October 27, 2023

Playing God Across Eras: The Legacy of Frankenstein in Film

In the dimly lit corridors of cinematic history, we find a recurring lightning bolt of creativity. From Mary Shelley's classic "Frankenstein" to its iconic film adaptations, the story has endured. It gave life to Boris Karloff's monster in 1931's "Frankenstein," breathed electric life into Elsa Lanchester's Bride in 1935's "Bride of Frankenstein," and sparked laughter in Mel Brooks' 1974 parody, "Young Frankenstein." These films are not just entertainment; they're sparks of inspiration and moral reflection, reminding us of the consequences of playing God on the silver screen.


The author—who was just 18 when she wrote ‘Frankenstein’—wove together a terrifying dream and real-life science to create what is now considered the first science fiction novel.

Frankenstein was written by a Teenager

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin’s teenage years were eventful, to say the least. The future Mary Shelley ran away at age 16 with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and over the next two years, she gave birth to two children. In 1816, the couple traveled to Switzerland and visited Lord Byron at Villa Diodati. While there, 18-year-old Mary started Frankenstein. It was published in 1818, when she was 20 years old.

With Frankenstein, Shelley was writing the first major science fiction novel, as well as inventing the concept of the “mad scientist” and helping establish what would become horror fiction. The influence of the book in popular culture is so huge that the term Frankenstein has entered common speech to mean something unnatural and horrendous.

Dracula’s Lugosi was going to be the Monster‍

Bela Lugosi was offered the role of the monster, but refused on the grounds that his character would not speak (though he eventually played the role in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.) Lugosi also insisted on creating his own makeup for the Monster, but his design was rejected. According to film historian Richard J. Anobile, Lugosi was originally offered the role of Dr. Frankenstein by the original director Robert Florey, but Carl Laemmle insisted that Lugosi play the monster. Test footage of Lugosi in Monster make-up was filmed by Florey on the set of Dracula. Soon after, Florey was replaced by James Whale as director, and Lugosi was replaced by Karloff.

Thomas Edison adapted Frankenstein for Film

In 1910, Thomas Edison’s studio made a one-reel, 15-minute film of Frankenstein, one of the first horror movies ever made. It was thought lost until it was rediscovered in the 1980s. Today, it has made its way to YouTube; you can watch it below. Watch now
A version of this story ran in 2015; it has been updated for 2023.


Arguably one of the most popular horror sequels ever made, The Bride of Frankenstein has been cited as James Whale’s masterpiece, Boris Karloff’s finest hour, and the crown jewel of Universal’s monster series. Here’s what every movie buff should know about the 1935 classic.

At First, James Whale didn't want to do the Bride of Frankenstein

In 1931, Universal released what’s often viewed as the definitive film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff in a breakout performance, the movie was a colossal success. Critics at The New York Times praised it as one of the year’s greatest films. At the box office, Frankenstein exceeded all expectations—grossing an astounding $12 million against a $262,000 budget.

Naturally, Universal wasted no time in planning a sequel. Before 1931 came to a close, Robert Florey—who’d later write a short story that would become Universal's The Wolf Man—submitted a seven-page story outline for a follow-up movie called The New Adventures of Frankenstein: The Monster Lives. Although Florey’s ideas were flatly dismissed, Universal was determined to churn out a second film.

For his part, Whale believed that he was done with the franchise. “I squeezed the idea dry with the original picture and never want to work on it again,” he told a friend. Eventually, though, the auteur agreed to direct The Bride of Frankenstein on the condition that he be given a greater degree of creative control this time around. The studio agreed.

The Bride's Famous Hairdo was supported by a Wire Cage

Elsa Lanchester was double cast in this movie. During the prologue, she portrays a young Mary Shelley. Then, toward the climax, she makes an electrifying entrance as the intended bride of Frankenstein’s monster. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the creature is her wild, streaky coiffure. The look—which was inspired by the Egyptian queen Nefertiti—has become every bit as iconic as the widow’s peak that Bela Lugosi so confidently rocked as Count Dracula. Over the years, it has been duplicated in several horror-comedies, from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to Hotel Transylvania.

Lanchester’s unusual ‘do wasn’t a wig, by the way—her actual hair was used to create the look. “I had it lifted up from my face, all the way around; then they placed a cage on my head and combed my own hair over that cage. Then they put the gray-streak hairpieces in afterwards,” she explained in an interview.

Bride of Frankenstein was banned in Multiple Countries

With its high body count, religious imagery, and sexual undertones, The Bride of Frankenstein did not endear itself to certain viewers—or to certain governments, for that matter. The film was banned outright in Trinidad, Hungary, and Palestine. In China, censors insisted that four key scenes be cut from the movie before it could be legally shown within the country’s borders. Not to be outdone, the Swedish censorship board implemented a staggering 25 cuts, dramatically reducing Bride’s runtime.

It is Neil Gaiman's Favorite Horror Movie

This was the only entry in Universal's Frankenstein series to receive an Oscar nod. The Bride of Frankenstein received an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound Recording,

“It’s a lot of people’s favorite horror film," said bestselling author Neil Gaiman of The Bride of Frankenstein. "Dammit, it’s my favorite horror film.” In the above clip, Gaiman recalls staying up late as a boy to catch both Frankenstein and its 1935 sequel in a televised double-feature. What did he think? “Frankenstein was a huge disappointment to me,” Gaiman admitted, but he fell in love with the atmospheric Bride and remains a fan to this day. He is especially fond of the climax, which he cites as his favorite “two to three minutes of film, ever.” Another celebrity admirer is Guillermo del Toro, who, in a 2008 conversation with Rotten Tomatoes, ranked The Bride of Frankenstein as one of his top five films.‍ Watch now


Although Young Frankenstein incorporates elements of existing Frankenstein movies, screenwriters Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder cooked up an original Frankenstein story to parody the Mary Shelley classic.

Brooks' First Payment for Young Frankenstein was $57

Mel Brooks is typically the creative force behind all his movies, but Young Frankenstein was actually an idea born of Gene Wilder. While Wilder said he wanted Brooks to direct Young Frankenstein from the start, Brooks has told the story on multiple occasions, including in the official Young Frankenstein: The Story of the Making of the Film book, as noted by Newsweek, on how he first became involved and his first payment for his work.

Brooks and Wilder were working on the irreverent western Blazing Saddles when one day when they were not filming Brooks noticed Wilder writing on a legal pad and saw the title Young Frankenstein. Brooks asked his star what he was working on and Wilder gave him the pitch, saying that it would be his dream for Brooks to write the movie with him and then direct it. Brooks asked if Wilder had any money on him. When the star said he had $57, Brooks said, "It's a start,” and that he'd take it. The rest, as they say, is cinematic history.

Young Frankenstein Crew Tracked Down the Original Frankenstein Lab Equipment

As much as Young Frankenstein is a parody of its classic horror film namesake, Brooks and Wilder had great affection for the 1931 film and wanted to do right by it. This was why they pushed to make it in black and white, as well as having their production designer use Charles D. Hall’s original designs for Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein for the set.

As luck would have it, they would not need to recreate a few pieces of the iconic Frankenstein set. In a Los Angeles Times feature, it was revealed that Brooks and his crew were able to track down Kenneth Strickfaden, who created the original electrical equipment used in Frankenstein’s laboratory and still had them in a garage in Santa Monica.

Amazingly, after more than 40 years, when Strickfaden threw the switch, the equipment still worked as it had in the original movie.

Brooks Perfectly Recreated the Filmmaking Techniques of the 1930s

Mel Brooks perfectly replicated the filmmaking techniques of the 1930s in homaging the era’s horror classics. The director shot the movie entirely in black-and-white and utilized ‘30s-style credits sequences and scene transitions like wipes, irises, and mid-movie fades to black. Long-time Brooks collaborator John Morris also composed an authentically old-time musical score for the movie.

Brooks’ recreation of the look of Universal Monsters movies is a more accurate homage to a bygone era of filmmaking than David Fincher’s Mank, which was designed to evoke Citizen Kane, but shot with a super-wide aspect ratio and lit like a modern color movie, not an old black-and-white movie.

These films, beyond their entertainment value, have been celebrated for their intellectual depth, challenging viewers to consider the ethical, philosophical, and moral implications of scientific innovation and human ambition. They have continued to be celebrated and analyzed by scholars and cinephiles for their contributions to the horror and science fiction genres, making them not only iconic but also intellectually stimulating cinematic works.


Frankenstein - October 29 @ 1:00 PM

Bride of Frankenstein - October 29 @ 3:00 PM

Young Frankenstein - October 29 @ 5:00 PM

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