It's Alive! 13 Forgotten Frankenstein Films
Frankenstein’s creation has fought werewolves, vampires, cowboys, masked wrestlers, and rubber suited hellbeasts. Seriously.
Along with Dracula, the most enduring horror icon of horror fiction is certainly Frankenstein’s Monster. When Boris Karloff starred in Universal’s Frankenstein (1931), directed by the great James Whale, audiences were riveted (ahem) by the tale of science gone mad. Karloff’s portrayal of the monster transcended the boundaries of the genre and became one of the most enduring images in the history of film. Universal did not stop there, delivering sequel after sequel, such as 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein (considered by many to be the most complete horror movie ever made), Son of Frankenstein (1939), Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), where Karloff was replaced by Lon Chaney Jr., the immortal 1942 monster mash-up Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman starring Bela Lugosi as the Monster, and finally, House of Frankenstein, a battle between all the marquee Universal monster characters.
The role was resurrected in Hammer Film’s color dreadful, the Curse of Frankenstein in 1957 starring Christopher Lee as a very different type of Monster. Hammer would continue this series of films that focused on the Doctor (brilliantly played by Peter Cushing) rather than the Monster. These were the films and actors that forged a legend, but they weren’t the only ones...not even close. After Karloff and Lee came many more attempts to bring the Frankenstein legend to life on the big screen both in America and around the globe. There were even a few versions of Mary Shelley’s classic novel before James Whale got his camera rolling. Here are thirteen other versions of the Doctor and his Creation that should not be forgotten.
13. Thomas Edison’s Frankenstein (1910)
Frankenstein is such a gripping legend and timeless masterpiece that one of the first linear films ever shot was based on the creature. In 1910, director J. Searle Dawley shot a fifteen minute short film simply entitled Frankenstein. Dawley worked for the great Thomas Edison who served as a producer for the film. The film does not fully embrace the more horrifically supernatural aspects of the novel but instead, suggests that the Monster that the college age Dr. Frankenstein created was a reflection of his own monstrous subconscious. Rest assured though, that this short film is as unsettling as it gets, as Dawley is literally building a genre with each progressive frame. The Monster, played by Charles Ogle, is a surreal image, plodding around the screen and lurking in every shadow. When the Monster arises from the vat of chemicals that created him, it is a true classic early moment of the horror genre, the wellspring that birthed a myth. For 1910, when the film industry was in its infancy, Thomas Edison’s Frankenstein still holds up very well and is a harbinger of things to come. Watch the whole thing here!
12. I Was A Teenage Frankenstein (1956, American International Pictures)
Directed by Herbert L. Strock, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein followed just five months after the successful I Was a Teenage Werewolf starring Michael Landon. This film is schlock at its finest but still sticks to the science gone mad father/ son themes as established by Mary Shelley and James Whale. The movie follows Professor Frankenstein, a university lecturer who creates a teenage monster out of the corpses of a group of young crash victims. The morbidly engaging story follows the hideously scarred teenager trying to find his way in a world of adolescent angst and rejection. It was as if the filmmakers were trying to shoehorn a tale of modern teenage marginalization into the Frankenstein legend, and against all odds, it worked. The make-up and presentation is delightfully fifties, and after the film’s opening, many critics attacked this film and its lycanthropic predecessor as a cause of juvenile delinquency. This film is the quintessential Rockwellian America’s portrayal of the Frankenstein legend and really needs to be experienced to be believed.
11. Frankenstein’s Daughter (1958)
Speaking of the '50s, Frankenstein's Daughter again attempts to bring the Frankenstein legend into the modern day while playing a bit of the old gender switcheroo. In this film, ineptly but unintentionally and comically directed by drive-in master Richard E. Cunha, Frankenstein’s grandson, Oliver Frankenstein, builds a female monster out of an innocent teenage girl named Trudy (played by Sandra Knight). Trudy, neither the daughter of Doctor nor Monster, goes on a killing spree. Later, Oliver builds another monster and...stuff happens. It’s all slapped together, but unlike some of Cunha’s other films, like Missile to the Moon, the film is never boring, instead relying on the Frankenstein legend to keep interest in a movie held together by spit and enthusiasm. And bikini beach parties. Fun fact, Sandra Knight, married none other than Jack Nicholson. He starred in better movies. Watch the trailer here!
10. Horror of Frankenstein (1970 Hammer Films)
The second Hammer attempt at Frankenstein, Horror of Frankenstein holds up pretty well. Firstly, Horror of Frankenstein exists outside the Peter Cushing Hammer cycle of Frankenstein films. Secondly, the movie stars David Prowse, Darth Vader himself, as the large headed and, at times, diapered Monster. Ralph Bates ably plays the Doctor, in a film that seems part parody of Cushing and Lee’s Frankenstein and homage to the same film. Bates is at his womanizing best and the film features that old Hammer atmosphere that makes this film a good Halloween treat...when you get done with Cushing’s films of course. Check out the trailer!
9. Kyoufu Densetsu Kaiki! Frankenstein (1981, Toei Animation)
Why yes Virginia, there is an anime based on Marvel Comic’s Frankenstein Monster series. This wonderful little oddity was the second creature feature Toei Animation produced using Marvel monsters. The first, Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned was loosely based on Tomb of Dracula while this one-of-a-kind Frankenstein took bits and pieces from Marvel’s Frankenstein series. The film saw an extremely limited release on U.S. television in 1984 under the titles Monster of Frankenstein and Frankenstein Legend of Terror. In it, an increasingly paranoid Dr. Frankenstein hunts his creation who has holed up in a cabin with Frankenstein’s young daughter and her blind grandfather. The film chooses to portray the Monster, dubbed Franken, as a more misunderstood creature like the Hulk, rather than a murderous beast. In his confusion, he kills a number of villagers and is blamed for the murder of the Doctor’s wife and the grandpa. In one of the strangest moments of any Frankenstein series, the Monster is shot in the hand by the little girl that once cared for him. Stumbling into a church, the Monster notices both he and Jesus have holes in their hands and begs God for forgiveness. The whole thing is wonderfully tragic and shows that for a little while the Marvel series was a bit more influential than most people give it credit for. You can watch the whole thing right here!
8. May (2002, Lions Gate Films)
Garnering many awards and considered by many critics to be one of the 21st century’s greatest horror films, May is many things, but at its heart, it is a fascinating take on the Frankenstein legend filtered through the point of view of a very lonely and VERY disturbed young girl. Directed by Lucky Mckee and starring the incredibly versatile Angela Bettis, May also features career defining performances from Jeremy Sisto and Anna Farris. In the film, May is a young girl who just wants a friend. As she deals with rejection and heartbreak, May discovers there are perfect parts to people but not perfect wholes. So she seeks to take the perfect parts of everyone she knows and make one perfect being. As the story’s Dr. Frankenstein, May’s science is sewing and she seeks to knit together a friend like she is able to easily knit limbs back onto animals for the incompetent vet she works for. It is a film that must be experienced more than once. May is a modern day Frankenstein tale that is as sick and twisted as it is warm and sweet.
7. Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (1974, Hammer Films)
A number of the later Hammer films are often overlooked by horror afficionados. In some cases, this is warranted, as in the later years of Hammer, some juice had come off the fastball, but not in the case of Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell, directed by the always classy Terence Fisher, and starring Peter Cushing in his sixth and final Frankenstein film. While as atmospheric and as scary as any Hammer film, the last installment’s most frightening bit is Cushing’s perm (but he’s a legend, so we forgive him). Despite Frankenstein’s June Cleaver locks, the film is tightly plotted, and features Frankenstein setting up shop within an insane asylum. Yeah, that doesn’t end well. He constructs a new, ape-like monster, played again by David Prowse, thus further upping the awesome factor, which goes on a rampage within the asylum. Most Frankenstein films see a regretful Doctor determined to destroy his creations trying to make up for the sins he constructed, but not Cushing. As soon as his latest abomination is brought down by a mob of madmen, Cushing’s Frankenstein rolls up his sleeves and gets his lab ready for more unwilling donors for his next monster. The last Hammer Frankenstein is an appropriate epitaph for Cushing’s Doctor and all things Hammer, as the greatest horror studio that ever stood did not live long after the release of this overlooked gem. Watch the trailer here!
6. Lady Frankenstein (1971, New World Pictures)
A sterling (and possibly the only) example of the feminist mad scientist genre, Lady Frankenstein is often mistaken for a Hammer film, but was in fact, a Hammer homage made in Italy. Directed by Mel Welles and starring Joseph Cotton and the luscious Rosalba Neri, this flesh on flesh thriller took the Frankenstein legend into new depths of sexual depravity. The Lady Frankenstein is not softened by her gender; on the contrary, she is a cruel scientist that takes gleeful pleasure in her myriad of surgical nightmares and forced transplant victims. The film looks, feels, and plays, like a Hammer film with bright crimson blood and more cleavage and mayhem than you can shake a severed limb at. Despite her beauty, this Lady is deserving of the name Frankenstein. See for yourself!
5. Santo Contra la Hija de Frankenstein (1972, Cinematográfica Calderón)
Speaking of lady mad scientists. What is cooler than Frankenstein vs. a masked Mexican wrestler? Answer: absolutely nothing! Santo Contra la Hija de Frankenstein sees the legendary wrestler El Santo, star of about 14 billion films (all awesome) take on the daughter of Dr. Frankenstein and her monster. In the film, Dr. Freda Frankenstein discovers that the blood of El Santo is actually a youth potion (one has to wonder what the Iron Sheik’s blood can do), and the Doctor has kept herself and her henchmen alive for years using blood she wiped from El Santo’s nose (yup) after a match. Instead of just going to his matches and waiting for him to blade again, Freda kidnaps Santo’s girlfriend. The Technicho tracks them back to Frankenstein’s really awesome castle and has to fight a half-man, half-gorilla and the Frankenstein monster himself. Yes, El Santo wrestles Frankenstein’s monster, exactly how Mary Shelley envisioned it back in the day. Really just has to be experienced to be believed.
4. Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966, Embassy Pictures)
This is not so much a genre mash-up but an utter obliteration of genres. Someone, somewhere, namely director William Beaudine, thought it was a good idea to have famed outlaw Jesse James gallop into the Frankenstein legend. The film starts out with a title misconception as James meets the granddaughter of Frankenstein, Maria, who, with her brother Rudolph travel to the American West to harvest prairie lightning to use in their experiments. Using lightning of the old west, the Frankenstein siblings run afoul of Jesse James after one of his compadres was injured in a shootout. Trying to mash up the western genre with the gothic terror of Frankenstein is like trying to mate a poodle with a hippo: the process is horrible to watch, but the results are interesting. Somehow, Jesse’s pal gets transformed into a monster named Igor and monstery, westerny stuff happens with guns and lightning. There was also a Billy the Kid vs. Dracula film and I swear I will find a way to insert it in a future list.
3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948, Universal)
This movie isn’t really a rarity or forgotten, but it never gets its due for being a great monster film to go along with Lou and Bud’s antics. Yeah, Abbott and Costello are at the top of their game here, crafting a great parody of the Universal horror cycle, but the depiction of the monsters never descends into the wacky. Glenn Strange portrays a splendid Frankenstein; the actor never receives enough credit for filling Karloff’s oversized shoes. It can be argued that Strange’s Frankenstein was far superior to Chaney’s and Lugosi’s. Speaking of Lugosi, this film sees the return of Lugosi as Dracula and the return of Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolfman. The Wolfman cuts such a tragic figure despite the humorous tone of the movie, and Lugosi is at his scene chewing best. The film is comedy gold, but its respect for the classic monsters, Frankenstein in particular, should not be overlooked.
2. Blackenstein (1973, Exclusive International)
Proving that the Frankenstein legend transcends racial and cultural boundaries, Blackenstein was one of the more memorable blaxploitation movies of the early 70s. Following close on the heels of Blacula , Blackenstein sprung off the zeitgeist of the time, playing off racial bitterness and anger towards the Vietnam War. After a black soldier named Eddie Turner steps on a landmine and loses his leg, he visits Dr. Stein to have his lost limbs restored. Eddie becomes a shambling monstrosity with a square afro instead of a Karloffian head. The Monster is torn apart by dogs at the film’s climax, uneasily mirroring images of race riots of the 60s and 70s. The film does not play as well as Blacula nor did it fare as well at the box office, but it remains a cultural anomaly and a fascinating area of study.
1. Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965, Toho Pictures)
Den of Geek has covered this gem before and oh, is it worth covering again. After Godzilla, Toho wanted to expand their range of city stomping monsters. So they just nuked Frankenstein and had him grow to immense size. When the heart of the original Frankenstein Monster is taken by Nazi agents to Japan, of course, it ends up in Hiroshima. Fifteen years later, a feral boy is found on the streets of Hiroshima and taken in by scientists because of his resistance to radiation. The boy grows to immense size and ends up on the run from the authorities. As if that wasn’t complex enough, the kaiju Frankenstein ends up fighting the burrowing lizard, Baragon, before being sucked into the Earth. The film is completely bugnuts, with a plot that dangles by a hair but never stops moving, and really, everyone needs to experience a giant Frankenstein ravaging Japan. Seeing the Frankenstein legend clash with Cold War nuclear paranoia is something to behold.