This weekend brings us the latest adaptation of Mary Shelley’s incredible Gothic tale with Victor Frankenstein, starring James McAvoy as scientist Victor Frankenstein and Daniel Radcliffe as his assistant Igor. This new twist on the old tale focuses on the relationship between the two scientists, rather than bolt-neck himself, which is definitely a fresh approach. That said, we are still guaranteed some thoroughly disturbing re-animated men: “Prometheus” 1 and 2 are listed in the cast, and presumably these are the monsters for this particular big-screen version of Frankenstein.
Prometheus 1 will be played by Guillaume Delaunay (Stonehearst Asylum), while the larger role of Prometheus 2/Nathaniel is being taken on by Spencer Wilding (Guardians of the Galaxy). These two will be joining a long and distinguished tradition of different takes on the ultimate shambling creature; from the classic monster movies to recent TV horror, Frankenstein’s Monster has been brought to life again and again, so we rounded up some of his (and her) very best incarnations from start to finish.
And yeah, we know the monster’s name isn’t Frankenstein in the original novel, but you know what we mean when we say that this is a list of the 10 Best On-Screen Versions Of Frankenstein!
Boris Karloff – Frankenstein (1931)
The definitive version of the Creature, Boris Karloff is the lumbering, largely mute monster that most remember from the 1931 classic. The film is a very straightforward (and simplified) version of Shelley’s novel, with the monster coming to life with only a very basic level of awareness.
Karloff grunts and staggers his way through the role, perfectly embodying the spirit of a character who has only limited control over his clumsily assembled body. His wide eyes and constant forward lean became iconic elements of Frankenstein’s monsters for decades to come, although Karloff himself played the monster only three times: in Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and Son of Frankenstein.
Elsa Lanchester – Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
This sequel to the 1931 Frankenstein gave us the first on-screen female creature, albeit briefly, as Boris Karloff’s sad monster gets his companion… before realizing that being like him doesn’t make her any less afraid of him. Elsa Lanchester doesn’t have any actual lines, aside from hissing and shrieking, but does a wonderful job of conveying the Bride’s fear and confusion. Her wide eyes and jerky movements are a joy to watch, and of course, her white-streaked beehive has been inspiring horror fans to reach for the bleach for the past eighty years.
Glenn Strange – Abbot And Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
This hilarious classic brought together many of the classic horror monsters for some Abbot and Costello hilarity, as a pair of hapless freight handlers end up dealing with not only Frankenstein’s monster, but Dracula and the Wolfman as well! Strange became the perfect successor to Karloff (with the man himself coaching Strange for the role), and continued his tradition of the groaning, inarticulate brute with bolts in his neck. The bolts aren’t just for decoration, either – in the classic films, they were used to conduct electricity to wake the monster.
Sir Christopher Lee – The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
The incomparable Sir Christopher Lee may be better known for his portrayal of a different movie monster, Dracula (Count Dracula, Scars of Dracula, etc), but he also took a swing at this creature in the ‘50s.
Much of the horror in the version came from the amazing special effects and prosthetic team who gave him a hideously scarred face and different colored eyes, but the staggering, wooden movements and the twitching walk are all Lee. Another largely silent, homicidal killer of a creature, the acting is all in the body language, and Lee does an incredible job of carrying on the Karloff/Strange legacy.
Peter Boyle – Young Frankenstein (1974)
A Mel Brooks comedy classic, this parody version of the classic tale is filled with slapstick ridiculousness, and more than a few dirty jokes as the American grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein (“Fronken-STEEN!”) heads to his grandfather’s castle and makes a monster of his own. Peter Boyle brings this grunting creature to life for a series of increasingly zany gags, including a musical number (“Putting on the Ritz”) and quite a few suggestions that the good doctor was very generous when selecting certain body parts for him.
Peter Hinwood – Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
In this musical cult-classic, Frankenfurter’s “monster” isn’t a monster at all, but a buff and tanned Adonis of a creature, named Rocky. There are plenty of references to the classics, as Rocky is brought to life under apparatus lowered from the ceiling, wrapped in bandages, and his maker is assisted by an Igor-like hunchback. However, there the similarities end, as the bandages are pulled off to reveal his rippling muscles and godlike frame.
Flipping the script, Rocky is the one who finds adulation from all who see him, and he is the one to reject his maker’s advances. The one thing he does have in common with his stitched-together predecessors is his brainpower; because Frankenfurter gave him only half a brain, he’s dumb and inarticulate – although he has a heckuva singing voice!
Patty Mullen – Frankenhooker (1990)
This hilarious schlock-horror take on the reanimation story stars Patty Mullen as Elizabeth, a Frankenstein-style creature made from the stitched-together body parts of streetwalkers and the head of a medical student’s fiance. While most monsters have little or no memory of the people who were combined to create them, Elizabeth comes back to life with the same focus as the girls who were killed to make her, and wanders the streets trying to turn tricks.
Robert DeNiro – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)
Not straying too far from the original novel, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein landed to mediocre reviews, but Robert DeNiro’s performance as the Creature was universally acknowledged as one of the highlights of the film. With his features heavily scarred and twisted, he does an incredible job of portraying the emotional side of a creature rejected by the world and driven into a murderous rage.
Far from some of the earlier shuffling, incoherent versions, DeNiro’s Frankenstein is educated and intelligent, more than capable of understanding and expressing his despair at his situation. He’s fully conscious of his actions, and this thoughtful creature is both terrifying and heartbreaking.
Frank Weller/Tim Burton – Frankenweenie (2012)
This adorable animated film may not be a horror classic, but it’s the perfect Burton twist on the classic tale. As a young Victor Frankenstein learns about the effects of electricity on dead frogs, he develops an idea to return his beloved pet from beyond the grave… even if the rest of the town doesn’t like it. This is probably the most heart-warming adaptation of the story, potentially because dogs are missing the kind of self-awareness that makes many live-action adaptations so sad. Or, it could be that inimitable Burton magic, as his particular brand of whimsical gothic stop-motion is just so perfect for the story.
Rory Kinnear – Penny Dreadful (2014 – )
While most of Frankenstein’s monsters are re-animated in a flash of lightning or a freakish lab, Kinnear’s creature, Caliban, is instead brought to life in a dingy Victorian tenement on a bathtub-like table covered in blood. Between flashbacks and present action in the series, we watch the Creature develop from its birth of pain and anguish to an entirely intelligent (and quite devious) being. He is able to plot (and even outwit) his maker, take on a job at a theater, and is capable of compassion, excitement and love.
Penny Dreadful also gives us other reanimated creatures; first, Proteus (Alex Price) who was brutally murdered by the jealous Caliban, and Lilly Frankenstein, aka Brona Croft (Billie Piper), who died of tuberculosis and was revived by Frankenstein to be a companion for Caliban.
Did we miss your favorite version of the green guy? Let us know in the comments!