A castle in the middle of the night. Lightning crackles down from the heavens. Shadows creep along the walls as a madman in a lab-coat makes a few last adjustments to a body under a sheet. He yells at a hunchbacked assistant, the assistant throws a switch, electricity shoots into the body, and the madman screams: “It’s Alive!”
Sometimes bad adaptations have been going on for so long that the bad movies themselves have become classics. Then those movies get made into bad remakes, bad adaptations, bad homages, and occasionally one new classic. No work of literature has gotten this treatment quite as thoroughly as Frankenstein. In fact, no other work has ever been destined to be terribly adapted than Mary Shelley’s brilliant novel, and on our Bad Movies with Brad Halloween Special, I’m going to give you mini reviews of the best of the worst. But first, a little background, and for that we’ll have to go back to 1816, in Geneva, Switzerland.
The summer of 1816 was turning out to be a spectacularly crappy one for Mary Godwin. She had come to Geneva with her boyfriend (later husband) Percy Shelley to stay with his friend (potentially boyfriend) Lord Byron. The previous winter a volcano in Indonesia had sent a cloud of ash into the atmosphere causing a cold, dreary, and rainy summer. This meant that the trio was confined to Byron’s villa instead of playing badminton or..avoiding the poor? (I don’t know what regency aristocrats did.) So after god knows how many days sitting around reading folktales, Byron decided they should have a storytelling contest.
It’s at this point I should mention that Byron had two other guests in the house at this time. The first was Byron’s lawyer friend John Polidori, who would later produce the first published vampire story based on this contest. The second, was Claire Clairmont, Mary’s stepsister. Claire had recently had a liaison with Byron which had left her pregnant and made Byron want nothing to do with her.
It is with this going on that Mary composed her story about a tortured genius who when faced with the prospect of creating a life turns into a total dick weasel, denies any parental responsibilities, and runs away to his home in Geneva. Said creation then takes bloody revenge on his creator, resulting in both of their deaths. Pretty much every scholar attributes Mary Shelley’s inspiration for Frankenstein to her mother dying giving birth to her. I say that Mary may have had a message for her jerkwad host who wouldn’t even be alone in a room with Claire unless Percy and Mary were also present. Do I have any proof of this? Hell no, but I actually did research for my dumb little bad movie article this time and I wanted you all to know.
Needless to say, Mary won the writing competition. And two years later, with Percy’s help Mary turned her story into a book which has never left the public consciousness since. So after all this introduction, let’s cover what’s actually in the book shall we?
Victor Frankenstein, asshat doctor, is found by Captain Walton, asshat explorer, on his way to the north pole. A dying hypothermic Victor recounts his story. He was born in Geneva raised with an adopted sister who he later falls in love with. His mother dies shortly after giving birth to a little brother. Distraught, Victor goes to the University of Ingolstadt to study medicine with a minor in human-making, apparently. Victor creates his monster, sees what it looks like and runs straight out the room to pass out. He awakes to find the monster gone. Victor whines about it for a few months while his friend Henry Clerval nurses him back to health. He then decided to go back to visit his family in Geneva when he finds out his little brother has been killed.
When he arrives he spies, surprise, his creation, staring at him from the mountains. They execute Victor’s maid for the crime and Victor tracks down the creature who tells him how he learned to speak and read watching a nice family for a few months. They found out he was ugly so they chased him away and the creature decided to hunt Frankenstein down. The creature tells him he wants a mate to spend his time with so Victor spends an inordinate amount of time stalling and moving the experiment to freaking Orkney before he weasels out of it and destroys his monster’s half finished companion. The monster than kills his fiance (adopted sister, ew) and they chase each other to the arctic. Victor finishes his story and dies. Captain Walton decides not to be an asshat anymore and turns his ship around. The end.
Things Not In This Book
- A Castle
- Electric machines.
- “It’s Alive!, It’s Aliiiiive”
- Abnormal/Damaged brains
- Puttin’ on the Ritz
- The creature being green/covered in scars/ bolts in its neck or anything other than:
“His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.”
So yes, the creature is Tommy Wiseau.
Where did all this crap come from?
Most of this comes from the so called “good” versions of Frankenstein brought to you by the movie industry, where they respect your writing enough to change your phone number without asking you. And if your novel is in the public domain they will do whatever they like. The most famous adaptation of Frankenstein, James Whale’s 1931 version has almost nothing to do with the original book. The best hollywood version of Frankenstein is Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein and that is a comedy remake of James Whale’s. If you want to see a performance of actual Frankenstein at the movies, you have one option:
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch
Percentage Frankenstein: 88%
It will cost you at least $15 and you’ll have to wait until next Halloween because it’s a Fathom Event, but it’s the only way you’ll see anything close to the book. Miller and Cumberbatch alternated playing Frankenstein and the Creature and the showings usually have one night of each. I cannot stress this enough: if you want to see a good adaptation of Frankenstein see this one because there are no other good adaptations of Frankenstein. There are certainly some other good movies, but this is it for accuracy.
Are you ever going to do bad movies?
Well excuse me chastising header text. When it comes down to watching a Frankenstein movie for ridiculous, horrible fun, these are your top four options.
4. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Robert De Niro, and Helena Bonham Carter
Percentage Frankenstein: 75%
The best known, best adapted Hollywood version of Frankenstein is still an unending nightmare of directorial hubris. Kenneth Branagh plays Victor Frankenstein himself and proceeds to eat every piece of ornate scenery he can get his mouth around. K-Bran’s version gets some serious points though for most over-the-top creation scene. If you can get through watching Branagh run around shirtless, pouring electric eels into a copper kettle full of amniotic fluid, while pounding on the lid and screaming, “LIVE! LIVE! LIVE! LIVE!” without laughing…you’re a better person than me. De Niro does his best with what he’s being given, which is insane makeup and nothing. Helena Bonham Carter is gloriously miscast for a reason that becomes clear when you read about the production.
You see, Branagh had an affair with Carter on the set of this movie that resulted in him getting a divorce from Emma Thompson, which certainly made his Much Ado About Nothing into a much, much better movie than this.
Bad Movie Hero: Screenwriter Frank Darabont who saw this film and called it, “The best screenplay I ever wrote, and the worst movie I’ve ever seen” (Check)
3. Victor Frankenstein (2016)
Director: Paul McGuigan
Starring: James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe
Percentage Frankenstein: 10%
The most recent entry in the competition to be the worst version of Frankenstein. Paul McGuigan set out to produce a back to basics version about Victor and “his relationship with his assistant, Igor” See kids? You don’t need to read the book to make a Frankenstein movie. In fact as you watch this movie you start to wonder whether or not Paul McGuigan actually watched another movie version or just kind of read the Wikipedia entries. This makes the film’s constant revealing of “true details” of the story absolutely hilarious.
You get treated to the beta version of the monster, a chimpanzee creature that of course, gets out and causes problems. The wonderful scene in which you find out Igor wasn’t really a hunchback is sure to be a favorite, right after the scene where Victor rescues him from the circus. Or maybe the part where they’re hunted by London detectives, because oh right, it’s set in England. James McAvoy plays Victor as the most unlikable tool you’ve ever met, which accounts for most of its percentage of the story. Also Victor is a freaking lunatic in this, as evidenced by the aforementioned “not a hunchback” scene which begins with Victor stabbing a giant needle into Igor’s back to drain an untreated abscess.
Bad Movie Hero: Daniel Radcliffe honestly does a fine job of playing Igor, and his constant pleas with his eyes for help do a lot to earn him sympathy points.
2. I, Frankenstein (2014)
Director: Stuart Beattie
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, and Yvonne Stahovski
Percentage Frankenstein: 99% (Not featured in this Movie)
This one is actually more of a…let’s call it a sequel. In fact the opening prologue gives a scant few facts about the original story, all of which are fairly accurate. Frankenstein made a creature, the creature killed his fiancee, he died in the arctic. Aaron Eckhart even looks the closest to the description of the creation in the book. Too bad this movie is about what happens after, which is the creature takes Frankenstein’s body back to Geneva and is attacked by demons. Yes, demons! The creature manages to dispatch said demons with the help of two Gargoyle Warriors, the natural enemy of demons, obviously. The Gargoyle queen names the creature “Adam” (siiiiiiiiigh) and he roams the earth for all of two minutes of the movie, before coming back to Geneva in the modern day.
You see, Adam doesn’t have a soul, so the demons want to use Frankenstein’s process to make a bunch of soulless bodies for their demon warriors to inhabit so they can conquer the world. Obviously. Adam wants to stop the demons with the help of the Gargoyles and “electrophysiologist” 1 Terra Wade. You know what this thing is utterly ridiculous garbage, but it features Bill Nighy as a demon prince, so you know you want to watch it.
Bad Movie Hero: Nicholas Bell, an actor who has the best part in this movie. For about three glorious minutes you think Adam will finally get a companion to spend eternity with, and it might just be Terra’s labtech named Carl. Sadly we are denied the adventures of Frankenstein’s monster and Carl. But we can dream!
1. Frankenstein Unbound (1990)
Director: Roger Corman
Starring: John Hurt, Raul Julia and Bridget Fonda
Percentage Frankenstein: 5%
Percentage War Doctor: 25%
Honestly, I kind of love this movie. Roger Corman is the director that unironically brought the world Little Shop of Horrors and Battle Beyond the Stars I mean, he does refer to himself as the King of B movies. It’s kind of hard not to love what this man does when you do what I do. In that respect, Frankenstein Unbound is a masterpiece of schlock. John Hurt plays a time traveling doctor who gets sucked back in time to 18th century Geneva where he meets not only Dr. Frankenstein and the creature, but Mary, Percy, and Lord Byron, all staying at Byron’s shag pad across the lake. All of this makes it kind of a lousy Frankenstein movie except….
Plays a time traveling…
This movie is the War Doctor tv show you never knew you could have! If you are a Doctor Who fan, just give this a watch and pretend John Hurt is the doctor the whole time, and not only does this movie seem way less ridiculous, it seems like the best, most over-the-top doctor who episode. Well at least better than any episode with a Slitheen. Raul Julia plays a way too intense Frankenstein. Bridget Fonda plays Mary Shelley who is totally ready to run away with John Hurt into time and space. Not to mention that Hurt doesn’t let anyone call him doctor for very long. Just watch the beginning of this thing and try not to hum the theme song by the end.
Bad Movie Hero: Super intense Raul Julia is a blast, but of course it must go to our Time Lord to be!
So Happy Halloween my Bad Movie Fanatics, your Frankenstein needs have been covered. One good movie, three bad ones, and a hidden Doctor Who episode. Then again, you could just ignore all of this and watch Rocky Horror Picture Show instead.