To the surprise of absolutely Goddamn no one, I Frankenstein is pretty crap, taking Mary Shelley’s eponymous creature and turning him into a blonde, squared jawed action hero, because why the fuck wouldn’t that work for Frankenstein’s monster, said no one at all ever.
Radical takes on the Frankenstein story are nothing new, the creature having gone through more periodic reinventions than your average b-level superhero, and the transformation of the Frankenstein monster into a demon-slaying anti-hero isn’t even that interesting or inventive compared to what’s been done in the past. So that’s what this week’s about taking a look at some of the more interesting takes on Frankenstein, partially to highlight just how comparatively dull I, Frankenstein really is and partially just because some of them are just fun as hell to talk about.
It always brings a smile to my face to imaging that somewhere, somewhen someone thought “There should really be a movie where a giant Frankenstein monster fights a dinosaur”, mostly out of comfort for the fact that I’m not the only one who thinks that kind of thing.
Frankenstein Conquers the World is a 1965 kaiju movie directed by the legendary Ishiro Honda, which sees a towering version of Frankenstein’s monster square off against Baragon, a tunneling monster descended from Dinosaurs who survived the extinction. How did Frankie grow giant?
Well, towards the end of WW2, the immortal heart of the creature was captured by the Nazis and shipped off to their Japanese allies in the hopes of using it to create unstoppable soldiers. iUnfortunately, the lab where they ship it……is in Hiroshima. And it’s August 6, 1945.
Fifteen years later, a feral child bearing a striking resemblance to a certain square-headed monster is found, and it’s discovered the radiation from the bomb caused the creature to regenerate a new body, one rapidly growing to gigantic proportions, which makes as much sense as anything else in most kaiju movies.
Frankenstein Conquers the World is a strange beast, but also a pretty damn awesome one. It’s pretty odd to see a kaiju movie where the bombing of Hiroshima is an actual part of the text, rather than just a specter lurking over the subtext, like in the original Godzilla.
It’s even weirder to see one where one of the monsters is really just an actor in a bit of makeup and a fur pelt, though that lends the fight scenes a lot of energy and action. The film often gets overshadowed by its more well-regarded or at least well-known sequel, War of the Gargantuas, but I’d actually call it one of my favorite 60s/70s era kaiju movies, especially depending which of the film’s two endings you watch. I prefer the one with the completely random, unexplained giant octopus. Call it a weakness of character.
What do you get when you turn Frankenstein into an early 70s horror/sex romp produced by Andy Warhol and starring a young Udo Kier? Uncomfortable. Really, really uncomfortable.
In this version, doctor Frankenstein is a raving Fascist obsessed with creating not one but two monsters who embody the Serbian Ideal, then getting them to have freaky monster sex to create a new master race. When the film starts the female monster is all ready to go, but the male monster needs a head, preferably from someone inclined to inseminate the bejesus out of whatever you tell it to.
But when the doctor and his assistant go looking for such a specimen at a local bordello, they unknowingly grab the head of a pouty looking drink of water who A) was dragged there by his friend in an attempt to convince him not to head off to a monastery and B) is implied to be gayer than New Year’s Eve at Freddie Mercury’s house. It’s sorta like how in the Karloff movie the monster is accidentally given the brain of a murderer, but in that movie there wasn’t a scene of Dr Frankenstein failing to get his creature to get it up.
Flesh for Frankenstein is a pretty nasty, sleazy piece of work no matter how you slice it, a profoundly demented psychosexual camp-fest that will either have you dry heaving into a bag or in absolute awe, if not both. Udo Kier chews at the scenery like his life depends on it, the gore is in your face and wonderfully cheap looking (gotta love that bright red fake blood) the protracted sex scenes are often hilariously over-acted and the whole thing is clearly a satire of something, but fuck if I can figure out what.
The movie really sums itself up perfectly in one scene, sadly cut from many releases of the film, where Kier does something unspeakable to the prone body of the female monster, then says, with all the gravity of a Shakespearean actor delivering the “To be or not to be” monologue from Hamlet “To know death, Otto, you must fuck life in the gallbladder”.
And just in case one schlock version of Frankenstein wasn’t enough, infamous b-movie auteur Frank Henenlotter delivered his own take on the story in 1990 with Frankenhooker, one of the great entries in the “It’s exactly what its title implies” sub-genre, alongside Snakes on a Plane and Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
After his fiancee is killed in a freak lawnmower accident, scientist Jeffrey Franken decides not to do the usual thing and sign up for a dating website or take up croquet, but rather reassemble his dead love from pieces of dead prostitutes, because that’s the kind of thing people do in Henenlotter movies, just go with it. But surprisingly the master plan goes awry, creating an out of control killer hooker-monster, not to mention incurring the wrath of an insane pimp named Zorro.
Like most of Henenlotter’s work, Frankenhooker is the kind of utterly depraved, but playfully fun trash the VHS era is remembered for, but only really existed in limited quantities in a sea of unwatchable duds. It’s the kind of thing a 13 year old blasted out of his mind on Pixie Stix would cook up after staying up all night watching horror movies and softcore porn on basic cable, but a with level of craft or at least enthusiasm that overrides its cheapness and makes you feel like you’re watching something a with more care put into it than a movie called Frankenhooker should have.
Of course, for my money Henenlotter’s other efforts like Basket Case and Brain Damage are more worth your attention, but Frankenhooker is still a ton of fun, especially if you have a particular hankering for exploding hookers.