By Carol Rusinek
Hello Everyone! Welcome to another issue of Carol’s Comments. I am a volunteer at the River Park Branch. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always loved classic horror movies, especially those from the 1930’s and 1940’s. During my childhood, I couldn’t wait to watch Creature Feature on WSJV with my mother (who also adored spooky movies) every Saturday night. Being a very impressionable and sensitive child, I still insisted that I wouldn’t have nightmares, but Dracula, The Wolf Man, Frankenstein and The Mummy still always haunted my dreams.
So when I learned that the St. Joseph County Public Library had chosen Frankenstein by Mary Shelley for this year’s One Book, One Michiana campaign scheduled from March 28 through May 3, I realized I had never read the original story and was determined to tackle it.
Written by the urging of Lord Byron on a stormy Swiss night in 1816 and later published in 1818, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein became the forerunner for Gothic horror fiction.
Set primarily in late 18th century Switzerland, and told mostly in flashback, Dr. Victor Frankenstein serves as the novel’s principal narrator. He recounts in agonizing detail how his obsessive fascination with using chemistry, electricity and other scientific methods to re-animate dead tissue compelled him to create a hideous monster of gigantic size and superhuman strength. Surprisingly, the author doesn’t provide any graphic description about how Frankenstein makes his gruesome creation. Those details are left to the reader’s imagination.
After adjusting to the verbose and rather melodramatic early 19th century writing style, I found the novel’s plot quite exhilarating. My favorite parts of the book were the chapters focusing on the Monster’s own perspective about his creation and extremely tormented existence.
In the original story, the Creature is very articulate, learns many languages and loves reading classics like Milton’s Paradise Lost. At first, he is very virtuous and longs for acceptance and interaction with humans. Unfortunately, after experiencing repeated rejection, abuse and repulsion mainly due to his grotesque appearance, he transforms into a vicious killer consumed by rage, hatred and revenge especially toward his creator. After Dr. Frankenstein adamantly refuses to create a female companion for him, the Monster vows to destroy him and everyone he loves.
At times, the reader feels sympathy for both the Monster and Frankenstein because they are both misunderstood and tragic figures. Madness and revenge eventually destroy them both. After nearly 200 years, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein still remains the definitive horror story.
For anyone interested in reading more about Mary Shelley’s remarkable life, I recommend Mary Shelley the insightful 1987 biography written by Muriel Spark, author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
After finishing the book, I couldn’t wait to re-watch all of my Frankenstein film favorites. I first started with the 1931 classic Frankenstein and its splendid 1935 sequel The Bride of Frankenstein both starring Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein and the incomparable Boris Karloff as the Monster. Both expertly directed by James Whale, these movies are loosely based on Mary Shelley’s original story.
Unlike the book, the first film vividly and dramatically shows how Dr. Frankenstein (with help from his hunchback assistant Fritz) creates his monster by using stolen dead body parts and unknowingly revitalizing a criminal brain instead of a normal one. This pivotal mistake leads to horrific consequences.
Undoubtedly, the film’s stunning and surreal visual effects especially in the laboratory scenes brilliantly capture Frankenstein’s relentless obsession with creating man-made life.
In Whale’s Frankenstein films, the Monster can’t speak at first. He can only communicate through animal-like grunts and groans. He finally learns a few basic words like friend, food, good and bad while staying with the compassionate blind hermit in The Bride of Frankenstein. This very poignant scene is the only one that actually appears in the original novel.
Unlike most sequels, The Bride of Frankenstein greatly surpasses the original film mainly due to a more superior, fanciful and witty plot. After recapping the story with highlights from the 1931 film, the sequel features a follow-up segment where Mary Shelley (played by Elsa Lanchester ) continues her tale after the Monster supposedly perishes.
Soon after Dr. Frankenstein recovers from this terrifying ordeal, the even more fanatical mad scientist Dr. Pretorius (exquisitely portrayed by Ernest Thesiger) finally persuades him to continue his ghastly experiments and create a female companion (also played by Elsa Lanchester ) for the Monster with disastrous results. I thought the Monster’s interaction with his Bride during their “first date” scene was absolutely priceless! Both films as well as Clive’s and Karloff’s outstanding performances are simply unforgettable.
After viewing all these creepy movies, I quickly switched to the more lighthearted Young Frankenstein. Directed by Mel Brooks, this hilarious 1974 parody stars Gene Wilder (who co-wrote the zany screenplay with Brooks) as Frederick Frankenstein, the infamous Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s grandson. When he inherits the family castle, at first, he vehemently refuses to acknowledge his heritage or continue his grandfather’s gruesome experiments. However, when he accidently discovers his grandfather’s detailed lab notes entitled How I Did It, he decides to create his own monster played by the horribly adorable Peter Boyle.
Filmed in black and white, Brooks even uses the original laboratory equipment designed by Ken Strickfaden for James Whale’s 1931 film to evoke an authentically scary atmosphere.
Filled with loads of bawdy humor and memorable double entendres, Young Frankenstein is a wonderful comic tribute to this beloved horror film classic. It’s so funny, I never stopped laughing!
For more information about programs and activities sponsored by the library and other local community organization during this annual event, visit the SJCPL’s web site at www.libraryforlife.org/onebook .
One last note to all of my loyal readers: This is the last blog posting of Carol’s Comments that will appear on the SJCPL website. Thanks for reading and supporting my blog posting for the past 3 years. In the 16 Blog postings I have written, I have enjoyed sharing my thoughts about my most favorite things – books and movies – with all of you. Thanks for reading! See you all next time!