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It’s Alive: 9 Best Frankenstein Movies

Two hundred years ago, Mary Shelley created a monster … and it's haunted us ever since.

June 2016 marks the bicentennial anniversary of Mary Shelley’s summer visit to Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva. It was here—on a dark and stormy night—that the young author first dreamed of the tale that would change the face of horror: Frankenstein.

Our shared fascination with Shelley’s creation lives on to this day, from a travelogue of her novel by Word Fantasy Award-nominated author Selena Chambers to the forthcoming anthology Eternal Frankenstein, featuring a story by yours truly.

frankenstein movies
  • Photo: Moviepix / Getty Images

Then, of course, there’s the monster-shaped shadow cast across the silver screen.

The Frankenstein narrative has inspired hundreds of films over the years. IMDb credits more than 200 movies containing the character of “Frankenstein’s monster,” beginning in 1910 and running to last year’s Victor Frankenstein, starring Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy. As of this writing, Variety just reported that Javier Bardem might be the latest actor to don the monster makeup as part of Universal’s upcoming monster series reboot.

With so many silver screen incarnations of Dr. Frankenstein and his creature, it’s tough to know where to start. So we compiled a list of the freakiest Frankenstein movies that we would take to our grave. It’s alive!

1. Son of Frankenstein (1939)

frankenstein movies
  • Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

When we think of Frankenstein’s monster, we all imagine Boris Karloff in the distinctive Jack Pierce makeup from the 1931 classic Frankenstein. Universal studios followed that film with several sequels, of which Bride of Frankenstein is often cited as the best. That said, we’ve got a soft spot in our reanimated hearts for 1939’s Son of Frankenstein, with its German Expressionist set design, Boris Karloff in his final turn as the monster, and Bela Lugosi’s wild-eyed portrayal of Ygor. Dwight Frye—who coincidentally played Renfield in 1931’s Dracula—was the scheming hunchbacked assistant in the 1931 Frankenstein, but his character’s name was Fritz.

Related: 6 Classic Horror Movies

2. The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

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  • Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Starting in 1957, British-based Hammer Films took up the torch and pitchfork of Universal’s Frankenstein franchise, choosing instead to focus on the Baron (played by Peter Cushing) as opposed to his creation. While 1957’s Curse of Frankenstein, with Christopher Lee as the monster, may hew most closely to what we think of as the Frankenstein story, our sentimental series favorite is 1964’s The Evil of Frankenstein. Not only does it feature Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein at his most heroic, it also boasts not one but two of the best laboratory sets ever fashioned. The film’s monster, played by Kiwi Kingston, looks like a cross between the original Jack Pierce makeup worn by Karloff and a lurching comic book nightmare.

3. Frankenstein Conquers the World (1964)

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  • Photo Credit: Toho Company

Here’s a weird one. In this Japanese tokusatsu production, the immortal heart of the Frankenstein monster is recovered from Nazi Germany during World War II and transported back to Japan, where it eventually grows into a giant-size version of Frankenstein’s monster, who ultimately battles another kaiju named Baragon. Directed by Ishiro Honda, of Godzilla fame, this is definitely one of the odder entries to the canon, and spawned a sequel called War of the Gargantuas the following year.

4. Mad Monster Party? (1967)

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  • Photo Credit: Rankin/Bass Productions

Looking to lighten the mood? This stop-motion classic from the production company of Rankin/Bass (perhaps better known for Christmas specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) not only features Boris Karloff as the voice of Doctor Frankenstein, but also a particularly endearing version of his monster, here referred to as “Fang.”

Related: 6 Underrated Horror Movies by Famous Directors

5. Young Frankenstein (1974)

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  • Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Here’s another warm-hearted entry to the list. Mel Brooks’ horror parody, starring Gene Wilder as a descendent of the original Dr. Frankenstein, Peter Boyle as his monster, and Marty Feldman as Igor, managed to make number 13 on the AFI’s list of the 100 Funniest American Movies. The beloved adaptation, which dishes out humor while still serving up the horror, helped cement many of the elements that we now think of as central to Frankenstein’s cinematic legacy.

6. Gothic (1986)

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  • Photo Credit: Virgin Vision

This period flick offers a glimpse into the mind behind the madness. Gothic is a fictionalized portrayal of Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the stormy night at the Villa Diodati that spawned Frankenstein. Ken Russell, known for visually striking films like Altered States and The Devils, directs.

Related: Tainted Love: 4 Macabre Literary Love Stories

7. The Monster Squad (1987)

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  • Photo Credit: TriStar Pictures

A whole generation of kids were introduced to Universal’s monster family thanks to this Fred Dekker/Shane Black film about a group of kids whose treehouse monster club goes head-to-head with the real-life Dracula, a wolf-man, a mummy, a creature from the Black Lagoon, and, of course, Frankenstein’s monster. The creature was played to perfection by (extremely tall) horror mainstay Tom Noonan.

Related: The 11 Scariest Haunted House Movies to Freak You Out in Your Own Home

8. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)

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  • Photo Credit: TriStar Pictures

Directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is to the Frankenstein narrative what Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker's Dracula was to Dracula. In other words, this film is more faithful to the original than previous adaptations. That said, Branagh’s version took artistic license in its adaptation, and has been seen by some as more style than substance. Robert De Niro plays the creature, wearing the longest patchwork coat you have ever seen …

9. Frankenstein’s Army (2013)

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  • Photo Credit: Dark Sky Films

In this found-footage horror show set during World War II, Russian soldiers stumble upon the lab of Dr. Frankenstein’s descendant who has been keeping his ancestor’s work alive. This time, however, instead of creating just one creature, the mad doctor created a veritable army of abominations. The monsters are brought to life on the silver screen using entirely practical special effects, which is a rarity for 2013. The reanimated creatures sport drills for faces and propellers for heads, to name a few.

10. Special Mention: Penny Dreadful (2014)

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  • Photo Credit: Showtime

The only TV show on this list, Penny Dreadful is highly addictive horror entertainment. Among its cast of characters are Dr. Frankenstein and his creature, who is sometimes called Caliban. In spite of its ensemble premise, Penny Dreadful’s portrayal of the vengeful and tormented Frankenstein monster may be the most faithful to the original novel that has thus far been seen.

These are just a handful of the times that the Frankenstein narrative has appeared in film and television. No doubt that we left out plenty of killer adaptations. What’s your favorite reanimated version of Frankenstein?

Feature photo: Wikimedia Commons

Published on 25 Jul 2016

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