I, Frankenstein is the sole wide release of the weekend in North America. A name which is such a big part of American pop culture, Frankenstein over time has gained much international recognition as well and no wonder that movies around this famous “monster” continue to hit the big screen now and then. Wikipedia lists nothing short of 64 movies under the category of “Frankenstein films”. While the animated flick Hotel Transylvania of 2012 has one of the most recent appearances of this iconic character on the big screen, the last time I remember seeing the big monster was in 2004’s Van Helsing, a movie mash-up of sorts of all iconic creatures from horror tales. But where did it all began for Frankenstein’s monster?
The origins go back to the early 19th century when British author Mary Shelley wrote the famous novel Frankenstein about an eccentric scientist Victor Frankenstein who creates a strange misshapen creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. Over years, the name “Frankenstein” has also often been used to refer to the monster itself. In 1910, almost 90 years after the first publication of the novel, a short movie with the same title was released, which is considered as the first motion picture adaptation of the novel. But it is the 1931 adaptation, again titled Frankenstein, which stands out as a classic horror monster film that set this monster on a higher pedestal in American culture. Boris Karloff’s depiction of Frankenstein’s monster as a horrifying creature whom you would sympathise with as well, is considered by many as the best portrayal of the monster yet. The bolt-necked flat-head look remains iconic in the halls of Hollywood. It is something that Karloff went on to portray in the subsequent sequels too, Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein. The latter sequels saw other actors take over Karloff’s role in Ghost of Frankenstein and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Later on Frankenstein was brought in side-by-side with other popular monsters like Dracula and Hunchback.
Many movies have followed the path started by 1931’s Frankenstein, be it as horror flicks or parodies, with varying levels of interest shown by the audience. The monster has himself changed shape and structure, and has been depicted by a host of talented actors. So as Aaron Eckhart brings forth a new look to this famous monster in I, Frankenstein, we look back at some of the actors that made him so recognisable through the years.
To begin with, Boris Karloff made this role iconic in his depictions as the monster over three films in the 1930s, through his wonderful acting along with some great makeup work. His flat-head look is something distinctive even today.
That is pretty much the look that remained when Lon Chaney, Jr. took over the role for 1942’s The Ghost of Frankenstein…
… and when Bela Lugosi tried his hand as the monster in 1943’s Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman.
It was Glenn Strange who became the next iconic character to depict this role, thrice in fact in the 1940s. The flat-head still remained!
By now the movies were starting to turn into parodies, losing a bit of touch of the chills that the earlier ones gave. But Christopher Lee still made for a menacing monster in 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein. The look was completely altered and the famous flat-head was removed, with more stitches sewn across the face.
The next great portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster was to come by Peter Boyle in 1974’s Young Frankenstein. There were zippers around his face now, and a bit less scary than Lee’s portrayal.
There haven’t been many standout portrayals of the monster in the later years, but if one were to pick great actors donning this role, then nothing could come bigger than Robert De Niro from 1994’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Now that’s a creepy look!
And Frankenstein’s monster has come a long way from his initial bestial days to someone who is a side-kick of sorts to Hugh Jackman’s Val Helsing in the 2004 movie adaptation Van Helsing. The big size guy on the right side of the picture is Shuler Hensley playing this famous monster.
That is a lot of history for Aaron Eckhart to pick from, though his version seems to be a leaner fighting machine. We’ll soon know whether this one joins the best of the lot and becomes immortal in the history of Hollywood, or fades away with time as many have done.