Frankenstein in Popular Culture

First, key reminder: if you learn nothing else from this class, please, please, please know that "Frankenstein" is the name of the man who created the monster, who remains un-named throughout the novel. "Frankenstein's monster" or "Frankenstein's creature" would be the name for the green-skinned (don't get me started) fellows you see staggering about. Please feel free to be a diligent English major and tell everyone you know.

First, we might want to (briefly) talk about different cover images for the novel (we have a lot of different ones even in this class). Check out this overview that includes some of them:

There are too many Frankensteins to count, let alone review here. Take note that others have done some digging up of the different versions. I recommend this great listing: Responses to and Adaptations of Frankenstein in Film and Elsewhere: A Selective Chronological Bibliography :


The Monster in Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein , 1823

Shelley's novel was quickly adapted for stage production. Here's a great image of an early creature:


  The actor T.P. Cooke played the monster in this 1823 stage adaptation of Frankenstein . His make-up left him, by one account, with a "shriveled complexion, lips straight and black, and a horrible ghastly grin."



The Edison Kinetogram , March 10, 1910

Even early film got into the Frankenstein legend, as evidenced by one of the very first silent films, this 1910 Edison Kinetogram (from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Edison National Historic Site )



Here's a link to a YouTube upload of the movie (not great quality, sadly):

Go to the 2:30 mark to see the creation of the creature and some special effects. It does go on for quite a while, but you kinda get the point.





Boris Karloff as the Monster in Frankenstein (1931)

Likely the most common pop-culture image of Frankenstein (the one most people are thinking of when you say the name) is the one popularized by Boris Karloff in the 1931 film:




  Here's the classic scene of Frankenstein bringing the creature to life: (go to the 2:00 minute mark)


This  Frankenstein -- directed by James Whale -- earned rave reviews, was named to top-ten lists, and made lots of money; the production cost $290,000 in Depression-era dollars, and earned more than $12 million.


If you run a quick google image search with just "Frankenstein" you will get this, which pretty clearly favors the Karloff version:


While Karloff certainly deserves much of the praise for this rendering, don't forget, a huge part of it is Jack Pierce's work: he was the make-up artist. There are some nice images of his work in progress featured in the early part of the video here:

You might also want to look into the 1998 film Gods and Monsters, which presents a semi-fictional version of Whale during the period when he was working on Bride of Frankenstein.




While some of these early versions are perhaps unintentionally funny to modern viewers, 1974's Young Frankenstein, directed by Mel Brooks and with Peter Boyle as the creature and Gene Wilder as Frankenstein, seen here:



Here's the "Five Minute version of Young Frankenstein." Go to the 2 minute mark to see Victor & the creature together. The 3:00 minute mark gets you the Ritz!




And then there are versions like this, from the 2004 movie Van Helsing:






The National Theatre in London did an AMAZING staged version of Frankenstein, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch (yes! Sherlock!) Jonny Lee Miller, who alternate roles as Victor and the creature.


It's been a huge hit and is a really amazing production (it was part of their live broadcast series, so you could even see it in movie theaters).See more here:





  The National Library of Medicine did an excellent exhibit on Frankenstein: Penetrating the Secrets of Nature, featuring images of the creature in popular culture, science, and medicine. Check it out here:




Updated March 26, 2015.