Mary Shelley, daughter of two leading intellectuals and wife of a brilliant poet, was a teenager when she was challenged to write a ghost story and came up with one of the most enduring and often-filmed scary stories of all time, now considered the first true science fiction novel as well. She called it Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. And, as we all now know, it is the story of a scientist who tries to triumph over death by creating life. On screen, Frankenstein and his creation have co-starred with everyone from Abbott and Costello to Alvin the Chipmunk. The monster has been played by Boris Karloff, Robert DeNiro, Randy Quaid, David Warner, Tom Noonan, Peter Boyle, Michael Sarrazin, Lon Chaney, Jr., David Prowse (the actor who played Darth Vader) and John Cleese and inspired the character of Herman Munster, played by Fred Gwynne.
We Belong Dead: Frankenstein On Film is a good resource for the movie versions of Mary Shelley’s story. Some of the best Frankensteins include:
Frankenstein (1931) The James Whale-directed classic starring Boris Karloff is an unquestioned masterpiece of mood and filled with iconic moments.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Whale and Karloff returned with this sequel, which many consider even scarier. Elsa Lanchester plays both Mary Shelley and the title character. Whale’s skill at making the story not just horror but tragedy makes this a compelling film that transcends genre.
Gods and Monsters (1998) This is not the story of Frankenstein but the story of James Whale (brilliantly played by Ian McKellan), whose depiction of Shelley’s story would be as influential in the 20th century as her book was in the 19th. The re-creations of the scenes from Whale’s films are meticulous and illuminating.
Young Frankenstein (1974) This loving spoof of Shelley and Whales has a hilarious script by Mel Brooks (who directed) and Gene Wilder (who starred as Dr. Fronk-en-STEEN). As influenced by Whales as by Shelley, this wildly funny film used some of Whale’s original sets and props.
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) Brook and Wilder were not the first to see the comic possibilities in a monster film. Abbott and Costello run into a whole bunch of movie monsters with a lot of silly, Scooby-Doo-style scares.
And be sure to check out the Frankensteinia blog, which is a tribute to all things Frankenstein.