Last night, I watched Frankenstein 1970, which I had recorded off of Turner Classic Movies. As I had pretty much expected, this was an utterly routine 1950s horror movie with the standard mad scientist, scream queen and semi-scary monster. It opens with the scream queen acting in a movie. She is pursued by a lumbering creature. She runs, it lumbers, yet somehow it gets closer and closer. Similarly, the actual monster of the movie lumbers about, but no one can outrun it. Boris Karloff, slumming as he often would in his later movies, is the best in a sorry bunch of actors, and even he is just phoning it in. As for why this 1958 movie is dated 1970, who knows? There is nothing futuristic about it, outside the standard laboratory equipment. Quality 2/10, Fun 3/10.
Watching this movie, however, reminded me of just how many Frankenstein movies there are, many of which are part of my DVD collection. How many of these movies are there?
There are eight that fit into this category. The original, Frankenstein, is the classic introducing Boris Karloff as the monster in its most iconic form. With James Whale directing, this is a nicely creepy gem. Just as good (maybe even better) is Bride of Frankenstein, which not only brings back Karloff and Whale, but adds the delightfully villainous Dr. Pretorius, played by Ernest Thesiger. Add to that is Elsa Lancaster as the intended Bride. She’s on screen for no more than 5 minutes, yet she is utterly unforgettable. Has anyone created such an immortal role with less screen time?
After these two movies were a pair featuring the descendants of the title character (who, some may need reminding, is the scientist, not the monster). Son of Frankenstein stars Basil Rathbone and for his final role as the monster, Karloff. This is a lesser movie, done in by its lengthiness (when most of these movies are around 70 minutes, this is nearly half an hour longer), though it is buoyed by Bela Lugosi in one of his more entertaining roles as the evil Ygor (this would be the first “Igor” for these films). Lugosi was back in Ghost of Frankenstein, once again as Ygor. Lon Chaney would be the monster in this one.
Following this film is Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, perhaps the first “monster mash” with Lugosi as the monster (at long last…he’d turned down the role in the original). There are then more monster mashes: House of Frankenstein (adding Dracula to the mix), House of Dracula (also with all three) and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (all three monsters, in a comic turn). Many years later, Mel Brooks would have his own follow-up, the wonderful Young Frankenstein. There’s not a true dud in the bunch.
With Hammer’s version of the Frankenstein movies, there was a big difference from the Universal Films. The latter focused on the monster, while the former focused on the scientist. Curse of Frankenstein has Peter Cushing as the not-so-nice title character and Christopher Lee as the monster. This movie would establish Hammer as the house of horror for the next decade with its brilliant colors, greater sensationalism (both with gore and more provocatively dressed women) and fine stable of actors, writers and directors.
Though Cushing would be in most of the Hammer Frankenstein movies, his character would swing from evil to benevolent from film to film, though he’d always be more than a little arrogant. In Curse, he’s a bad guy. In the sequel, The Revenge of Frankenstein, he’s actually pretty decent (after a killing at the beginning of the movie). He’s also not too bad in Evil of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Created Woman or Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (which would also star David Prowse, years before the two would get together for Star Wars). On the other hand, he’s at his most reprehensible in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. These films have Cushing doing more than just created monsters: he’s involved with brain transplants and soul transference as well.
There is also another Hammer Frankenstein movie that does not have Cushing and which I haven’t seen: The Horror of Frankenstein, with Ralph Bates as the mad doctor. The Hammer total: seven.
There are plenty of other Frankenstein movies. Some intend Frankenstein to refer to the monster, some to the scientist. Most of them are pretty trashy but also pretty fun.
In Frankenstein’s Daughter, a male descendant of the scientist creates a vicious female monster. This shouldn’t be confused with Lady Frankenstein, that actually focuses on Frankenstein’s daughter, who takes over daddy’s business after the monster kills him. And neither of these should be confused with Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter, in which the outlaw actually meets Frankenstein’s granddaughter (and is a companion piece to Billy the Kid vs. Dracula).
But wait, there’s more: Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks, which only has a couple freaks, including a pair of cavemen. There’s Dracula vs. Frankenstein, a cheese-fest from Al Adamson, who made lots of really entertainingly bad movies. This one is only noteworthy for being the last movie for horror icons Lon Chaney and J. Carrol Naish.
There are also those I’ve seen but don’t own: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (the big budget version directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring him as Frankenstein and Robert DeNiro as the monster). There’s Frankenstein 1970 (mentioned above). There’s Roger Corman’s directorial swan song, Frankenstein Unbound (with John Hurt, Raul Julia and Bridget Fonda). There’s even the original silent version from 1910.
There are also plenty I’ve never seen. Off the top of my head, there’s Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein (aka Flesh for Frankenstein) and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein. But just counting the ones I’ve seen, there’s another eight. That’s 23 total. That’s a lot and shows how durable a character created by a teenage girl 200 or so years ago can be.