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Worst To Best: Frankenstein Movies

This week, Aaron Eckhart’s I, Frankenstein is hitting cinemas, based on Kevin Grevioux’s Shelley-twisting graphic novel of the same name.

Eckhart’s just the latest star to take on the movie monster, though, which has prompted us to take a trawl through Franken-history to figure out the hits and the misses…

 

Dracula Vs Frankenstein (1971)

The Movie: Continuing the Universal tradition of shoving two horror icons together in one film (which arguably started with Son Of Frankenstein , keep reading for more on that), this creaky Troma version of Mary Shelley’s tale casts Lon Chaney Jr (in his final horror role) as assistant Groton, J Carroll Naish as Dr Frankenstein and Zandor Vorkov as Dracula.

Yes, Dracula.

Why It’s Grim: It’s shoddy and then some, using dodgy archive footage to plug the gaps of a film that (here's a shocker) doesn't seem to realise just how bad it is .

Especially troublesome is Vorkov's Dracula – pasty-faced and about as menacing as a caped kitten, his vampire outfit looks like it was purchased from a cheap fancy dress shop. (And probably was.)

Blackenstein (1973)

The Movie: Blaxploitation horror in which a soldier (Joe De Sue) loses all of his limbs after stepping on a landmine, and is stitched back together by Dr Stein (John Hart).

Then things start to go a bit wrong...

Why It’s Grim: With a title like that, this clearly isn't one that would be bothering the Academy. Attempting to ride the tailcoats of other spoof Blacula , Blackenstein is neither scary NOR funny, failing on all fronts.

Check out the SNL and MADtv spoof Funkenstein instead.

Monster Mash: The Movie (1995)

The Movie: Also known as Frankenstein Sings (no, really), this musical monstrosity basically wants to be the Rocky Horror Picture Show , but can’t muster any of that film’s sublime mania.

Why It’s Grim: With the plot revolving around a couple who call on Dr Frankenstein’s mansion when their car breaks down, it’s a case of déjà vu all over again when they end up spending the night and discovering things aren’t exactly what they seem at Casa Franken.

There’s a reason nobody remembers any of the musical numbers. What we'd do for Tim Curry to turn up and give this a stockinged kick up the behind...

I Was A Teenage Frankenstein (1957)

The Movie: A sort-of sequel to I Was A Teenage Werewolf , Herbert L. Strock’s horror was shot in monochrome and colourised in post, which at least gives it something original to boast about.

Going through the stitch-em-together numbers, Strock's film follows Dr Frankenstein, who assembles his own teenage monster using the body of a guy he finds in a car wreck – plus his own collection of bits and bobs.

Why It’s Grim:
Critics cried foul of the film’s perceived ‘teensploitation’, branding it a horrifically graphic horror with little going for it.

Though it’s since become something of a cult ‘bad movie’, IWATF  is still a crappy horror with few redeeming features.

The Horror Of Frankenstein (1970)

The Movie: Hammer Horror’s parody and remake of The Curse Of Frankenstein (see below), starring Ralph Bates as Victor (having tagged the role from Peter Cushing) and David Prowse as the Monster.

Why It’s Grim: If anything, this Hammer Horror’s been maligned for not being grim enough – despite the promise of horror in the title, there’s little here to give audiences sleepless nights.

Need examples? In this film, Victor reanimates a turtle. Oooo, scary…

House Of Dracula (1945)

The Movie: Universal’s sequel to the even-more-pants House Of Frankenstein (see below), this concept-stretching horror pits Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange) against Count Dracula (John Carradine) and the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr).

Why It’s Grim: Though it made a ton of money, Erle C. Kenton’s film is also partly stitched together from other Frank flicks ( The Ghost Of Frankenstein and Bride Of Frankenstein ), making it thematically on key but undeniably cheap.

Luckily it’s only 67 minutes long…

Van Helsing (2004)

The Movie: Hugh Jackman dons a hat and long coat as the titular monster hunter for Universal’s attempt to resurrect its most iconic villains. Dracula, Frank and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are all present and correct…

Why It’s Grim: Despite being a financial hit ($300m worldwide), audiences bemoaned the overuse of CGI in a film that often feels more like a videogame than a movie proper.

No wonder it put a serious dent in Stephen Sommers' directing career. Don’t worry, though, Tom Cruise is heading up a reboot…

Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein (1974)

The Movie: Produced by – you guessed it – artist Andy Warhol, this experimental Italian-French flick chucks everything at the screen – including graphic sex scenes and gory violence. Not only that, it was released in 3D.

Why It’s Grim: Though certain enjoyment can be gleaned from the fact that Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein is just so OTT, it also suffers through great stretches of banality.

Fun if you don’t mind hitting fast forward, and an odd curio that almost has to be seen to be believed. (Note: It’s also known as Flesh For Frankenstein .)

The Ghost Of Frankenstein (1942)

The Movie: Universal’s fourth Frankenstein film, and things are starting to go a bit wrong at this point.

Lon Chaney Jr takes over the Monster role from Boris Karloff. He’s put under the knife once more by Dr Ludwig Frankenstein (Cedric Hardwicke), who wants to replace his duff brain with a sleek new model.

Why It’s Grim:
It’s all getting pretty stupid by now, especially with Ygor (Bela Lugosi) increasingly pushed front and centre – he even gets turned into a monster himself by the closing credits.

This was the Monster’s last solo movie outing for Universal and it’s not hard to see why.

House Of Frankenstein (1944)

The Movie: Just because Ghost Of Frankenstein suffered didn’t mean that Universal were going to shut the door on him entirely.

Their solution? Pair him up with Dracula (John Carradine) and the Wolf Man (Lone Chaney Jr, taking a break from playing the Monster).

Why It’s Grim: The best of the bad Frankenstein flicks, it’s clear that Universal was struggling to come up with ideas for their iconic anti-heroes by this point.

Still, the opening’s decent and there’s atmosphere to spare throughout.

Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943)

The Movie: Universal’s fifth Frankenstein film unites two of the studio’s biggest icons as the Monster (Bela Lugosi) is thawed out of his ice prison and winds up going claw-to-claw with the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr). Again.

Why It’s Great: The franchise is still floundering, but this is a move in the right direction. Small wonder that House Of Frankenstein came a year later and put the final nail in the coffin.

Still, the novelty of seeing two Universal icons scrapping tips the scales in this sequel’s favour.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)

The Movie: Kenneth Branagh gets in on the action for an adap that aims to be even truer to the source material then ever. Branagh directs and stars as Victor, with Robert De Niro almost unrecognisable as an SFX-slathered Monster.

Why It’s Great:
We probably wouldn’t go quite as far as ‘great’, but there are certainly honourable intentions behind this adap.

Plus, De Niro’s decent as the Monster, helped by those Oscar-nominated make-up effects.

The Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958)

The Movie: In the wake of the excellent Curse Of Frankenstein (see below), Hammer continued to produce fantastic Frank flicks, not least with this sequel.

Unable to use any of Shelley’s copyrighted ideas (owned by Universal), Hammer lets loose with its own version of the tale. This time, Victor (Peter Cushing) heads to a German town where he pinches the limbs of poor people to further his experiments.

Why It’s Great:
Free of Shelley’s narrative, this Hammer version has fun playing around with themes of its own.

It's all anchored by a fantastic Cushing, and Michael Gwynn's equally outstanding as the increasingly-animalistic Monster.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

The Movie: Hammer continues to reinvent the Frankenstein story, dabbling in experimentation that Victor Frankenstein would be proud of.

This time around, there’s a machete-wielding killer on the loose in London, who just so happens to be Victor (Cushing) in a rather nice flesh-mask…

Why It’s Great: With Freddy Jones now playing the Monster, things are taken up an emotional notch, while Cushing gives a career-best performance as Victor, driven mad by his passion for body parts.

Also, it’s just really flipping gloomy. Which is perfect for a story about a monster and his crazy creator.

Frankenweenie (2012)

The Movie: Tim Burton turns his eighties short into a monochrome, stop-motion delight.

Though it’s not an adaptation of Shelley’s book, it’s a knowing tribute following young scientist Victor, who brings his dead dog Sparky back to life.

Why It’s Great:
It’s old school Burton – deliciously dark in places, beautifully animated and crammed full with detail.

Also, we LOVE Mr Whiskers.

The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957)

The Movie: The first Frankenstein movie made by Hammer Horror and a loyal adaptation of Shelley’s tome, with Peter Cushing as the doctor responsible for creating Christopher Lee’s tragic Monster.

Why It’s Great: It’s the first Frankenstein movie produced in full-blown Technicolor, which sets it apart from the Universal flicks.

And while the Monster isn’t as iconic as the Karloff version (Hammer was restricted by Universal owning the rights), Lee does his own thing as a Monster who can’t speak – and Cushing’s electric as Victor.

Son Of Frankenstein (1939)

The Movie: Boris Karloff plays the Monster for the third time as Rowland V. Lee takes over the directorial reins from James Whale.

This time, one of Dr Frankenstein’s sons discovers and resuscitates the Monster. Nothing like keeping it in the family...

Why It’s Great:
The title's pretty preposterous, but despite starting to stretch the concept a little thinly, Lee’s film retains the spooky mood of its predecessors.

Meanwhile, Karloff’s still ace as the Monster, and a fantastic Bela Lugosi takes to the stage as bawdy baddie Ygor.

The Monster Squad (1987)

The Movie: A criminally underrated genre gem (still unavailable on Region 2) that attempted to piggy-back the success of The Goonies , this is a loving ode to the horror flicks of yore, following a group of kids who go up against Dracula, the Wolf Man and the Mummy.

Meanwhile, they befriend Frankenstein’s Monster (Tom Noonan), who just wants somebody to hang with.

Why It’s Great: Yes, the credits erroneously refer to the Monster as Frankenstein, but that doesn’t lessen the brilliance of this Goonies -style incarnation, which clearly loves Hammer and has loads of fun with it.

Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

The Movie: Having already bumped fangs with Dracula, the Mummy and the Invisible Man, the titular comedy duo encounter Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man in this loving sketch-style chucklefest.

Their freight workers are charged with looking after the monstrous remains of those long-dead villains, which are being brought to Europe for a new house of horror. Only then the monsters wake up...

Why It’s Great: Though Costello later admitted to hating the script, there’s nothing wrong with this cheeky slice of silliness, which is as shamelessly entertaining now as it was then.

Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)

The Movie: Inspired by a subplot in Shelley’s original novel, this James Whale-directed follow-up to Frankenstein attempts to give the monster a girlfriend (Elsa Lanchester).

Yes, attempts.

Why It’s Great: It plays up the tragedy of the Monster even more, the additional romantic twist making our hearts bleed – not bad for a horror movie.

Also, any film that eventually inspires something as brilliant as Bride Of Chucky gets our vote. Always and forever.

Young Frankenstein (1974)

The Movie: A parody of the Universal films, masterminded by parody king Mel Brooks, who casts Gene Wilder as the physician who brings Peter Boyle’s hideous creative to (un)life.

Why It’s Great: In the true Brooks way, it’s really, really funny. While the jokey jibes are spot on, Brooks also manages to find the pathos in the comedy as Wilder’s Frankenstein struggles to overcome his abandonment issues.

Plus, the ‘Puttin’ On The Ritz’ sequence is just brilliant.

Frankenstein (1931)

The Movie: Universal’s classic adaptation, directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff as the monster. An icon is (re)born.

Why It’s Great: Though audiences reportedly laughed at the film on its initial release (“to cover their true feelings,” observed critic Mordaunt Hall), this is the Frankenstein yardstick against which all other Frankenstein movies are measured.

Since those nervous giggles in 1931, the film’s gone down in movie history and still has a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. High praise indeed.

Topics

Total Film

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