstein to the U.S., and to replace the monster's brain with one that will make him more cooperative. The brain in question, of course, belongs to a baggage-handler named Wilbur, played by Costello. Hilarity, as they say, ensues.
Lon Chaney, Jr. reprises his role as the Wolf Man, and Glenn Strange makes his third film appearance as the monster. The film has been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry, due to its “cultural, historical or aesthetic significance.”
6. “Andy Warhol's (Flesh for) Frankenstein” (1973)
This Italian-French production takes basic elements of Mary Shelley's original story and sends them up with generous helpings of gore and explicit sexuality. New York Time's critic Nora Sayre noted at the time that “…despite a few amusing moments, it fails as a spoof, and the result is only a coy binge in degradation.” I'm not sure Ms. Sayre wasn't being a bit kind there, but the movie does enjoy a 91 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so someone must like it.
5. “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935)
Sequel to 1931's classic “Frankenstein” once again stars Boris Karloff as the monster. Yes, the film that gave to the world that crazy beehive hairdo with the white lightning-bolt streaks!
Almost the entire cast from the original film and its director, James Whale, returned to tell the story of the crazy doctor's efforts to create a mate for his monster. Elsa Lanchester played the title role, as well as that of “Frankenstein” author Mary Shelley during the opening moments of the movie, setting up the tale of the sequel. The film was a hit and generally well-reviewed in its day. It's come to be hailed as a sequel that improved upon its predecessor. Among other honors, it has been rated among Time Magazine's “All-Time 100 Movies.”
4. “Mary Shelley's Frankenstein” (1994)
Considered by many to be the most faithful to Shelley's original story. This film involved an incredible pool of talent, including Kenneth Branagh, who both directed the movie and played Dr. Victor Frankenstein, and Robert DeNiro, who portrayed “The Creation.” The cast included Helena Bonham Carter, as Victor's wife, as well as Tom Hulce, Aidan Quinn and John Cleese, among others.
Frank Darabont ("The Walking Dead") co-wrote the screenplay, and Francis Ford Coppola produced. The movie received mixed-to-poor reviews but was moderately successful, grossing more than $112 million worldwide against a $45 million production budget. Much of the negative criticism seemed to suggest that, as a director, Branagh had been overly ambitious, attempting to make too much happen onscreen in too little time.
3. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975)
Perhaps the most amazing send-up of horror movies ever made, this musical comedy has the distinction of having the longest-running theatrical release in film history. It remains in limited release (primarily at midnight showings) to this day.
“Rocky Horror” is a perfect storm of rock and roll, loony riffs on horror and sci-fi movie clichťs, raw, (predominantly young) talent and tongue-in-cheek sexual fetishism. It features a blistering comedic and musical performance by Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter, a role he first performed in the original stage version. Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon play hero and heroine Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, who stumble upon and are unwittingly enmeshed in Dr. Furter's plot to create life in the form of a hunky boyfriend for himself.
If you are between the ages of say, 60 and 25, and you haven't seen this movie, I would imagine you probably don't watch many movies. Presuming that you have seen it, perhaps it's time to make some toast and “Do The Time Warp Again!”
2. “Young Frankenstein” (1974)
This Mel Brooks classic gets the nod over “Rocky Horror” because: A. It is equally funny in its own way, and B. It is so faithful to the 1931 movie and such a kind-hearted parody that it could almost be considered a tribute.
Co-written by Brooks and star Gene Wilder, the film tells the tale of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, a descendant of the mad scientist from the original story, who is so ashamed of his legacy that he insists his name be pronounced “Fronk-en-steen.” Peter Boyle is terrific as the Monster, and Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman and Madeline Khan are each at their comic best. Marty Feldman rounds out the cast as the hunchbacked servant Igor, whose hump often changes sides throughout the film.
Filmed in black and white, with lab props from the 1931 film, “Young Frankenstein” faithfully recreates the atmosphere of the movie it lampoons to wonderful effect. A classic comedy, it appears on numerous “best of” lists and ranks No. 13 among the American Film Institute's “100 Funniest American Movies.”
1. “Frankenstein” (1931)
Although preceded by a couple of silent movie adaptations (1910's “Frankenstein” was 16-minutes-long!), Universal's 1931 film would generally be considered the “original.”
It was in this film that the classic, flat-headed, hulking monster (Boris Karloff) first appeared. It is the film in which the immortal, hysterical line “It's alive! It's ALIVE!” was first uttered onscreen. For many of us, having seen it first as young children, perhaps on a late-night TV broadcast, this was the prototypical horror movie. A misbegotten creature, alternately hounded and shunned, lacking all but the most basic sense of comprehension, ultimately turns on his tormentors, only to be destroyed.
Karloff's performance is infused with equal measures of menace and humanity, so that however frightening he might be, it is always clear the monster is a pitiful creature, indeed. A true classic and a masterpiece.
As I mentioned at the outset, there are at least 70 Frankenstein films, and if one factored in some of the thinly- (or thickly-) veiled reworkings of the classic story, the number might make it into four-digit territory. These are the eight I find most notable, but feel free to add your favorites in the comments.