Abby Normal Adaptations of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

As part of our Orbiter Year-Round Series, Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival is presenting the Texas premiere of DIRECTOR’S COMMENTARY:  TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN this Thursday, August 25 at 9:00 pm at Flix Brewhouse. Co-writer/Director Tim Kirk will do a Q&A via Skype after the screening. Tickets are available via this link.

Having been oddly fascinated by the TERROR OF FRANKENSTEIN when I first watched it as a teen in the late 1970s, I'm thrilled to see filmmakers putting on a new twist to English author's Mary Shelley classic. tale of a scientist obsessed with bringing non-living matter to life. Shelley's novel "Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus," published in 1818, is considered to be the first true Science Fiction story and has influenced both Science Fiction and Horror genres of literature, film, and television.

Almost two hundred titles exist on IMDb alone with "Frankenstein" in the name, with various interpretations over the last century by directors and screenwriters. Several films influenced by Shelley's novel -- as well as the circumstances and phantasmagoria surrounding her writing -- have left a lasting impression with me. While not all these films are highly rated, the premise of these recommendations are worth viewing for any Frankenstein fans.

Here's my "Must Watch" Frankenstein favorites:

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN 

Director Mel Brooks considers his best film to be this 1974 American Horror comedy starring Gene Wilder as a descendant of the infamous Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Wilder came up with the idea behind YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN while working with Brooks on BLAZING SADDLES, and Brooks and he co-wrote the screenplay. The phenomenal supporting cast includes Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars, Richard Haydn and Gene Hackman. 

Shot in glorious black-and-white, the comedy serves as both a spoof and a tribute to the some of Brooks' favorite Universal Horror classics — 1931's "Frankenstein" and 1935's "The Bride of Frankenstein," both directed by James Whale, and 1939's "Son of Frankenstein," directed by Rowland V. Lee — with Boris Karloff as the infamous monster.

Wilder portrayed Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, a neurosurgeon who constantly attempts to separate himself from his family legacy. However, when he visits his grandfather's laboratory in his ancestral castle in Europe, he is inspired to create his own monster (Peter Boyle).

 In a 2014 interview with the Los Angeles Times regarding the 40th anniversary of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, Brooks stated:

"I didn't want it to be just funny or silly. I wanted Mary Shelley's basic feelings captured and the ... haunting beautiful quality that James Whale got with Boris Karloff. My movies are not about jokes. They are about behavior, and behavior can be very funny."

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN was the first "adult" film that I recall watching at the movie theater, when I was eleven years old. While I don't think that my mother and aunt were expecting the sex and profanity in this PG-rated comedy, the indelible mark made upon my film psyche was that of a lifelong fan of Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, and Madeline Kahn.

Other noteworthy FRANKENSTEIN adaptations:

  • GOTHIC (1986) -- Director Ken Russell was known for his eccentric filmmaking with films like THE DEVILS and ALTERED STATES, so the tale of Mary and her lover/soon-to-be husband Percy Shelley as they share ghost stories with fellow writers Lord Byron and Polidori was a natural fit. Natasha Richardson as Mary Shelley brought just the right balance of innocence and sexuality to this dark and often disturbing film. 
  • ROGER CORMAN'S FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND (1990) -- Based on a novel by Brian Aldiss (A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE), Corman wrote and directed this major twist, with a scientist (portrayed by John Hurt) from the year 2031 being transported back in time to 1817 -- and Switzerland -- where he encounters and is influenced by Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Raul Julia),  as well as Lord Byron (Jason Patric), Mary (Bridget Fonda), and Percy Shelley (Michael Hutchence).
  • MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN (1994) -- Kenneth Branagh directed and starred as Victor Frankenstein in this re-telling, with Frank Darabont and Steph Lady as the original screenwriters. Helena Bonham Carter portrays Elizabeth and Robert De Niro is The Creature, quite disturbing in part to his prosthetic suit. References to several early Frankenstein films can be seen including James Whale's FRANKENSTEIN (1931), THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) and the first ever film version, Edison Films' FRANKENSTEIN (1910). There's also a similarity in the fate of Elizabeth in Branagh's version to FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND.

Whatever your taste -- comedy, classic, supernatural -- there's bound to be a few FRANKENSTEIN influenced films worth checking out beyond my suggestions. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments here.

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